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.
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.
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.
We all multi-task. It is a vital part of the world we live in. What we need to become better at is learning how to determine when the multi-tasking that we are doing has become unproductive.
Productive multi-tasking is when the completion of two competing tasks don’t require your focus. For example, listening to a podcast while working out. You can do both without detriment to either. Generally, you do not need to focus on the treadmill in order to walk on it. That leaves your focus on the content of the podcast.
Unproductive multi-tasking is when the completion of two different tasks at the same time results in one or both of the tasks suffering. Answering email while on a conference call is an example. When you are focused on answering email, you aren’t listening to the conference call. Both things – reading and listening – require focus.
Examine your multitasking habits. Which ones are not serving you well?
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Have you ever had a bad day, where it seemed like each little thing that happened pushed you further and further toward the edge of the cliff and then eventually – BAM – you were over the edge?
Its happened to all of us. But, what I’ve noticed is that some people reach that edge much more quickly than others. Some people are able to recover much more quickly than others.
Why is that?
I believe that it partially has to do with the amount of reserve the person has.
Here is a simple example:
You have $32 to your name. When the car all of a sudden stops starting and you find out it will cost $500 to fix it, that is a lot of stress. You had no reserve – in this case, of money – to be able to handle the stress.
If, instead, you had $,1000 in the bank and you had the same issue – it may still be stressful, but it doesn’t send you over the edge. You had a bigger reserve, which means that your better able to deal with the stress of the event as well as recover from it.
The idea of reserve doesn’t just apply to money. You also need a reserve of:
Listen to our episode on creating a North Start List
Time blocking is a time management method where you put blocks of time on your calendar in order to make sure you can get things done. It seems pretty obvious and straight forward, yet most people don’t do it. We let the urgent, non-important things get in the way of the non-urgent, important things.
The process is simple: when you have something you need to get done by a certain deadline, back up from the deadline, and block time on your calendar to work on it. If you think it is going to take 8 hours to complete, block 8 hours of time on your calendar. It doesn’t have to be one 8 hour block. It could be eight 1 hour blocks, but the key is to make sure you’ve blocked enough time in advance of your deadline to get it done.
Then, you’ve got to honor the blocked time. You can’t snooze or ignore it and spend your time replying to emails. You’ve blocked the time for something that is important, so take care of the important item you have planned, and let the non-urgent stuff wait until later.
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