This week, I want to focus on helping you think in a new way about achieving your longer-term goals. We all get so caught up in our daily lives that sometimes it can seem impossible to make any meaningful progress toward longer term goals. These longer term goals are usually important, but not urgent which makes them easy to deprioritize when you are facing a weeks’ worth of meetings, problems, and deadlines.
What you need to learn how to do is to be able to separate the urgency of the day-job from the importance of the longer-term goal. You need a way to keep your eye on the ball while keeping your head above water each day. There is a combination of very tactical activities that can help you achieve that, and that is what I want to cover today.
Know what your goal is
First, let’s assume you are already clear about what your important goal is. This is something you want to accomplish that is outside of your day job. For our purposes today, we will use an example from my job.
We had a process of forecasting revenue that was monthly and prepared by our finance department. The process was: about halfway through the month, the finance department would prepare a spreadsheet that forecasts revenue for the current quarter and the next quarter. They would send it to me and I would review and correct it. Typically, about 25% of the forecast was wrong and I would have to compare line-by-line to find problems, make notes and updates, and then send it back to finance. Then, finance would have to make the updates based on my notes and put together the final presentation for our leadership team.
This process was stressful and frustrating for several reasons. First, I am closer to the business than finance and have a better understanding of the forecast than they do. This is why there were so many corrections. Second, the time between when the 1st draft was sent to me and when the forecast had to be presented was usually about 2 days which meant there was always a crunch time to turn around my corrections to finance. And third, looking at the forecast once per month was not frequent enough to allow us to make adjustments when we needed to in order to make our numbers.
So, my goal was to improve this process. I wanted to reduce the stress of the process and be able to be more proactive about taking action in order to meet our quarterly targets.
But, because of my day job, it seemed like something that would be hard to accomplish.
So, we’ve got our goal.
Identify the levers that influence the goal
The first tool is to think about what things influence the goal. Think about levers that you can pull that if they change, they will impact the bigger goal. These are called lead measures.
For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds, the levers you can pull are eating fewer calories and exercising more. If you know each day that you ate fewer calories and exercised more, then you can be certain you will achieve your goal of losing weight. If you take your focus off the end goal and put it on the levers – or the lead measures – you can achieve your goal even within the constraints of daily life.
For my goal, in order to be able to be more proactive about achieving a quarterly target, I knew we needed to get to the point where we knew where we stood each week.
For me, the lever became a weekly scorecard that told us if we were on track for the quarterly target.
That seems simple enough, but the reality is that I’m already working 10 hours a day and not getting everything done. Adding a weekly report to my schedule was an overwhelming thought. It would be very easy to have ignored it and just let the current process continue.
Make 1% Progress
Tool number 2 is to think in terms of 1% progress toward your goal. What is 1 small step you can take this week to make progress toward your goal? If you can take 1 step in the right direction this week, you’ve made progress toward your goal.
A lot of times, we set a goal and feel like we’ve got to make huge progress toward it or else we aren’t successful. Then, because our day job doesn’t stop, we can’t get to our goal and then we feel like a failure. Too often, we have unrealistic expectations about changing our daily life in order to accomplish this new goal. Your daily life isn’t going away. In order to accomplish an important goal, you need to come up with a plan that will allow you to make progress in spite of your daily life.
So, think in terms of 1%. What is something you can do this week that will progress you toward your goal? It should be something related to your lead measure. You already know that the lead measure is a lever that will influence the outcome of your goal. So, if you are going to make incremental progress, it definitely needs to be something related to that lever.
For our weight loss example, it might be to eat 1 vegetable each day. It may seem like an insignificant step toward losing 20 pounds, but it is directly linked to weight loss and moves you toward your goal.
For my goal of getting to a proactive forecast, using a weekly scorecard, it meant setting up a set of reports that would feed into the scorecard. So, my original 1% goal or that 1st week was literally to just think about what the scorecard would look like. I had to have a clear picture of the scorecard in order to identify the reports I would need.
Week #1: draw a picture of the scorecard.
Week #2: identify what reports I need in order to fill in the scorecard.
Week #3: pick 1 report and create it.
Week #4: pick a second report and create it.
You get the picture.
Time Block for your 1%
Tool #3 is something we’ve covered in a previous episode – time blocking. If we acknowledge up front that you are going to have to achieve these goals in spite of your daily life, then you need to start to build in time to your daily life for these 1% activities.
Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available. And its true. Your daily life is going to take up all of your time. So, you need to block off time on your calendar to ensure you can take your 1% step in the right direction.
Time blocking is the practice of scheduling a meeting on your calendar with yourself to accomplish an important task.
