Map Your Battle Plan IV: Course Correcting – The Signposts
This is part four in a five part series. To read the rest go here.
So, you set a goal? You did the Reset Retreat, and are already starting to stumble. What you need is a system, a way to course correct on the journey – you need some signposts and waystations on your path. And that’s what we’re talking about today.
The first time though this system will be, by far, the hardest. You’re going to stumble, and you will experience failures. Keep going.
There are two parts of this system – short term and long term. The short term system (covered here) focuses on finishing strong. It could be considered the tactical part of the system. In truth, the short term system will get you to the finish line. The long term system is more the strategic part of the system. There we look at the big picture. There we truly learn and plan to dominate.
Setting goals is good, and a Google search likely turns up thousands of articles on how to do it. We have our own methods, honed and refined as we’ve implemented them over the years. But as we’ve said before, setting goals is only a small part of the process. Setting goals does not get you to finishing the goal, which is arguably the most important part.
To do that we utilize a few strategic processes to help guide us along the way, and more importantly course adjust as we go. Otherwise, you may wind up at the end standing there wondering how you got here, and realizing it not only wasn’t where you had meant to be, but wasn’t even worthwhile. So we present here the systems and processes we use to achieve goals. The signposts and waystations of the goal journey to help you evaluate and course adjust as you go.
Checking the signposts on your journey
Most goals should take more than a day to accomplish. If it doesn’t, it’s not a goal, it’s a to-do item. Goals are multitask items that will often be broken down into many to-do items. And to do so we have a set of short-term processes that cover daily, weekly, and monthly systems. These not only allow you to do small course adjustments as you go, but to give a level of accountability and marking of progress (or lack of it).
Daily review (5-15 minutes)
When you start out the first few times you go through this process it will take a little time. After you are geared into it and found your flow it will take almost no time at all. Realistically, after a few weeks unless you have a mountain of goals this should get refined down to less than 5 minutes a day. And, yes, you absolutely have 5 minute to spare to do it.
Each evening sit down with your goals. Hopefully you’ve broken them down enough that you can move through this part fairly easily and quickly, but realistically the first few times you do this you’re going to find you haven’t. Therefore, the first thing to do is break your goal down into tasks that can be done in a week or less. So, for our purposes here, we’re going to use the goal of remodeling a bedroom, including a large built-in desk and shelves. Breaking the goal down you might take it down to plan out the space, buy the lumber and supplies, build the desk and shelves. This would be what most people would come up with. However, upon execution, you’ll find that “plan out the space” usually is numerous smaller tasks that can easily take more than a week. Such tasks would be to pick where it goes; verify that you can put it in that space – i.e. no pipes for plumbing, major electrical concerns, structural concerns, etc. (a task in and of itself that may take more than a week sometimes); get precise measurements; identify just how you want this thing laid out (should the desk have two drawers or three? And so forth); what materials you plan to use to make all that; premeasure to be sure you are getting the right stuff; and so forth. Having done projects of this nature, I can assure you there’s probably more involved that I missed. So take the time to break it down right, it will save you a lot more time and hassle later.
From the list you now have, determine your Most Important Tasks (MITs). Each day set aside some time to do 3 MITs. We recommend in the morning, before work. These are tasks that will move the needle on your goals. The reason for this is simple, if you don’t determine what these are and schedule them, you likely won’t actually get around to doing them. There’s always something that will come up to eat away at your time. Usually something that isn’t actually important. If you start your day as most people do, without a plan, all those little, unimportant things will fill up your day, and nothing important [to you] will get done. So, set 3 MITs for the following day.
Once you’ve started this process, your first task will be to evaluate your MITs. Did you complete them? How long did it take, and just as importantly, how long did you expect it to take? You may find that you chronically over or under estimate time on your tasks. Go through each MIT, and then go through the other tasks you had on your schedule. Follow basically the same process for each one.
Now, set the next day’s MITs. Again, just 3. On rare occasions you can go up to 4 if you are certain your 3 will take less time than normal. For example, two of your MITs may be calling to schedule something for later with someone else. Calls tend to be pretty quick. If your third item is also a short one, adding a 4rth won’t set you back. But on a normal day if you load it up with 5-6 MITs, you’ll find you rarely if ever complete them all, or even get around to some of them for several days. You only have 24 hours in your day, after all, and at some point your body will insist on sleeping for some of it.
