Today’s guest post is by Productivityist contributor Lee Garrett. Lee is a freelance Project Manager, IT Consultant and Productivity Coach based in the South East of England. You can follow him on Twitter @myproductivemac.
Recently I was given the task of clearing out a room in the house so it could be redone. During the process, I had to take all of the waste that was created to the local rubbish dump. There was a metal cabinet that needed to be disposed of in it’s own recycling container that was for scrap metal only. When I reached the container, I was quite surprised at what I saw inside.
I counted four exercise bikes.
This sight made me stop and pause. While doing so, I thought of the time I decided to quit doing New Year resolutions.
Several years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I decided that I needed to lose weight. I’m a former smoker who packed on a few pounds on when I quit, and this has been a genuine source of unhappiness for me. “New Year, New Me” was all that was going through my mind. I wanted to change.
But all I saw in front of me were two things; I saw the figure that I wanted to change as well as the image of a figure I wanted to have. A lean, muscular, athletic fellow that my wife would positively drool over. There was no middle ground. No desire for gradual improvement. I wanted the figure of Adonis and I wanted it NOW.
So my resolution was simple. I decided I was going to lose weight, build muscles, be healthy and gorgeous.
I know what you’re thinking. This statement is loose, unspecific and unrealistic. While I may have had great intentions, the truth is, this goal was never going to work.
Anyhow, my naivety aside, I bought an exercise bike, a gym membership, new running shoes, the works – all because I assumed that buying the right equipment was half of the journey.
Of course, I was wrong.
Without a specific goal and a set date to achieve it, there was no way of maintaining motivation. I’d finish a workout, look at myself in the mirror and see no change. I’d jump on the scales at the end of the week and while there would be a slight improvement, it just wasn’t enough to keep me going. The results simply weren’t happening quickly enough. The end date just seemed too far away to keep me motivated.
I sold my exercise bike on Ebay the following February.
I did, however, resolve to do much better next year.
Shift Your Goals
When I started reading productivity books and began this journey of self-improvement, I realized some of the key mistakes that I had been making. I wasn’t breaking my goals down into manageable targets that were easier to reach. I was concentrating on what I wanted to achieve, but had not planned out the steps I would need to get there.
I needed to set myself some targets that were not so far away, to reduce the view on the horizon. After reading Brian Moran’s book, The 12 Week Year, I decided to adopt quarterly goals.
A quarter of a year – which is 12 weeks or 90 days however you wish to think of it – is long enough to complete a project of some substance. It is also short enough to reduce those feelings of overwhelm that plagued me with yearlong targets. I also realized that by adopting a minimum of two goals per quarter, I was going to complete at least eight projects in the coming year. For someone that was struggling with half-finished work and broken promises, this was a great draw.
Imagine with me for a moment: what if your year was only three months long? Nothing else is planned out after that. Instead, all of your focus is used with laser-like precision for the coming quarter. When I implemented this for the first time, I found that it was far easier to maintain my focus and determination to succeed because the goal wasn’t too far away.
You can achieve A LOT in a quarter.
So far, since I started using quarterly goals, I have:
- Set up my personal website and started to generate a small revenue
- Written a project management book
- Attained two project management certifications
- Started my own podcast
- Created a writing schedule that allows me to write for third party sites (like this!)
- Helped co-author a Slack guide with Dave Caolo and Mike Vardy
- Completed some other household and family projects that I won’t bore you with here!
How To Prepare Your Goals
We should all have plans for where we want to be, no matter how high level they may be. David Allen often talks about the 50,000 feet view to describe your life goals. Ideally, your quarterly goals should align with your life goals. Your quarterly goals will obviously not be your grand life plan; however, they should form a stepping stone to get you there. My life plan may be to run my own Project Management Consultancy with a fleet of PMs ready to service the world. While that is not a quarterly goal, the certification I will receive in the next few months is definitely a feasible goal. Each month I can take the next step, and so on.
It is important to define these goals. However, it is equally important to clear a lot of the clutter from your own project list. How many tasks have you undertaken that are simply not current or relevant anymore? Which projects will get you to the place you want to be? Is there anything that you can cut? If so, cut them! Get rid of everything you can so you can be presented with a list of projects that are going to help advance you to your dream. If applying for an accounting MBA is the thing that will get you from one place to the next, that’s what you need to do. If something is stopping you, remove that thing from your daily life. You need to focus on your nearest goals.
Keep your Eyes on the Prize
Now that you have a smaller list of projects available to you, focus on one or two for your first quarter. Defer everything else that you can and try to keep no more than a couple under your immediate focus. As you know that you are going to be concentrating on a small set of tasks, coupled with the knowledge that you are going to be coming to the other projects on your list soon enough, you will find that you are able to work on your quarterly goals with less distraction and the desire to procrastinate will be dramatically reduced.
Use Your Mornings
I like to get up early in the mornings, make no mistake about it. So I appreciate these words are easier for me to write than it may be for you to read, however I cannot over-emphasize the importance of working on your key goals as early as possible. For me, getting up before the rest of the family gives me that uninterrupted period of focus that I simply cannot guarantee at any other time of the day. I get at least an hour, sometimes two, where I get myself into the zone and my brain starts to do some mad ninja stuff that betrays how it is at other times of the day! I put it down to the fact I know I’m not going to be disturbed. The phone is on silent, the kids are snoring, my notifications are off on my laptop, and work colleagues aren’t online. It just gets done.
My goals are quarterly, but I review them as part of my weekly review. Once a week, I sit down and look at how I’m performing with them. I ask myself questions like: Am I on schedule? What could I improve? Did I lose focus? I make a note of these results in my journal (I use Day One as my journaling app of choice). Using a journal works for me as I have another weekly task that involves looking back at my journal entries for the last week (as well as for certain tags but that’s a separate story) so this keeps my reviews in one nice, tidy system.
When I first adopted quarterly goals, I was very conservative with the targets I set. I found myself achieving things in half the time I would have expected. I attribute this directly to the fact that I work on a maximum of two goals at any one time.
I’ve now found myself applying this level of focus to other areas of my life. I used to have three or four books in progress at any one time; now I just focus on one book and don’t start another until the first book is completed. As you can guess, I’m now getting through more books than ever. I’m mindful to the fact I should only work on one task at a time rather than split my focus.
This style of targeted living has made a dramatic difference to many aspects of my life and I highly recommend it.