As we head towards the end of the year, I want to encourage all of us to pause, review our year-long goals and assess the probability of completing them in the next 40ish days. If the probability is high that you will meet your goals, congratulations on your ability to create reasonable goals, sustain your habits, and stay on target! For the rest of us, it’s time to kick in “Plan B”.
Develop Attainable Goals
One of the most difficult time management skills to learn is how to develop goals that are attainable in a specific period of time. The problem is that many of us create goals based on what we hope (or even dream) of accomplishing in a given time frame. This is commonly done by pulling numbers and deliverables out of thin air without the slightest idea of how or when we will do the work to achieve our lofty goals.
We often set audacious goals because making reasonable ones seems so small and uninspiring. But when we create unrealistic goals, we set ourselves up to feel disappointed, discouraged and demoralized. I see people set unattainable goals all the time and they tend to result in 1 of 2 negative outcomes. Some set such big goals (i.e. “finish my book”) that they never start writing because it seems far too enormous to tackle. Then, these same people find themselves at the end of another year with unmet goals, unfinished projects, and the awful feeling that they work all the time but aren’t moving forward. At the other end of the continuum are people who are incredibly productive. But because they set goals that are literally unattainable, they don’t meet them. Then they end the year with feelings of failure and frustration, despite having made significant progress on other projects.
Consider a PLAN B That Connects Your GOALS to TIME
I encourage you to review your goals for the year. I know it’s difficult, but let’s take an open and honest look at our goals without criticism, judgment or guilt. Instead, start by appreciating the optimism that you felt when you wrote your goals and acknowledging all the work that you have completed already.
Here’s what you can do to make the rest of your year a success –
- Prioritizeyour work
- Develop consistent daily habits
- Create support and accountability
- Learn to say “no” often and without guilt
- Understand what is holding you back
- Identify your resistance
- Start to think about your career as a book with many chapters
- Interrogate your perfectionism
- Release yourselves from the need to be perfect
- Develop a spirit of compassion towards yourself
As you revise your goals for the remainder of the year, try to move beyond just listing your goals by figuring out how you will accomplish the goals and when you will do the work. In other words, apply the same process you would use to create a strategic plan for the next 40 days.
Go through the next four weeks in your calendar and block out all of your existing time commitments: meetings, appointments, travel, etc.
Take a long, hard look at your remaining goals and try to figure out the steps that are necessary to complete them. This clarity is essential if you are going to begin accurately estimating your time.
Go ahead and map the actual work tasks onto your calendar. Then block out time in your calendar to complete each of those tasks.
The value in this exercise is that it will force you to take an abstract idea, break it down into its constituent parts, and connect that work with time. The ugly reality is that if you are unable to find the time in your calendar to complete the tasks that will get you to your goal, then you are unlikely to achieve the goal. If you are not sure how long it actually takes to complete various tasks, take your best guess and then multiply that guess by 2.5 (the average factor by which most people I work with underestimate how long writing tasks take to complete). Still can’t find time for all the work necessary? Then it’s time to get real and prioritize. Maybe you won’t finish everything but you could realistically complete part of your tasks. I know it’s painful, but adjusting your expectations and planning the work now sure beats feeling like a failure at the end of the year. Why? Because you will feel better having scheduled and completed several tasks that move you closer to completing your goals than you will avoiding the whole thing and starting a new year with no progress. For now, just try to gently ask yourself: what can I realistically accomplish in the next 40 days? Then carve out the time in your calendar to accomplish the tasks that will move you towards reaching your goals.
I hope that this week brings you the courage to assess your goals, the creativity to revise them, and the discipline to write every day!
This week contains 2 reasons to give thanks: 1) because it’s “Thanksgiving”! and 2) a few days off from work, meetings, etc.! How will you spend your holiday break? Are you planning on a binge or a break? Will it be a time of enjoyment spent with family and friends, or will it be a time where you are working hard while everyone else enjoys their days off? As always, there’s no right or wrong answer. Instead, you should make conscious choices that meet your needs & reflect on how your approach to Thanksgiving Break is related to your daily work habits.
The “Break As A Binge” Model
Most people view scheduled breaks throughout the year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and so on) as a time to catch up on all the things they had planned to work on during the year, but did not. These breaks are their salvation because they involve large blocks of uninterrupted time, solitude (either at home or at the office without others around), and the leisure time to just think.
Unfortunately, that beautifully imagined break often gets disturbed by the reality that holidays include travel, family commitments and more, all of which require time and energy. This typically means that work commitments or personal goals are simply replaced by equally time-intensive activities with family and friends during this season.
When a break-induced binge is successful, we feel back on track with our projects and a sense of significant professional progress. But the cost is often physical and mental exhaustion, and some strain on our relationships with family & friends. When the binge is unsuccessful and we don’t accomplish all we imagined, we may experience guilt, disappointment and shame over yet another unfulfilled task. Usually when I have binged on breaks in the past, I’ve always felt like I’ve lost more time than I’ve gained in productivity.
The “Break As A Break” Model
For those of you who work every day towards your goals, holiday breaks are real breaks (as in a time to rest from work). If you have made consistent progress towards your goals, then treating the break as a break makes perfect sense. In short, the Break-As-A-Break Model is possible when you have successfully shifted your mentality from hoping for large blocks of time of productivity to pro-actively creating small blocks of time in your daily schedule.
Ultimately, how we understand Thanksgiving Break speaks volumes about how we work on a daily basis AND how we understand the core of our professional identity. In other words, when my normal daily existence includes working towards my goals, then a “break” means a break. But when your daily routine is spent serving everyone elses around you, then a “break” means a break from meeting the needs of others so you can finally attend to your own needs.
I encourage you to spend this Thanksgiving Break in whatever way that your needs dictate. It’s okay to binge, and it’s okay to take a break.
I hope this upcoming week brings you the strength to honestly assess where you are in life and the clarity to make whatever adjustments are necessary so you can enjoy the life you so richly deserve!