If you know what your goal is and you know the levers you can pull to get you there and you know what your next step is to get you 1% closer to your goal – then the only thing left is to find the time to do it.
So, block time on your calendar each week to take your 1%.
And, then, the hardest part of all – honor the time. Without a doubt, you will have something urgent from your day job that will want to take that slot on your calendar. But, if the goal was important enough to set in the first place, it is important enough to honor the slot you reserved to focus on it. Put the slot on your calendar for 6 months. If you achieve the goal sooner – great. You can always unblock your calendar once you’ve achieved the goal.
So, let me end by telling you that it took a little over 6 months to achieve my goal. I could have easily accomplished it in much less time if it wasn’t for my pesky day job! But, that just wasn’t going to change. So, although it took 6 months to get there – I got there! Our new weekly scorecard is now part of my day job, but there is recognition across the organization that it is a far better process than the old process. And, it is a lot less stressful for me.
The circle of influence is a concept popularized by Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Although Covey takes no credit for the idea, he was a master at explaining it in a way that is so clear and actionable that it has become part of our business lexicon.
Today, I’m going to do my level best to explain it to you in a manner that will allow a light bulb to go on and for you to be able to walk away from this episode and put a new habit into practice. Even if you think you’ve got the concept down, I encourage you to listen to this episode. It is always good to have a refresher.
I fall into this category myself. If you were to ask me if I live or embody the concept of circle of influence I would have said yes. I think of and employ the concept frequently. I’ve talked about a lot of the ideas in one way or another on previous episodes. I would describe this concept as a core of my philosophy and personality. And yet – I just re-read the chapter in 7 Habits and found myself learning more. Being reminded of little nuances I’ve forgotten. Being shown a different way to approach it. So, there is always something more you can learn.
Let’s start by defining the circle of influence. Think about your world in 3 buckets:
This you can’t control
Most people are pretty good about how they deal with the things they can’t control. There is a recognition that you can’t do anything about it, so you adjust your behavior in whatever way is relevant and you move on with your life. The majority of people recognize this situation the majority of the time.
The weather is a classic example. You can’t control the weather. You know it and, although you may be disappointed when an even gets cancelled due to the weather, you don’t let it eat away at you.
Another example I like to use is a sports example. When a referee makes what you think is a bad call, there is literally nothing you can do about it. You can yell and scream and post as many bad tweets as you want, it isn’t going to change the outcome. The reason I use this example is because I think it is an example of where people who otherwise generally recognize situations where they don’t have control temporarily lose sight of that fact.
When it comes to the things you can’t control, your best option is to recognize as quickly as possible that you have no control, which takes away their ability to control you. If you feel like this is an area where you need to so some additional development work, I suggest you listen to Episode 20 about Productive and Unproductive Worry.
Things you can control indirectly through influence
Within the circle is the circle of influence. These are the things you can control indirectly through influence. These are things that other people are responsible for, but for which you can impact their actions. Your circle of influence with your children, if they are still young, is pretty large. And, although it decreases as they get older, it is still a very large part of your circle. Your circle of influence at work is likely smaller than your circle of influence at home, but you still have influence. Your objective should be to increase your circle of influence to be as large as it can be.
I believe influence is a mindset issue. You need to 1. Believe you can influence the situation and 2. Take responsibility for your actions or response. The way you know if you are doing this is by looking at the language you are using:
Is the issue someone else’s fault?
Do you feel like you are the victim?
Are you talking in terms of ‘onlys’? If only I had a better boss. If only I had this certification. If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.
You have influence over each of these if only’s. And you can take action to influence them. When you give up your right to take action, you’ve made the choice to dis-empower yourself.
“If only I had a better boss.” What about your boss do you have a problem with? What can you do to build a relationship with your boss to gain influence that will change the impact? If they are a micro-manger, it means that they need a high level of detail to be comfortable. Increase the level of detail you provide when you communicate with them. By proactively doing this, they will become comfortable with you – they will trust in the work you are doing and will no longer feel the need to micro-mange.
“If only I had this certification.” If you think you aren’t getting considered for a role because you are lacking a skill, what are you doing to go get the skill?
“If only management understood that our customers are impossible to deal with.” How can you help them understand? Are you documenting the scenarios that come up? Have you investigated the steps necessary to address the scenarios? Have you asked management for what you need to address the scenarios?
And, taking responsibility for your actions means that if you feel you’ve tried to influence and the outcome is still not acceptable, then you take action to move on.
Things you can directly influence
Which takes us to the final part of the circle of influence – things you can directly control. These are your habits, your mindset. Taking responsibility for your actions proactively is one of the key things that sets highly productive, highly effective, people apart. Taking action on your own behalf is a fundamental skill. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that you believe that you are the architect of your career.
