We start each day knowing we’re not going to get everything done. Every year, we reflect on our progress and wonder where the time went. Why haven’t we completed our innumerable to-do lists?
While we assume we’re doing our best to juggle work, family and friends, we often move along a path that isn’t quite right. Even if we recognize this aberration, we may refuse to change course or intentionally become distracted. We instinctively know, nonetheless, that we can improve.
Reading another “do-it-now” time-management book isn’t the answer. We need to break our self-sabotaging patterns to ward off the unimportant, interrupt our inertia and start feeling good about our accomplishments.
Harvard Business Review columnist and consultant Peter Bregman offers four starting points in 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done (Business Plus, 2011):
You’ve probably known for some time that you need to apply focus and make smart, thoughtful decisions about what’s worth doing (and what’s not).
Here are some simple tools and tactics to help you follow through on these decisions – and even enjoy the process.
Where Are You Now?
Your life has two versions: the one where you’re a star and the one where you’re a little lost. Reality lies somewhere in the middle. Your opinion inevitably reflects some reality and some fantasy.
The two strategic questions are:
If you’re young, you may not know yourself well enough to answer these questions. If you’re older, you know by now that you can do better.
Most people insufficiently use their talents because they fear stretch goals and the prospect of leaving their comfort zones. They continue doing what they’ve always done because it’s safe, instead of taking risks and working with a professional coach. But self-discovery – especially of one’s strengths – is critical for any quantifiable success.
Most of us are reconciled to the path we’re on and rarely stop to take stock. Like the Energizer Bunny, we just keep going and going. . . going. Please slow down and Start over.
Where Do You Want to Go?
Answer the following questions so you can begin to design a successful plan, avoid drifting and ultimately reclaim your life:
Somewhere at the intersection of these four questions lies your foundation for success and happiness. Your time is best spent on blending these components into something productive.
Focus for the Year, Plan Each Day
Write down two or three goals you want to achieve at work. Then, write down two areas on which you want to focus in your personal life (i.e., family, sports, and interests). Limit your list to five focal areas so you can realistically accomplish them.
Most of your daily tasks should fit into these five areas. Allow another 5% of your time for life’s miscellany. This approach allows you to stay on track each day. If you’re spending time on tasks that fall outside your focal areas, recognize them as distractions that pull you away from your goals.
Take 5 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to plan and review. Checking in twice a day helps your subconscious sound the alarm if you veer off track.
Choose one task that will make the greatest difference in your life and do it – no matter what. Then, quite naturally, you will start to incorporate other changes. With time, you’ll find that your life moves in a purposeful direction.
Many people enthusiastically write out elaborate plans, and their momentum invariably fizzles when it’s time to implement them. If it’s hard to get started or sustain energy, consider hiring an experienced coach. Working with others often hastens success.
I have a few spots available for July coaching. Call me right now.