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Impatience in dealing with frustration is the primary reason that most people fail to achieve their goals. Unreasonable expectations time-wise, resulting in unnecessary frustration, due to a perceived feeling of failure. Achieving the extraordinary is not a linear process. The secret is to show up, do the work, and go home. Christopher Sommer
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Monday
Oct022006

Progress Report

My domain name has now been transferred so my old website is no longer up and running. My email has been successfully set up under mf@markforster.net again with a break in transmission just long enough to miss all the hundreds of "Out of Office" notices that I normally get whenever my newsletter goes out.

Now all I've got to do is get this website attached to www.markforster.net. Until I do that, anyone trying to access that address gets a nice page full of advertisments for all of my competitors!

Monday
Oct022006

The Real Top Priority

(This article is from today's issue of my newsletter)

What is the real top priority in your life right now? I don’t mean theoretically – I mean what do your actions show that your top priority really is?

You can tell your top priority because when there is a clash, it’s the one that wins.

For many people the top priority in their life is work. For others it is their children. For some it may be having a good time. The top priority depends a lot on the stage of life you have reached.

It is a very important question this: because it shapes the whole direction of your life.

The danger is that we don’t chose our top priority consciously. We just drift into it through the pressure of circumstances, and then one morning we wake up and realise that our lives are not in our control: our actions are reflecting a top priority which is not what we really want it to be.

I’ve known many men, in particular, complain that they are missing their children growing up because of the demands of work. In this case their actual top priority (work) is not the same as what they would like it to be (family).

Another example is university students who spend their time partying instead of working. They then bitterly regret that they wasted their time at university. In this case their actual top priority (having a good time) was different from the one which would have made all the difference to the rest of their lives (getting a good degree).

You can check out for yourself whether your top priority is right. What do you want your top priority to be? Write it down. Now ask yourself: when it comes to a clash has this in fact won out over everything else? If there’s something else that usually wins over it, then that’s your real top priority.

If you’ve found that your real top priority is not what you want it to be, you need to make a conscious decision to change your priorities. Are you willing to do that?

Saturday
Sep302006

Getting to this Goal

I've continued moving towards the goal of setting up this website by putting in more articles, especially the series on Getting to Your Goals, working out how to insert ads, and doing other housekeeping jobs. That's Step 3 of the Getting to Your Goals process. But I've also been working on Step 4 Monitoring Progress by setting up Excel graphs to monitor the growth of the site. As I say in the article, this is the step that is often forgotten about!

One thing I want to experiment with is making the navigation bar into an interesting place in its own right. That means there needs to be loads of content in it, not just links and ads. I've started with a Thought of the Day slot and am actively thinking of other things that need to go on it.

One other highly important thing that I am doing is systematising the work on the website. There are all sorts of jobs that need to be done on a more or less daily basis. It's important that it's not just left to chance.

Friday
Sep292006

"Business Life" Review

An former client has just sent me a review of Do It Tomorrow from the current issue of Business Life. Quite a good review: four stars out of five.

Short extract:

"So is the book worth spending time on?"

"Absolutely. Forster writes in an amiable, engaging way and makes plenty of telling points about the way we fail to make the most of our time at work."

Friday
Sep292006

Old Articles

I've posted a series of old articles under the Time Management Articles tab, and I might add more to them. But basically it is my intention that new articles I write should go in the blog, which means they can be categorised in the blog archive.

I've been messing around with the colour scheme too, using the templates on SquareSpace. Since this site will be mainly text based it's important that it's legibility is high, and the original template I tried wasn't very.

Thursday
Sep282006

Gone Public!

Whew! the website is now open to the public and the old one closed down with a redirection until www.markforster.net is reassigned, which won't be until October 2nd.

I decided to move websites on Monday, at which stage I had absolutely no idea how or where I might move it to - this has been a great example of how fast a Current Initiative can move once it gets started.

Thursday
Sep282006

It’s Not an Option

Do you have some things in your life which you have no option about doing?

Most of us have quite a few. We don’t have much option about getting up to go to work, or at least getting up sometime. We don’t have much option about eating, assuming that we want to stay alive. We don’t have much option about earning some money somehow.

