John Lee Dumas interviews the most inspiring and successful entrepreneurs on his podcast Entrepreneur on Fire every day of the week. One of the questions he frequently gets asked is what it is that makes these people so successful. His answer is that they can effectively set and achieve goals.
As I wrote about in my last post and Part 1 of this series on improving my productivity in 2016, I started by creating clarity for myself and updating my vision. My vision then became the source that I used to start setting goals that were aligned and would bring me closer to achieving that vision.
The way I am thinking about productivity breaks down as: Vision -> Goals -> Projects ->Tasks
I’m not going to spend too much time on goal setting other than saying that goals should be S.M.A.R.T.
S – Specific: Clear definition of what it is you want to achieve
M – Measurable: Objective criteria to track progress and know when the goal has been met
A – Attainable: Do you possess the skill, ability, capacity, discipline, etc. that is necessary
R – Realistic: Is it something that you are both willing and able to work toward
T – Timely: A time frame to create a sense of urgency to meet a deadline
Once I had my goals, I moved on to projects. To me, a project is anything that will take multiple tasks (single action items) to complete. I started by taking an inventory of all my current projects by mind-dumping and writing down all the projects I could think. I thought about current work projects, family projects, my goals and the associated projects needed to achieve those, my roles and responsibilities at home and at work and what additional projects may be needed in those areas. Creating a complete project list is extremely important here!
One other basic productivity principle that kept coming up in all the content I reviewed is to have as few active goals and projects as possible. This is one of the main things I struggled with when I reflect on 2015. The quote “If you commit to too much you will be distracted by everything” sums up last year quite well actually. I was all over the place with too many priorities and was too distracted vs. staying focused on achieving any one specific thing. Therefore, I may have made progress on a lot of different things but didn’t have as many notable achievements as I could have.
After I had my full list of projects, I started aligning them to particular goals. If they didn’t align…I assessed whether they still aligned to my vision and I either put it on a “Someday/Maybe” list or deleted it all together. Then I prioritized the remaining projects on the list. After my experience last year, I’m not going to work on another project until I literally can’t do anything more with my top priority. This means I usually end up with a handful projects that are active at any one time. However, each of those have clear priority level so I know where to focus my time and effort.
In addition to my projects, I also have what I am calling my “focus areas”. The difference between a focus area and a project is that a project requires a time investment to complete various tasks whereas a focus area is just intended to help guide decisions to change a habit with no additional time investment required. For example, a current focus area for me is improving my gut health. Eating and cooking food is part of my routine already so this “focus area” is intended to guide the decisions I make about what I eat, drink, and cook. I only have one to two focus areas at a time until I feel like I’ve established the habit change that I want. The same concept applies here, trying to change too many habits all at once will make it more difficult to create lasting change in any one of them. Therefore, I want to focus all my willpower and self-control on one or two changes instead of spreading it across too many.
One of the other major productivity errors I made last year was not effectively sharing/communicating my goals and project priorities with all the necessary people in my life. Obviously, if goals and priorities aren’t aligned and supported by the people that have the greatest impact on you (spouse, boss, family, etc.) it is going to make achieving them instrumentally more challenging.
So…having S.M.A.R.T. goals that are aligned with my vision, prioritizing and minimizing the number of projects and focus areas I’m working on, and ensuring they are aligned and supported by the most important people in my life should help make this my most productive year ever! Right?