The Missing Step to Achieving Your Goals

Last week, I showed you how to set your goals, break those goals into objectives, and finally break those objectives into tasks.

Today, I want to add one more step that will help you stay on track and reach your goals that much faster.

You see, the act of setting goals helps you clarify what you want and where you want to be. And then breaking those goals down into objectives and tasks gives you the roadmap to get there.

But that alone isn’t enough to succeed. You still have to DO the tasks.

So here’s a surefire process for staying on track …

First, plan what task you’ll do each day.

If you’re like many professionals I know, a lot of your time gets stolen by urgent tasks that come up throughout the day.

  • Your colleague needs help with a project … right now.
  • A customer has a complaint you need to deal with … right now.
  • An opportunity presents itself that you need to follow-up on … right now.
  • Your opinion is needed on a decision being made … right now.
  • A potential client calls and wants a quote … right now.

These urgent tasks are often important to the smooth running of your business, but they also have a way of impeding your progress toward your bigger goals.

But there’s something you can do to ensure you keep moving forward.

Each day, while organizing your to-do list, plan to do one activity that will directly impact one of your goals. It should have great enough impact that you’re able to answer “Yes!” to the following question:

“If this is the only action I take today toward achieving my goals, will I be satisfied with what I accomplished?

Take five minutes to prepare.

To ensure you’re using your time each day most efficiently, never wait until the morning to decide what you’re going to do that day. Instead, spend some time at the end of each day preparing for the next morning.

This shouldn’t take you long … five to 10 minutes is usually enough.

Review your goals and the tasks associated with them. Determine the task that will have the biggest impact, and then plan your schedule so that you can complete it first thing in the morning.

Write it down, so it’s right there for you to see when you arrive at your desk the next day. Also, decide if you need anything special to achieve the task … a phone number, a file, a book.

If you do need anything, go ahead and get it now, so it’s there and ready for you in the morning.

Do not multitask.

To be most effective, you want to focus on what you’re doing. That means doing the task from start to finish without a single distraction.

According to Timothy Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” people who multitask feel as though they’re being more productive. But in actuality, they’re accomplishing less.

“Divided attention will result in more frequent interruptions, lapses in concentration, poorer net results, and less gratification.”

If you’d like to prove it, try not multitasking for a week, and instead focus on one project at a time. (It’s not easy, I know!)

Track the results at the end of the week. I think you’ll be amazed at how much more you get done.

Schedule according to your productivity burst.

The final step is to plan enough time to put your best work into the task, taking into consideration your productivity burst.

Your productivity burst is the length of time you can work on a project and continue to be productive.

Some people work better in one-hour blocks. Others like to put in 15 minutes of focused work and then see where they are before deciding whether to continue or not.

I personally operate in 30-minute intervals, because that’s about how long my attention can stay focused. And this goes with everything I do – including meetings. If it can’t be done in 30 minutes, I break it into two parts and schedule accordingly.

Of course, if I’m feeling inspired, I can choose to keep going. But when scheduling my day, I never schedule for more than 30 minutes at time, because I know I’m less efficient once I pass the 30-minute mark.

You can figure out your own productivity burst by having a timer run while you’re working. When it seems natural to take a break, look at how long you’ve been working. Do this several times, and you’ll get a feel for your natural productivity burst.

Once you know your productivity burst, plan at least that much time in the morning to work toward your most important goal.

If you work a full-time job, go in that much earlier in the day, so you can work on your goal uninterrupted by your coworkers.

If you work at home, wait to complete your task before turning on your instant messenger, listening to voicemails, or checking your email.

Closing thoughts …

As you become more productive, you’ll continue to develop and tweak your own set of “best practices.” What works well for you may not work well for someone else.

But when it comes to achieving your goals, this is probably one of the most overlooked steps.

If you can get in the habit – accomplishing an important task each day – you’ll be taking one step closer toward achieving your goals every day. And that’s hands down the fastest way to reach them.

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Published: June 2, 2009

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