Projects – Turning Goals into Reality

For most of my adult life I have worked hard, but never seemed to get anything done.  Why?

As a kid I was easily distracted, had no real goals, and struggled with organization.  Just cleaning my room seemed like an overwhelming challenge.

Somehow I managed to graduate from college, but only after changing majors and schools half a dozen times, and even then had no clear idea of what I wanted to do or why.

So I went backpacking for six months, found God, and then began working as unskilled labor.

In my late twenties I read about the importance of setting goals to people who managed to accomplish something with their lives.  But I found it difficult to write down meaningful goals and even more difficult to accomplish them.

Still, I did begin to set goals for myself and achieved some of them.  I set a goal of becoming an actuary, began studying for the exams, passed some and was hired.  Even with my exemplary record.

This is part of the secret to knowing what you’ve accomplished.  When you set a goal, write it down, and accomplish it, you have a written record of what you’ve done.  You know you’ve accomplished something.

The people who did really well on those actuarial exams knew how many pages they had to read, how many problems they had to work, when they would begin taking practice exams, etc.  They had all these milestones on some kind of timeline with due dates.  That’s a project: a goal with a roadmap and timetable for its realization.  That’s the second part of knowing what you’ve accomplished: that written document of milestones, due dates, and done dates.

David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done really helped me with just this one idea: what’s the next action.  That was specific enough, clear enough, and short enough to get me from writing down the goal to accomplishing it.  Writing those next actions down is the backbone of a project.  Doing them turns a goal into reality.

Goal Problems

All those executive functions like creating a vision, setting goals, mapping out a project, etc. just do not come naturally to me.

I didn’t begin setting goals until sometime after college, when I read Dennis Waitley’s book, Seeds of Greatness.  I found it remarkably difficult to do.

Feelings of grandiosity would lead me to set goals that were unrealistic, and feelings of inadequacy would lead me to despair of accomplishing them, and I’d give up on them.

For years I went through this cycle of goal-setting and goal-despairing.  Seeds of Greatness was only the first in a long line of self-improvement books, and most if not all of them would talk about goal-setting in some way shape or form.  But somehow I just could not seem to get the knack of it.

Maybe five years ago I started getting together for breakfast with a couple of friends.  Our conversations seemed to gravitate around certain ideas, like the Hero’s Journey, mastery, expertise, and practice.  This blog grew out of those conversations.

One of us in particular was a real goal-setter and planner.  I would listen to his planning process and began to notice differences between what he was doing and what I was doing.

First of all his goals were on the edge of belief, not beyond the pale.

Second he had a due date for each goal, but these due dates were not set in stone.  If he missed a due date, he tried to understand why he missed it, and then just moved it back.  The date gives the goal a sense of urgency, but missing the date is not a reason to despair.  This may seem obvious, but it was a real breakthrough for me.

Third, he had a daisy chain of small goals that lead to the big goal that was his end in view.  The chain of small achievable goals builds hope and confidence with the accomplishment of each small goal.

Fourth, he reviewed and revised those goals daily whether things were going well or not.

Putting these four points into practice is working for me.  I’m sticking with my goals and getting things done.  What works for you?

My Keystone Habit

According to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, a keystone habit is one that is tied directly to lots of other habits in one’s life.  Change the keystone habit, and change your life.

I’ve determined my keystone habit to be my daily planning process.  When I do this every day, I generally get my practice done and keep the main thing the main thing.  When I don’t, the crosshairs of my focus gradually move from what’s important to me, to what’s urgently pressing upon me.  And my practice goes by the wayside.

So I’ve been working hard to make this planning ritual part of my morning coffee time every day:

  1. Review my vision.
  2. Review my goals.
  3. Review my project lists.
  4. Review my calendar.
  5. Review my tasks by domain.

You’ve probably seen a list like this before.  I sometimes think I’ve read every self-help book ever written, and you could find a list like this in one of Stephen Covey’s books, or say Dennis Waitley, or David Allen.

I have struggled with every item on the list.  My step-father was and is a successful business man and a great list maker.  He always kept his To Do list prominently in the middle of his desk.  He had a list for every day, for every job, for every work crew.  He was great at getting things done.

I resisted this key insight into successful living into my thirties, and by then it was a tough habit to learn.

Life would be so much easier if only we would learn from our parents.

Your comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged!