“The key is not to prioritize what is on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Steven Covey
We rarely control everything in our lives, but often we have more control than we realize. We are at the beginning of 2018. It is a time when we create New Year’s resolutions for ourselves and reflect over what went well and what didn’t last year. The problem is, most of us abandon our New Year’s resolutions before January is out (be honest). I tell you, consistency is hard. I have a ton of energy and passion, but staying focused and being disciplined with my time is easier said than done. Here are some things I have learned that help me to be consistent.
Step One: Focus on only a few goals. These goals will be different for everyone. I recently heard a story about Warren Buffet’s advice to his pilot, Mike, on how to prioritize and set goals. He told Mike to write down 25 goals. Out of those 25, circle 5. The story goes that Buffet asked Mike what he was going to do about the 20 he didn’t circle. When Mike responded that he would work on them intermittently as he had time, Buffet responded, “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.” Be focused. Don’t take time and energy away from what matters most.
Step Two: Create steps to achieving your goals.
List out what it will take for you to reach your goal. It may also make sense to set interim goals. An example would be training for a road race. Last year I completed my first half marathon. I never thought I could run that far. I broke down my training schedule into weeks, and how many runs and what distanced I had to do each week. There were times I thought I would not make it. Setting weekly mileage goals for myself broke down the training into doable steps. In October, I finished my first half marathon. It would have never happened had I not set interim weekly goals and had a plan to get there. Also, having my husband to motivate me was huge. Either make your goals public or find an accountability partner.
Step Three: Create a premortem.
Yes, this is like the opposite of the medical term postmortem. In a postmortem you diagnosis why a person died. In a premortem, you imagine your plan/goal failed and diagnose why at the outset. By identifying these reasons for failure, you can improve your plan and visualize what might sabotage you or hold you back from reaching a goal. For me, I struggle accomplishing important goals that don’t have a deadline associated with them. I spent some time making a list of all of the things that keep me from accomplishing them. By doing this I realized 1) I just don’t have enough time. I need to give up some things and not say yes to new things that don’t accomplish my goals. 2) I allow unimportant tasks to be done at my peak performance time of day. I need to be disciplined about saying no, or scheduling less important tasks later in the day and saving mornings to accomplish important work. 3) I need to schedule my days the night before. I am much more productive when I do that and get distracted less. 4) I need to assign a deadline to it and have someone who checks in with me.
Step Four: Find one or two words that tie your goals together. This brings clarity. As distractions come up, you can go back to your word. For 2018 my word is Elevate. To me that ties together my goal of staying focused and either delegating items that don’t fit or adding them to my “stop doing” list. It also means understanding how I can make the biggest impact and focusing my time in those areas. My word also ties together my relationships. I have limited time. Who do I want to spend that time with? I would rather focus on fewer deep relationships than many surface relationships. When something comes up, instead of going through each of my top goals, I can easily ask myself, does it tie in with Elevate. It simplifies decision-making. Post this word where you can see it often.
Step Five: Take time to reflect and plan. Be disciplined. As you may have noticed, all of the above requires planning and thinking. It also requires discipline. We need to realize that in order to accomplish a few big things we often have to give up something else. This may be as small as skipping a weekend away with friends to save for the trip to Paris, or not buying the bigger house so you can retire 3 years earlier or start a new business. If we know what it is we want and have a plan to achieve it, we will be able to make better decisions and have the discipline to accomplish the much bigger goal.