If we are truly interested in achieving our dreams and expanding our ability to make a difference in the world with what we do then we have to make time to make this happen RIGHT NOW. So grab a paper and pencil and get ready to start something amazing.
No matter how busy you think you are, you have the ability to make time. The world will still exist tomorrow if you don’t do whatever “busy” to-do item you think is so critical today. Systems can be over-ridden to make exceptions, deadlines adjusted, impatient people will eventually calm down, law suits will pass, policy can be changed, you can find another job, and on and on. Have you ever been sick and unable to work or known someone important who was sick and unable to work for a day or several days? Did the world cease to exist? Did the company or organization go bankrupt? Did someone die? Probably not, and if so there was probably a deeper underlying reason why this happened then someone not doing their work for a couple of days.
Meaningful goals are the key to taking charge of your life and accomplishing impactful work. Think about it, how many people do you know that are wildly productive, super successful, and excited about what they are doing and have no goals, no vision, no dreams? Most of the happily successful people that I know not only have goals but they live their goals and dreams each day as though they have already accomplished them. So lets take a look at how we create meaningful goals that are actually worth our time to pursue. Goals that are an investment in our time and not a waste of our time.
Goals vs. To-Do Lists
I think a lot of us are guilty of confusing goals with to-do lists, myself included. For example, I may come to work everyday and have a “goal” to get through all my emails, or finish a report, or fix something on the organizations website, or answer all customer questions, or teach my class, or be friendly, or attend some meeting. Are those really goals or are they just “to-do” items to fill my 8-12 hours at work or are the to-do items for accomplishing bigger goals? Here is how you figure it out . . . just ask yourself this question . . . WHY?
I have to get through my email. Why? I have to finish this report. Why? I have to attend this meeting. Why? And so on. For most people the answer to that questions is “because it’s my job” or “because that is what I am paid to do”. They live out their lives trudging through the endless monotony of work, waiting for that glorious day when retirement will arrive, only to discover that the door to retirement leads them to an empty room. The only thing that brought purpose and direction to their life was a job where they could depend on someone else telling them what to do. How many people do you know that retired and then three months later after enjoying the freedom of being able to sit around, golf, and visit the grandkids, end up bored out of their mind and painfully depressed?
So look at your list and ask yourself, why? If the answer is “I don’t know”, which would be the same as “because it’s my job”, you’ve got some investigating and rethinking to do AND you may have potentially identified a way to clear up some time to focus on something bigger and better. The work you are doing may actually not be necessary to achieve whatever the bigger picture goal is, if it even exists.
As you dig into the “whys” and start to identify that by golly, there is actually a bigger reason for why I’m doing what I’m doing, in that moment you have empowered yourself to shape how you work toward that goal. For example, lets say that after digging into why I feel like I have have a staff meeting every week, I discover that my ultimate goal is that I want every staff member I work with to be top notch when it comes to performance, how their job relates to others on the team, group problem solving, and their relationships with one another. Once I’ve identified that goal now I can go back and re-look at how I am approaching staff meetings and perhaps other items on my to-do list. Maybe to achieve that bigger goal I need to totally restructure how I approach meetings.
If I take the example of email, maybe I determine that my ultimate goal is to give our customers a very positive experience when they interact with me and our organization. In this case it forces me to re-evaluate how I approach handling my email. Maybe it’s stressing me out because I feel like I have to “get through” everything every day. So I ask how can I give our customers a positive experience without spending all day in my box. I start to research how to better block my time and experiment with different techniques to improve my efficiency.
Only by discovering and defining our bigger picture goals can we start to take charge of our work and our life and start making exponentially greater progress toward accomplishing those goals. When we do this we’ll also discover these goals carry with them a greater sense of meaning and purpose to what we do.
Wrong Direction Goals
It is wonderful to be able to serve our customers and make a difference in people’s lives. If it weren’t for our customers we would not exist. That said, the customer is not always right. I’ve read of organizations that have gone out of business because they tried to be everything to everyone and in the process of doing so became nothing to no one.
There is a Berenstein Bears story where Papa bear gets really disgruntled with the Mayor because he isn’t dealing with the pothole issue in Bear Country. Papa gets so upset that he decides to run for mayor. In doing so he realizes that potholes aren’t the only issue. There are thousands of issues and the mayor has to look carefully at all of them and decide based on the needs and direction of the city which ones are most critical to focus on. The mayor has a perspective that individual members of the community do not and makes decisions that he feels will best propel the city forward.
If we listen to those we serve, and have established meaningful goals and a clear vision, we will have a much broader perspective regarding what is best for the company or organization overall and for our general customer base, even if it clashes with the expectations and request of a small percentage of our customers. At times companies and organizations evolve out of trying to be everything for everyone, which leads to developing clunky processes and traditions that eventually become ripe for some pruning or end up rotting the entire tree.