As human beings, one of the things that sets us apart from other animals is our ability to be self aware. Our freedom to choose how we respond to a situation. When there is some sort of situation thrust upon us, we are the architects of our response. I’m not trying to imply that by having a positive attitude, you can turn a bad situation into a positive situation. Bad things happen. Sucky things will always suck. But, you have 100% control over how you choose to respond. You can let bad things eat away at you, impacting the rest of your life, or you can let bad things be one part of your story rather than the whole story.
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Time Mindset can have a profound impact on your productivity. Productive people don’t have more time than unproductive people. But, they do have a different mindset about it. If you want to see an increase in your productivity, one of the things you need to think about is your relationship with time.
How much time have you spent thinking about your relationship with time?
Do you approach it unconsciously, or do you know where you stand with it?
I think a lot of people are really unconsciously dealing with time.
The symptoms of someone who doesn’t consciously understand their relationship with time are things like getting to the end of your day and not getting the most important things done.
Or starting every conversation with “I’m so busy” or “sorry I couldn’t get you what I promised, I’ve just been so busy.”
Another common symptom is negative self talk about your productivity. Telling yourself you just aren’t accomplishing what you want to accomplish. Being down on yourself or – even more diabolical, making yourself a victim of time.
These are all symptoms that occur when you aren’t conscious of your relationship with time. And, the simple way to fix them is to become conscious of it. Once you become conscious of it, you will begin to see that you can become more productive because your mindset sets you up to be more productive.
Notice your mindset about time. Are you making decisions about how you spend your time or are you unconsciously letting your time get by you?
Do you feel good about your time mindset?
Do you have a mindset about time that serves to make you more productive, or is it limiting you to a life where you feel like there just isn’t enough time?
Become someone who takes responsibility for your time mindset.
Expand your understanding of this topic by listening to Words Matter.
Strategy is something that is traditionally left to the C-Suite or other executives. This is a podcast for those who are early in their career or are not interested in leadership positions, so you may think that strategy isn’t important for you to understand. But – you are the CEO of your career, so you do need to understand it. And, one of the things that you should think about is whether or not your company has a strategy that will make it viable in the long run.
What I want to do in this episode is give you another criterion to consider about whether the job you have or are looking at taking in the future is a good fit for you – it is called the inflection point.
The inflection point is a point in the future where the fundamentals of the business are going to change.
Meaning, everything the current business is built on becomes obsolete and a whole new set of rules apply.
A good strategy will
You want to work for a company that gets this.
In addition, you, as an employee, should be able to recognize and accept change that may come if your company is in the middle of executing a strategy to change the fundamentals of the business. Prepare yourself for changes that may come by assessing:
Stakeholder analysis is a good tool to have in your tool belt because it can be used to solve a lot of different problems. Stakeholder analysis is the process of identifying your stakeholders and analyzing them to understand their unique position.
The value of this tool is that it walks you through the process of identifying your stakeholders and their positions in order to make informed decisions. It helps you open your eyes to the different actors in the play and forces you to think about each one as a separate, unique person.
Who are stakeholders?
For any given situation, stakeholders are anyone who has a vested interest, or a stake, in your process.
When you want to get something done, you need to have your stakeholders onboard. In order to do that, you need to understand who they are and how you can best influence them. To do that, you should understand:
If you’d like to get a free Stakeholder Analysis Map, you can sign up for our newsletter, and we’ll give you access to it, and all of our other tools.
Getting ready to leave for a vacation, and coming back to work after vacation are usually very stressful. Sometimes you feel like you need a vacation after your vacation just to catch up. In this episode, we cover some tips for how to productively manage the time leading up to your vacation and the day you return from vacation.
The process starts 2 weeks before your schedule vacation:
1. Add an out of office notification to your signature. This is going to alert people to the fact that you are going to be out. It will nudge them to take action on something that they might need before you leave.
2. Review your calendar for the time you are away. Make a list of any deliverables that you need to prepare during your absence.
3. Block time on your calendar over the next 2 weeks to prepare everything on your list. For example, if you have a meeting where you are responsible for preparing and presenting a slide, you would block time on your calendar to both prepare the slide and make arrangements for someone else to present the slide at the meeting. Learn more about Time Blocking from Episode 10.
4. Block an Inservice Day, or half day for the day before you leave and the day your return. An inservice day is when you block your calendar as if you are out of the office, but you are actually working. It gives you the time and space you need to catch up because people think you are still out.
