If you are like most creative, driven entrepreneurs and professionals, you have a lot of big goals, fun projects, and life-changing ideas on your plate – not to mention the other day-to-day tasks and activities that take up your time. Without a good process for analyzing, prioritizing, and planning, you can become overwhelmed and frustrated that yet another day – or week – goes by without measurable progress. Here I share 3 ways to address this overwhelm so you can reach your big goals quickly and with more focus and less stress, allowing you to share your passions with the world and have fun at the same time.
Success = Skill + Passion + Hard Work
Paul Torrance, Distinguished Professor, researcher, and developer of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, conducted a 40-year longitudinal study of creative individuals. Based on the results of his study, Torrance developed the Manifesto for Childrento guide them as they grow and struggle to maintain their creativity and use their strengths to create careers. While Torrance intended his manifesto for children, I think the guidance applies to adults as well.
Many of us learn these important ideas later in life, or maybe not at all. Torrance hoped to help improve a creative individuals’ chance of success and life fulfillment with his study and manifesto.
Similarly, you will be most successful and be able to help others more when you focus your time and energy on those things you are good at and passionate about. Big goals take hard work and if you don’t have the knowledge and excitement, you will be much less likely to put in the time and effort required. To narrow down the activities you should be spending your time on, draw the following grid on a piece of paper, and divide your ideas, goals, and activities into these categories:
You will want to spend the most time on activities and goals from the top-left “Enjoy/Skilled” quadrant and develop educational or learning goals from the top-right “Enjoy/Unskilled” quadrant. Or, if these activities don’t serve your greater goals, consider removing them. Look at delegating tasks in the bottom half of the grid – those you don’t enjoy – or if possible, remove them. Deleting tasks that don’t serve your greater purpose and goals will open the door for new opportunities.
Determine What To Start, Stop, or Continue Doing
A second exercise that can help you focus on your passions and priorities is the “Start/Stop/Continue” exercise. Write these three words on the top of a piece of paper and list all of those things you would like to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing. If you are a visual person, you might use mind-mapping as a way to brainstorm activities or tasks for each category.
Be realistic when considering your time and energy over the time period considered. This is a great exercise for habit-related activities and goals. For example, in order to have the energy and focus for my big goals, I would like to start drinking more water daily, stop staying up so late, and continue exercising at least 3 days per week.
Find Support and Accountability to Reach Your Goals
Being an entrepreneur, business owner, or leader can be lonely. You want to do great things but may not have someone that understands and shares your passion and drive. Without someone there to communicate your struggles and help get through roadblocks, there may be a loss of momentum or halted progress on your goals. It’s also important to be able to share your excitement when reaching milestones. E. Paul Torrance felt strongly enough about this to include two related items in his Manifesto for Children: “Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you.” and “Learn the skills of interdependence.”
Following are a few different ways you can find this support and assistance:
An accountability partner. This may be a family member, friend, or colleague, as long as they share your drive and passion and provide the support and encouragement you need through the good and challenging times.
A mastermind group. The advantage of a formal mastermind group is you have a team of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and skillsets as you work to set and reach your goals. For the best chance of success, I would recommend a paid group with an experienced leader/host.
A business, life, or productivity coach. Sometimes it makes the most sense to hire a coach to help you get clear on your passions, strengths, and goals and then to help you develop the plan to reach those goals. This person should provide motivation and accountability, be a sounding board as you work through challenges and offer solutions to keep you moving, and be your greatest cheerleader when things go well.
The world needs your big ideas – your book, your product, your new business, your knowledge, your energy, your talent. What will you do to ensure you prioritize, focus, and take action so you can reach your biggest goals?
More blogs related to Priorities, Goal-Setting, and Planning:
I have something to confess – I have been a pretty bad cook most of my life. I don’t enjoy it and although I knew my family could be eating healthier, better-cooked meals, I’ve never really had an interest in learning – until recently. For a few reasons I’ll get into later, I decided I would challenge myself to learn how to feed my family in a “cleaner” way. Questions that crossed my mind were: “Where do I start? Do I have the right equipment and tools? Where do I get my groceries? How do I know what “eating clean” means? Will the family like the meals? How much time will it take? Will it even help? How can I change habits after so many years of doing it a different way?” There were a lot of unknowns for me and it was a little scary getting started.
Below I share my process and how you can use this same process to change any habit. It’s never too late to learn and grow!
Know Your “Why” for a Habit Change
Sometimes the most difficult step in changing a habit is deciding to do so. In her book Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin states “A habit requires no decision from me, because I’ve already decided” (Rubin, 2015, p. 5). But even if you have made the tough decision to work on a habit, change is hard. It’s easy to quit. Things often get harder before they get easier. That is why it is important to be clear about your “why” for learning something new or changing a habit. Your “why” needs to be important enough to drive you to start and to continue when things get rough, which I guarantee they will.
Recently in my work with a client, she shared how she had been struggling with changes in daily working habits. Some days were so mentally draining she would have to take a nap to keep going. We reviewed her “why” and decided she would post a photo or vision board near her desk that reminded her of it daily. Doing this helped her to make better choices, focus her work, and maintain energy to reach her goals.
I have several “whys” for changing the way that I shop, cook, and eat, a few of which include increased food sensitivities in the family, a need to eat well to support exercise and sports, setting a good example for my children to be as healthy as possible, and to challenge myself to learn something new during some Covid-19 related downtime. I was also motivated by the short time I had to put new habits in place before the inevitable craziness that comes with back-to-school activities. All of these “whys” were strong enough priorities to spur me into action and to keep me going on the toughest days.
Research and Find the Best Tools to Support Your Habit
Before choosing the right tools to support your habit, it’s important to be clear on your vision for success and what is needed to help you get there. Will your new habit require enhancements to your current tools and systems or the need for something new? For example, if you are wanting to exercise at home regularly, what type of exercise will help you reach your goals? Do you have the right equipment available?
Or maybe you have decided to create a better habit of planning and scheduling your week. Do you prefer doing so in a paper or digital format? What features does your tool or process need to offer the best chance at success? It is important to analyze your needs and preferences before deciding on the tools that will best support your new habit.
I knew I didn’t have the systems, tools, or knowledge to change our cooking and eating habits on my own. If I was going to be successful, I needed to research and educate myself. I started by Googling “clean eating for families” and reached out to an exercise group I belong to. My research led me to Momables.com and the 30-Day Family KickStart program, which is a 4-week sugar-free, gluten-free, and dairy-free (optional) clean eating program. Momables provided me with weekly menus, shopping lists, and preparation tips. In addition, the program suggested equipment and tools that would support my new habit as well as general education about clean eating.
Find Support and Accountability to Reach your Goals
Creating new habits can be lonely without the right people to support and provide you with accountability and motivation. I found this in a few ways:
(1) I ensured my family was on board with the new eating plan. If I didn’t have their support, it would not have worked.
(2) The creator of Momables, Laura Fuentes, reached out to let me know she was available for any support needed. Her regular email communications also kept me on track and motivated me to continue.
(3) The exercise group I belong to often discusses the need for clean eating to support any training or workouts. Hearing others’ challenges and successes provided motivation when things were hard.
Who can provide you with the support, motivation, knowledge, and accountability you need to succeed in your journey to learn, grow, and develop new habits?
Celebrate and Maintain Your Success
Once you have reached your goal, it is important to recognize it. Celebrate your accomplishment, and then determine how you will maintain your success. My family and I planned two celebrations during our 4-week challenge – after two weeks, we enjoyed s’mores by the fire as a “cheat” night. After we completed the full plan, we celebrated with a trip to the local ice cream shop. Knowing we had these milestones scheduled – that we would be able to enjoy a sugary treat soon – helped to keep us on track the rest of the time.
Now that we have completed the 4-week kickstart program, we have set a goal to maintain an “80%” clean-eating habit. With the help of a weekly dinner plan from Momables, I now have the knowledge, tools, and resources to continue this new lifestyle. We know we won’t be perfect and I would be crazy to think we are “cured” from sugary foods for good, but we have created healthier habits that we will be able to maintain going forward.
Depending on the habit or change you work to develop, you may not be perfect all of the time and that’s okay. What is important is that you have systems in place to maintain what you have started and can get back on track quickly and easily. Don’t be too hard on yourself and be sure to celebrate the wins.
A Process for Changing or Forming a Habit
After 20 years of the excuses “I hate to cook” or “I don’t know how to cook” as a reason for not learning how to do better, I am proof that it is never too late to learn and change. The techniques and knowledge I gained over those 4 weeks have provided me the basis I need to continue with better habits for myself and my family. Whatever it is you feel you could do better, decide to do it, and then follow this process for success:
The past several weeks with the coronavirus pandemic have been unprecedented. We are in an environment of fear, stress, uneasiness, and unknowns. While it will take time for us to work through these emotions, it is important that we also try to continue as normal in ways that we can control. Productivity expert Barbara Hemphill said, “Control the things you can, so you can cope with the things you can’t.” I think this is true now more than ever.