If you take a look at your day to day to-do’s ask yourself “Why am I doing this?”, and either don’t have an answer or don’t like the answer, it’s time to make some changes. “But I can’t change, it’s too hard, people won’t like it, people won’t let us, blah, blah, blah.” (We’ll look into those lame objections later) For now if you identify somewhere you are exerting valuable time, energy, and resources that could be put to better use somewhere else, make a goal to phase out that practice.
Creating Meaningful Goals
So I’ve gone through my to-dos, discovered my overarching goals, achieved them, the world is perfect, and everyone is holding hands and singing Kumbaya, what now? So now that we’ve taken back control of our jobs, our departments, and our lives, now it is time to really start innovating. So how do we come up with goals that not only make a huge impact on our customers and organization, but bring personal fulfillment to our work-lives, and have us coming to work and leaving for home energized and excited about what we are doing?
When I was a boy I never dreamed of being an academic administrator, actually even until July 15th of last year I didn’t dream of being an academic administrator, unless it was a nightmare, but thanks to a series of odd events here I am. Now I have a couple of choices. I can live the stereotype and throw out my enthusiasm, drive, and assume a generally neutral to negative demeanor, going to work each day to accomplish work for work’s sake, living for the weekends and for retirement. I can drown my dissatisfaction and cynicism in my inbox and in soul sucking meetings, or I can see the potential all around me for something greater, something bigger, and live each day with passion, purpose, and excitement.
So lets talk about goals worth pursuing and how to create them.
- Goals worth pursuing are new. They are something you haven’t tried before or been successful at in the past.
- Goals worth pursuing make a difference in someone’s life in a way you can personally experience.
- Goals worth pursuing are personally meaningful to you. You came up with the goal because you care about it.
- Goals worth pursuing come with opposition, are not easy to achieve, and require that you focus and rethink how you are doing what you are doing so that you can make time to achieve them.
- Goals worth pursing must be specific enough that you can visualize each component of it’s completion.
- Goals worth pursuing must be time-bound. If I say I want to write a book as my goal I can chip away at it until the day I die. If I say I’m going to write a book this year, then I actually need to sit down and calendar out how I’m going to make it happen.
I don’t really have a lot of time, nor do you. At the same time we both have the same amount of time each day as everyone else on the planet, we just choose to do different things with that time. Some things we “have” to do to maintain certain relationships that we think are important, possess certain things that we think are important (food, shelter, car, etc.), and then we have a lot of time where we have convinced ourselves that what we do in that time is non-negotiable or our lives will fall apart.
I’ve come to realize lately that in order to achieve my personal goals, that once I have finished the “have to’s” and anytime where I have a spare moment, in those moments I sit down and work on my goal. That means instead of watching TV, reading a book, surfing the internet, going on a hike, etc. I sit and I focus until I’ve accomplished my goal. That doesn’t mean I don’t watch TV, read, surf, or go hiking, I just had to re-examine what was most important and put off some relaxation now for something greater later. Do I want to read right now, or do I want to finish the book I am writing by the end of the month? Reading seems a lot more enjoyable right now, but the joy of finishing my book would vastly trump the pleasure of reading, and I can always read this book next month.
What will you do? Will you approach a part of your job differently, even when it has the potential for people getting upset at you for taking longer than usual? Will you work on something that seems difficult right now even though by so doing you might accomplish something that will make the life of those who got upset at you for taking too long easier and better. Or will you say, that’s too hard, I don’t like people getting upset at me, and keep waiting for retirement.
If there is anything you are dissatisfied with, don’t like doing, would like to see grow, want to figure out how to make your job easier and more enjoyable, etc. then now is the time to make it happen.
I don’t have the time, knowledge, resources, money, support, etc. to accomplish my goal, so why bother? The most successful people in life remove “so why bother” and end that question with “so I better figure out how to make the time, get the knowledge, acquire the resources, earn the money, or gather the support I need”.
Reality to Brandon, you are too idealistic and need to come back to Earth and engage with the negative reality of life. People have actually told me that I’m too idealistic and that some of the things I’ve tried to accomplish can’t be done. I generally just ignore them and accomplish it anyway, even while being completely derided on certain forums for doing so. Every great thing I have accomplished has had the way paved with opposition and cynicism. Learn to ignore it, because it is inevitable when you are trying to accomplish something great and something you believe passionately in.
I really don’t care that much about my job to invest time and energy coming up with goals. This is something that I have struggled with now and again throughout my working years. All I can say here is that generally when I had that attitude I was significantly less satisfied with my work and my life, and in some cases work was completely depressing and anxiety inducing. I learned later on that life is way to short to spend my days working at something I don’t care about, that is just a job. Oddly enough I also learned that changing jobs does not necessarily solve the problem of not caring. Every job changes was exciting for a while and then I would drift back into “just a job” mentality until I changed my attitude and since then every job has been a life changing opportunity, even during the rough times.