5. If you have the type of job where someone will be covering for you while you are out of office, block time on the calendar for a meeting with them to manage the transition. You should block time for before you leave and when you return.
One week before you leave, you will start to:
1. Say no to any new request that comes your way – don’t take on more work when you know you have a hard stop in advance of your vacation.
2. Be extra diligent about your priorities. You are going to go into hyper-vigilant mode. If it isn’t absolutely necessary, it can wait.
Some other tips:
Sometimes, when you aren’t being as productive as you want to be, it is hard to put your finger on the reason. Here are some tips that might help you identify what may be holding you back:
What should you not be doing?
Over time, we become progressively less productive because we let a bunch of things that have become unproductive take over our time. It was probably serving a purpose when you started doing it, but over time, it lost its value and you’ve just kept doing it because you’ve always done it.
Consider what you are doing that is no longer necessary and stop doing it.
Are you following your priorities?
What are the highest priorities in your life? We call this your North Star List. If you want to be productive, you need to ensure that you are only doing things that support your priorities. As a matter of fact, we’ve even done an episode just about this topic: The Foundation of Productivity is Priorities.
Recognize that mindset can impact your productivity. Have you ever said this:
I can’t get everything done, there just isn’t enough time.
This is a mindset issue. When I catch myself saying this, I change my words to:
I don’t need to get everything done, just the next thing.
Take away the power that the thought has over you.
Become aware of the mindset that is impacting your productivity.
Productivity is a way of life – not a set of hacks.
You can be a productive member of society and not actually be very productive.
In this episode, we are going to focus on the type of productivity that, when you get to the end of your day you know that you worked on the most important things.
But, for those of you who are looking for a productivity hack, let me tell you mine: being crystal clear on my priorities.
When you know what your priorities are, you are more productive because you spend your time on things that support your priorities. You don’t spend your time on things that don’t support your priorities.
In addition to knowing your priorities, you also have to learn to prioritize your priorities. Sometimes, work is the most important priority. Sometimes, its family. The priorities are always changing, and you need to consciously think about which of your priorities are taking the spotlight.
North Start List episode
Status Quo Bias is the tendency to stick with the status quo even when presented with a better option involving change.
Inertia is real! We all fall victim to it. The lack of motivation to make a change because what you are doing is working fine is natural.
When there isn’t an issue with the way things are working today, you don’t even think about how it could work better.
It takes action to break the status quo. But, first, you must recognize the need to take action.
There are processes in every company or organization that are a victim of status quo bias.
“we’ve always done it that way”
In the agile development methodology, there is a concept called the ‘retrospective’, sometimes called lessons learned. It is a process that serves to look at the activities of the last several weeks (called a sprint) and determine what worked well and what didn’t work well.
At it’s core, the concept is designed to challenge status quo bias.
The question is— within your process, what can be defined as a sprint?
How can you build in a process at the end of each sprint to challenge the status quo?
Ask yourself what worked and what didn't for each sprint. Then look for something that you can do differently to improve the process. At the next sprint, you’ll review again and find out if your change lead to improvement.
We all have a list of goals longer than the amount of time we have to be able to accomplish them. This can be overwhelming and even discouraging.
In this episode, we are going to cover 4 tips that can help you make sense of your goals.
Someday Maybe List
A list of all of the ideas that you have but that you can’t get to immediately.
· Keep one list for work and a separate one for the rest of your life. When you change jobs, the one for your work can just be tossed.
· At least once per year, review the list to remove anything that you’ve already accomplished or that isn’t relevant anymore. In addition, determine if there is anything on the Someday/Maybe List that should be moved to your current projects list.
Get Clear About Your Priorities
Create a North Start List. What are the areas of your life that you must fulfill?
· Family obligations
· Work obligations
· Community obligations
· Personal obligations
Every goal you undertake needs to tie back to your North Start List.
Review Episode 1: North Star List
Understand What Type of Goal it is
“Why” Goals: Goals where you need motivation to keep you moving toward your goal
· Longer term
· Future oriented
For example: I want to lose weight so that I have more energy to play with the grandkids.
“What” Goals: Goals that are more concrete, difficult, or complex
· Detail oriented
· Shorter in duration
· Happening in the near future
For example: I am going to eat 3 vegetables today.
Know When to Give Up
Finding the balance between persistence and knowing when to give up is not easy. Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself to help you determine if you’ve reached the point where it may make sense to give up on a goal:
1. Is it a good use of your time? Given the limited amount of we all have, is this something that you should continue to invest your time in?
2. Is it costing you too much? Money, relationships, or some other opportunity cost. When you got into this goal, did you realize how much it would cost you? If you had know, would you have made the same decision to pursue the goal?
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