19 Productive Actions You Can Control
One byproduct of social distancing is that many of us have found ourselves with unexpected time on our hands – closings, canceled events and appointments, reduction in travel time on planes, trains, and cars, and for some, an unfortunate reduction in customers or client work. Why not utilize this time for tasks or projects you have been putting off or just haven’t had the time to address? Take some control by working on things that will strengthen and grow your business, your career, and/or yourself, and create a solid base for “after the virus.”
Below I share a list of 19 productive actions you can take now, along with tips, resources, and recommended tools to assist with the task. Don’t be overwhelmed by the length of the list. Instead, choose a few of the highest priority items for you and/or your business and focus on taking action on those first.
At the end of the article, I provide a free download that will allow you to more easily prioritize each item and track your progress.
Disclaimer: Life Made Simple sometimes partners or affiliates with companies providing products, applications, or services that we feel would benefit our clients. In these cases, we may receive a small commission on sales through our affiliate links.
Organize Your Office Space and Information
1. Organize your office space
Whether you have a room devoted to work or space within another room, a clear, organized area can help improve focus and productivity. Clear off your floor, desk, and other surface areas. Toss, recycle, shred, or donate any unneeded items. Leave out only those items that add to your productivity, peace, or joy.
2. Clean out and organize your paper files
Divide your files into action (items you are working on now) and reference (items you are keeping for tax/legal reasons or future reference). Label files alphabetically (e.g. client files) or topically. If you have more than one file drawer full of paper, consider numerical labels and an online inventory of your paper files using the Paper Tiger filing system.
3. Set up a daily and/or monthly action file system
An action file system such as this one by Smead allows you to file papers or cards by day and/or month as reminders to complete a task or to be easy accessible when you need them. Keep the file system in a desktop file along with a few hanging files to hold quick reference papers.
Like digital file management, email management can differ depending on the application you use (e.g. Outlook or Gmail), how much email you receive daily, and whether you use your email app for other productivity tasks such as calendar, tasks, and contacts. Check out this past blog post to help you get started with The Only 5 Email Folders You Really Need.
6. Go paperless
Moving towards a paperless environment requires a good scanner. My favorite scanner for moving those piles of paper, notes, and business cards to digital form is the Fujitsu ScanSnap. It is the most expensive tool of all of the resources mentioned here, but well worth the cost if you work with a lot of paper, want to be more digital, and/or often work remotely.
ScanSnap S1300i Portable
7. Manage your contacts
Whether this means scanning or entering business card information, cleaning out old contacts and updating current ones (I use the Duplicate Contacts app for Android and Apple phones – there are many others!), or setting up a full-blown CRM (customer relationship management) system, contact management is a great way to spend some unexpected downtime.
Get Clear on Your Goals
8. Determine your rocks (what is most important)
If it has been a while since you really stepped back to evaluate what is important to you in business and life, this is a great time to get re-centered and focused on what matters most. I am happy to share an exercise I use with individuals and groups for this reason, Big Rocks and Little Rocks: Priority Management Exercise.
9. Develop your 2020 goals
Once you know your “rocks,” you can work to develop your goals for the remainder of the year. I am confident life will get back to normal and when it does, what will you focus on for the remainder of the year? It’s okay if your goals aren’t perfect right now. Just get something on paper and then reevaluate once the pandemic has passed.
Analyze and Manage Your Time
10. Analyze your time management habits
When it comes to time management, have you ever wondered where you excel? And where you could improve? My favorite tool for surveying and analyzing time management habits is the Time Mastery Profile. After completing the Time Mastery Questionnaire, you are provided with a report showing your strengths and challenges. In addition, you receive a workbook providing tips and an action plan to improve your time management habits. The retail price of the profile and workbook is $48.00 but as an affiliate, I am offering it to you at a $10 discount for the next 3 months. Click below to receive the discount with payment via Paypal or credit card. The profile questionnaire will be sent to you within 24 hours of payment receipt.
Now may also be the perfect time to review a few different time management tools to see what might work best once we get back to our hectic lives. I have tried many different paper planners, and the one I always come back to is The Planner Pad due to its funnel system and ability to brain dump tasks by category. A recent Today Show article shared 11 additional planners for your review.
