- By Ian Bradley
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In my practice as a executive coach in Montreal, I am often confronted by clients who criticize themselves for lack of organizational skills.
“Why can’t I get this done?” or “I’m always behind” and “my to-do list never gets accomplished! “ are often common expressions of this malaise.
There are many excellent books that I recommend to address these issues. However, each book takes an unique approach often focusing on only one segment of the problem. More importantly, many of my clients complain that they’re too far in the hole to start reading books.. Hence, my desire to produce a brief document that could serve as a template for self-examination and hopefully change.
These strategies were gathered across a wide variety of academic and practical primary sources ranging from peer reviewed scientific studies to self-help books. The report references some current electronic aids to goal setting but the major emphasis is upon psychological principles and practical techniques. I owe thanks for two McGill graduate students who garnered much of the information in the original version.
Each strategy is label, described in general and specific detail before an example is provided.
Principle Method Details Example Peak Performance
through goal setting
Setting difficult but achievable goals has been shown to increase performance in both individuals and work teams-
the research supporting this proposition is overwhelming,
Make a commitment either publically or privately to yourself in writing citing the rationale of the goal.
See the work of I/O psychologists Latham and Locke.
I plan to accomplish task X defined as … since I realize that accomplishing X will get me… Be specific about the task and its parts Task deconstruction; it takes the fear and sting out of even the most daunting tasks. Specific goals should easily to break down into clear, actionable steps. Good examples:
· “Clarify new divisional management structure: operations and finance”
Also specify time aspects Link each goal to a time frame for accomplishment, it can be daily, weekly or quarterly. Following the advice of Mackenzie and Nickerson review your own goals each day, before you examine incoming emails etc “..I’m going to use follow-up.cc or Boomerang that re-sends a to-do email back to me in three weeks as a reminder…” Backwards sometimes works Some people like to start planning from step 1 and going until completion, however, sometimes it is better to envision the end-point and work backwards Backward planning also brings us mentally closer to the goal thus providing a motivational spark.
Remember effective retail loyalty programs start people off with existing points or a stamp on their card
…”Ok, I’ve got this thesis to write, let me start with my ideal design or results and work backwards…” Represent the goals visually Easier to solve problems (draw schematic diagram or envision global picture), allows better reading comprehension Use schematic diagram, or a diagram to envision the global picture see “Back of Napkin” by Dan Roam for a full description Choosing Goals:
value vs. urgency
The value of a project or task always trumps urgency.
Value is determined by considering your own or your organization’s goals
Just because someone else thinks the task is urgent doesn’t mean that you should.
You should always ask if the “daily emergency” is valuable enough to interrupt your plan for the day.
Rate value and urgency of each task or project. If your stuck about choosing a goal, do anything If you can’t decide upon priorities or are overwhelmed with multiple tasks, start anywhere. Task completion is rewarding and confidence inspiring, it will help you get to the really important stuff later. “Let’s start here..” Don’t re-cycle Don’t continually put a task back into the to-do bin If sometime unfinished comes up repeatedly, it’s a signal to scrap it, delegate it or modify it. Prioritizing tasks means not doing some things
or…”learning to say No..”
Why do some people advance more than others at work? An unique, five-year study of more than 5,000 managers and employees, Morten Hansen reveals that saying “no” or “can’t do” to requests can actually aid career advancement Working more hours to get everything done is only a path to burnout, selectivity is the key …”I would like to take that on but I am working on X that needs to be finished by…” For things untackled:
learn to delegate
Delegate tasks that are stable and repetitive.
Consider the underlying skills required to do the task and help the delegate by listing the required steps. the steps required
Delegation not only gets things off your plate but it can contribute to the career development of others
Considering what the delegate person needs from you:
-periodic access for questions
-periodic review of progress / review of work
Giving too much is stifling, too little is a receipe for delegation failure.
“ I would like you to succeed in accomplishing this task, what help could I provide…”
“ I plan to tell the team about why I have chosen you and to provide the same help to you as they give to me..”
Tame the Frenzy:
Get things out of your head
Get every single goal or task down on some paper or electronic form.
Include everything even those things that you’re unsure about how to accomplish. Use whatever works (notebook, app, planner, etc.)
Besides the steps towards the goal, don’t clutter your mind with anything extraneous such as other reports writing, other e-mails to answer , people to call etc
Freeing up your own mental “to-do” box allows you to better engage with the world
Let me end the day by writing down everything that I have to do.
Think about starting a Google spreadsheet for those ideas and thoughts linked to more aspirational goals.
See Merrill’s book Getting Organized in the Google Era
set aside “Red-Zone Time”
As deep thinking proponent X argues high-priority or demanding tasks that require concentrated, highly focused thinking. You can’t multitask strategic planning.
An “always-available” approach is disastrous.
Identify these red-zone tasks and regularly schedule weekly or daily time for these tasks.
See the writing of Carl Newport on Deep Work.
..”I’ll be unavailable working in my office not taking calls from 3 to 4 on Wednesdays..” In general, take control over your attention Attention is powerful: our brains do not process information effectively if we focus our attention on multiple tasks at a time. Manage your time by being wise in how you split your attention and picking which activities or tasks can permit interruptions in attention …”Let me shut the door today from 11 until 1 pm without calls or emails, I must monitor how many times I look at newsfeeds on my phone..” Examine and re-structure your mental space Examine the background features of your work, things that you do routinely such as:
-tracking work output
-how you attract clients
Ask if these strategies are working or redundant?
Even if they are working, question whether they can be improved by technology.
Examples of restructuring a work style include include a decision to look at emails only at a fixed frequency, or ditching multiple appointment/to-do calendars etc Do the same thing with your physical space It’s hard to work with a clear mind in a cluttered space. Out physical environment can either support or detract from our work. See Kondo’s book on tidying-up for an extreme example, and the learning library at Steelcase.com for something more corporate. ‘’How’s the lighting in my work space, the comfort of my chair, access to materials..”etc
Sometimes, a drastic change in work environment can re-launch a stalled task.
Cognitive efficiency Improve your access to the relevant information by grouping similar tasks Schedule projects/. Reports/meetings with similar background information together or close in time …”all these three tasks involve a literature search, I’ll do all three together..” Track things Measure your progress to goal accomplishment
If you are spending excessive time of infotainment sites such as Reddit then as Cal Newport suggests track the time spent on those sites, it can be revealing
Too often our celebration of goal attainment is brief as we move quickly to the next task; take time to celebrate. “Let me record my major client acquisitions by placing checkmarks in my weekly agenda…at the same time I’ll record the time I spend on Facebook.”
Good luck on your own good achievement!