After setting your MITs you can set a few other tasks to do. These would be tasks that are not highly important, but helpful (and don’t take all day to do). For example, you’ve got time in your schedule on Tuesday to call a plumber to move a pipe for that built-in shelf. You’re still getting lumber and all and won’t be working on the wall itself for a few weeks so there’s time, but clearing it now is helpful. A task like this, if you don’t get to it, doesn’t set you back – but will eventually become an MIT if you want to stay on schedule.
Here’s where things detour from most everyone else. Do NOT ue a To-do list. Yes, I’m serious. To-do lists are great if you are a lackey doing grunt work for someone else, but horrible for most people. For your average person, and you likely are one, marking of a to-do list is great. Makes you feel like you accomplished something, and who doesn’t like that? And so, your average person loads up their list. They pile on all sorts of junk that is neither urgent nor important. Then, when they get to clearing their list, they go through all that chaff first. Yes, I need to call that plumber so I can install this weekend, but I need to call Bob about the cookout next weekend (and spend half an hour talking about Bob Jr’s recent soccer game and how the ref is an idiot). Next thing you know, you’re staring at the end of the business day on Friday and haven’t gotten through your list enough to call that plumber. Your entire schedule is now shot, but you got a lot of, realistically, unimportant stuff done. I’ve seen people burn through a huge to-do list in one day, getting a whole lot of unimportant stuff done, and at the end of the day they had nothing of value to show for it – except a cleared list that never should have been loaded up to begin with.
Pick a successful person you know – Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Oprah – and you’ll find that few of them use to-do lists. Instead, they schedule it. If it’s not on their calendar, it doesn’t exist. If almost all successful people work from their calendars and not a to-do list, there’s something to be learned there.
Sit down with a calendar or day planner and schedule your day. Be sure that you also leave white space on your calendar. Not only to have excess time in case you underestimated how long a task will take, but also because you need to breath and relax. The last thing you do in the daily review is re-schedule any tasks that didn’t get finished that day. If it’s an MIT, it automatically becomes the FIRST MIT of the next day.
The Weekly Review (10-30 minutes)
Ok, I estimate most people will take 10-30 minutes to do this process. That said, mine usually takes about 5 minutes most weeks. The weekly review is a lot like the daily review. First thing is to evaluate your week. If you’ve done the daily reviews, this should be pretty easy to do. You want to make note of days that you failed to reach your goals, and days when you did so easily. This information will be useful later. Take a moment to reassess your short-term goals. Are you on track? Ahead? Behind? Do you need to adjust the plan? Then lay out your prospective goals for the upcoming week. It is natural to easily determine MITs and schedule them, so feel free to do so. If you find you placed them on the wrong day, or over-estimated their value (i.e. not actually an MIT), just adjust in your daily review. From time to time you will actually complete a goal during the week. Yay! That’s what we’re aiming for! Schedule a little celebration. A little one, and reasonable. If the goal was to lose 10 lbs and you lost 11, planning a big feast with lots of desert (after all, you do have that extra pound you can give back) is very unwise. Your celebration shouldn’t have you returning to the goal you just finished.
However, if you did complete a goal, move to the next on the list and start on it. If you expect to finish a goal in the upcoming week, go ahead and prep for the next goal to be added. That said, if you expect to complete a goal on one of the last three days of the week (Friday – Sunday), don’t add another one. Finish off the week, and take a little down time or use the extra time to really focus on one of your other goals.
The Monthly Review (30-60 minutes)
Once a month sit down for a monthly review and planning. You go about this rather like your weekly review, with a few additions. Going over each week, are you seeing any patterns? Are you often falling short of the mark on Tuesdays, and repeatedly under-scheduling time on Thursdays? Are you finding that by Fridays you’re drained and struggling to get tasks done? Taking all of these things into account, rough out a plan for the upcoming month. Take special note that you can load harder tasks on Thursdays, and need to lighten the load on Fridays. Tuesdays may need to cut back to 2 MITs until little Sarah finishes her track & field season. You’ll refine and adjust this rough draft of your schedule as you go through your weekly and monthly reviews. This is also a time to prep for any tasks that may get started during the month if you anticipate completing one of your current goals.
There you have it, a system to progress through your goals on the short-term. For many people, this will seem like a lot. And many will think it’s a lot of stuff to do. And, for the first few times you do it, it is. However, you will find your rhythm and settle into a routine, even tweak the process to your own needs, and it will not only take up far less time, it will become almost second nature to you. Like learning anything new, it takes time and you will stumble. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you miss a review. It happens.