Practice Risk Management
12. Back up your files
You have many options for backing up files, photos, email, and other digital information:
For businesses, utilize your current financial tool to review your actual results versus goals to date in 2020. How will this downtime impact your goals, if at all? If you are not using a financial tool, consider implementing one. Quickbooks, Freshbooks, and Xero are popular options. (Before introducing a tool such as these, be sure to do a technology needs assessment to ensure you are choosing the right tool for your needs. Last month’s blog shares a list of things to consider when analyzing a new or improved technology tool.)
Individuals should also review the impact of the pandemic on their financial position and develop a resulting budget and plan for the rest of the year.
Work on Yourself
14. Learn or fine-tune a skill
Skillshare, is a great resource for videos and training resources for a variety of skills. And, the first 2 months are free! A quick search on YouTube or Google will provide many more options.
15. Read a book
While I’m sure you have your own list of “must-read books,” a few non-fiction books I recommend (depending on your need and interests) are:
Getting and/or staying healthy when stuck at home takes a little bit of work. Since my normal workout location is closed, I joined an on-demand site with videos of the classes I normally take and purchased an inexpensive weight set on Amazon.com. Many workout locations and online exercise sites are providing free challenges, workouts, and videos. In addition, you can find several meditation, yoga, and recipe or meal apps in your phone’s app store.
17. Spring clean your home
Okay, I know this isn’t really “working on yourself” but It is a great way to feel better about yourself and your environment, and a clean, clutter-free home can help you feel more productive in your home office. Here are a few Spring Cleaning Checklists to track your progress. I chose to use the third as I felt it was the most inclusive and I liked that it gave me space to add my own tasks.
Make someone feel a little less lonely or just make someone smile with a note of thanks or encouragement.
19. Help others
Giving can be financial, but doesn’t have to be. Drop off needed supplies or other physical donations, safely volunteer your time if you are healthy and able, or donate blood. You might also share your expertise or knowledge to help others in areas of need during this time, as is my hope with this blog. Buzzfeed and PBS share lists of other ways to help during the pandemic. And this article from Bankrate provides a unique idea – giving back utilizing your credit card rewards points.
Free Downloadable Checklist
I realize this is a long list! Not every item will apply or be important to every reader. In order to prioritize and track your unique action list, I am providing a free, downloadable checklist below. Be sure to refer back to this blog for the supporting resource links.
Have you ever read a book that changed your life? At the recommendation of several friends in the business world, I recently completed Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller. Donald promises that after reading his book you will be able to “use the 7 elements of great storytelling to grow your business.” Before reading Building a Story Brand, I had never been excited about marketing. It does not come naturally to me, I am not good at it, and it is not fun for me….at least these have been my excuses for when I don’t put in the time and effort needed as a business owner.
The content of Building a Story Brand really struck a chord with me and provided me with a way to view “marketing” like I haven’t before, but this isn’t a book review. The truly eye-opening result of the book was that I was reminded of the importance of two things for any successful endeavor:
A clear vision that resonates and
a simple project plan.
While I had hired marketing experts in the past to assist me with specific pieces of my branding and marketing, I did not have an overriding plan that resonated with me. This book provided that for me. For someone who helps clients clarify their goals and develop customized productivity plans for a living, I’m embarrassed to admit it took this long to realize what I was missing!
Building a Plan for Productivity
What have you been procrastinating, or avoiding, in work or life? What projects have been slow-moving or “stuck” within your office or business? What reasons have you, or your team, used for not taking action? Could it be that you also need a clear, concise plan that resonates? Project plans not only provide the step-by-step tasks needed to reach your goals but can also help you “get unstuck” and motivate you and your team. (For more tips on tackling procrastination, check out “Reduce Procrastination with 3 Powerful Steps”.)
Parts of a Successful Project Plan
When creating or revising a plan, be sure to include the following important aspects:
Create a Vision for Success
What will the final result look like? How will success feel? What will you be able to do that you can’t do now? What drives you and your team towards this vision?
Determine Your Goals and Actions
Define the high-level goals that are needed to reach your end vision and put specific action steps behind them. Don’t make it too difficult at first – you can fine tune as you go.
Evaluate Your Resources
What human, technology, budgetary and other resources are needed to reach your goals? What do you have now and what additional resources are needed?
Schedule Your Actions
Once you have your actions and resources defined, you can determine a schedule for completion. Consider choosing an end-date and working backwards. Or, choose intermediate deadlines for the high-level goals and then schedule your action steps to meet those dates.
Celebrate and Maintain Your Success
Celebration is a great bridge between project completion and maintenance. You will also need to determine how you will maintain your success.
Consider Your Risks and Obstacles
For most projects or goals, it’s also important to consider and discuss any risks and obstacles you might encounter along the way and how they’ll be addressed.
Just Get Started
The most important thing is to get started, or “just do it” as Nike® would say. If you don’t have a complete, detailed vision or if you aren’t yet sure of the resources needed for each goal or task, that’s okay. You can start with a good framework and add to it – or even change direction if needed – as you go. Start small to gain momentum. Don’t waste another day before tackling that project, writing your book, or getting healthier. Whatever your end goal, just jot down your vision, goals and tasks and take action!
P.S. If plan development isn’t your thing, I’d love to help. I’ll listen to your needs, help you fine-tune your vision and goals, and document the action steps needed to reach your vision. I can also remain by your side to provide support and accountability as you walk through your customized plan. Schedule your free 30 minute productivity assessment to see if productivity coaching is right for you.
One of the most successful exercises I have done related to time management is to create two written lists which help me focus, set priorities and ensure I am working on the right things. The first list states “10 Things I Want to Be Doing That I am Not Currently Doing” and the second list states “10 Things I am Doing that I Would Rather Not Be “.
The lists cover not only career related items, but personal items as well – anything that I feel will bring the appropriate balance, direction and focus to my life. Just the act of forcing myself to think through these lists, and write them down, taught me more about myself and my priorities then any prior exercise.
Gain Focus and Accountability
I then shared my lists with an accountability partner, who did the same. We talked through our lists and discussed how we might change our current situation to address the items on the lists. We then chose an item from each of our individual lists that we felt were not only high priority, but that could reasonably be achieved in the time we set for ourselves.
We continued to speak on a scheduled basis. We discussed our progress and when we were ready, choose another item from our lists to focus on until we spoke again. Forcing myself to write down BOTH lists gave me more focus and direction than I’d had in a long time. Knowing that I had a partner that was interested in my actions and goals kept me motivated. If I felt myself distracted or not sure what I should be working on, I could go back to my lists and conversation notes and once again become focused on what is most important.
Why not take 15 minutes and try this exercise for yourself. Create your two lists and find a partner to keep you focused and hold you accountable. I’m confident your productivity will increase as well. Let me know how it goes by coming back and commenting below.
Need an accountability partner? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how Productivity Coaching can help you overcome overwhelm, get clear, and reach your goals.
A couple months ago, my two daughters and I had the chance to do something I never thought I’d do. Typically, my fear of heights and “mother instinct” would have prevented me and my girls (ages 9 and 12) from experiencing one of the best adventures of our lives. But thanks to Vallarta Adventures, I overcame my fear and accomplished The Superman, the longest and fastest zipline in Mexico. What did Vallarta Adventures do? To answer simply, they started small.
After the one hour journey into the jungle, our guides suited us up with our helmets, harnesses and gloves and provided general instructions for the day’s adventures. We then headed out for our first zipline. While I was a bit nervous, I also knew that children over the age of 8 were able to partake in this Extreme Adventure experience, so how bad could it be? The first zipline was pretty low-stress for most as we started on a platform overlooking a gradual decline, not a straight drop-off as I had imagined. As the day went on, the ziplines gradually became longer and higher. Additional adventures such as climbing a steep rope wall, repelling from a tree branch, walking a tightrope between two trees, and jumping from a platform attached only to a “bungee swing” provided the group with increased bravery and trust as the day progressed.
Finally we came upon our last zipline, The Superman. By this time, I had complete trust in our guides, the equipment, and my own judgment that my children and I would be safe. If we would have been asked to do the Superman first, or even earlier in the day, I likely would have told the guides they were crazy. But because they started small and gradually built us up, even though the course was still a little scary, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we would all ride the longest and fastest zipline in Mexico. Their process resulted in an end goal that was achievable, low stress and fun.
What adventures or goals are you missing out on because of fear, anxiety, stress or overwhelm? How can you apply Vallarta Adventure’s process to your work or your life? Maybe you would like to be more organized or productive, but have obstacles keeping you from getting started. Perhaps you have a career or business goal that seems out of reach. What is one small action you can take towards reaching your vision? Perhaps it is making that first phone call to set up a meeting, tackling a pile of papers on your desktop or signing up for a class related to your goal. After that one action is complete, what is your next action, and the next? Step by step, you will start to gain confidence and trust, and your vision will become clearer. Soon, you will be flying…