It might be an interesting exercise to work out just how many things you have in your life which you really do have no option about. These are the things which you simply have to do, because the consequences of not doing them are too horrendous to face.

Many of these are things we have to do every day. They are forced on us by the very necessity of staying alive. Others are forced on us by the circumstances of our lives or the people we live and work with. Some are things we have chosen voluntarily. For instance, if we have chosen to have children, then we have definitely taken on a whole load of things which the average parent has very little or no option about.

We have to do  the things we have no option about so often that they have become part of the landscape. Whether we feel like doing them or not, because we have no option we get on with them. We get on with them rain or sun, regardless of our feelings, regardless of how tired we are. They have to be done – we have no option.

This is very different to how we approach the things we do have an option about. We don’t have to do something like taking exercise, for example, so if we don’t happen to feel like doing it we take the day off exercise. There are a multitude of excuses we can come up with. And then we feel guilty or frustrated because we couldn’t keep up our exercising. If it’s not exercising then it will be something else that we meant to do, wanted to do, but because we had the option of not doing it, we didn’t keep it up.

The way to deal with this is to adopt the mental attitude that we have no option. We have no more option about it than we do about getting up or eating. Once we’ve adopted that mindset, we stand much more chance of continuing to carry out the desired action.

At the moment, I have given myself no option about writing three pages of journal daily. Ideally I do it first thing in the morning. That’s not always possible if I have to be up early to go to a conference or seminar. But I still give myself no option that the pages have to written sometime that day.

In my first book Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play I wrote about the benefits of journaling. I have always found that when I do it regularly the benefits are enormous. The problem of course is doing it regularly. As anyone who starts this sort of daily activity knows, it usually goes well for a week or so, then one day there is a “good reason” why it can’t get done, and then it’s all downhill from there on. Eventually it will tail off until nothing is happening. I certainly found that to be the case with journaling and, in spite of many attempts to get it going again, I seemed to be completely unable to do it for more than a week or so.

Then I discovered the “No Option” mindset. I would give myself no option about writing the journal. No let out. No possibility of not doing it. And suddenly I was filling notebook after notebook again – and reaping the benefits. I think I will write soon about what these benefits are – it’s been a long time since I wrote an article about the benefits of journaling and they are huge. But for the moment the point is that I have been able to keep to the journaling simply because I am giving myself no option about it. Whenever an excuse for not journaling comes into my mind I don’t give it any mind room. I just say “There’s no option about this”.

This morning I got up feeling really, really tired. It was one of those mornings when it was all I could do to move one leg in front of the other. I had overslept. There were loads of things I needed to get on with. My mind felt like cotton-wool. The temptation not to write those pages was huge. But I just said “There’s no option” and got on with it. Strangely enough once I’d started it wasn’t too bad. The words started flowing and my mind started to wake up.

The interesting thing is that having practised the “No Option” mindset on this one thing, I am finding that I am much less ready to accept excuses on other subjects as well. For instance this morning I also made myself do my physical exercises in spite of huge reluctance to do them.

Exercise:

What do you have in your life that would benefit from the “No Option” mindset? It should be something that you would benefit from doing seven days a week without fail. So it might be something like journaling, exercise, prayer or even something mundane like keeping your office tidy.

Select one thing and tell yourself that you have no option about doing it. Every time your mind finds an excuse for not doing it, tell yourself firmly that there is no option. If circumstances conspire to throw your day completely out, tell yourself again that there is no option about this one particular thing. There are no exceptions. No excuses.

Whatever you do, don’t start adding a huge list of things about which you “have no option”. Stick to one. You will find that the mindset will affect other things as well, but it’s best only to have the one thing which is formally “No Option”.

Let me know how you get on!

Wednesday
Sep272006

First Day!

First day of the new website - first day of the new blog!

Not that the website is in the least bit ready yet. I am in the process of transferring the text over from the old website. I won't go public yet for a while. The great advantage of SquareSpace is that it allows blog and website to co-exist. I must say that I am finding it extremely easy and intuitive.

This has all been an exercise in the stuff I've been talking about in my Reaching Your Goals articles. Identify where you want to be. Identify where you are. Start moving towards where you want to be. Keep monitoring where you've got to. That's just exactly what the process has been like. The second I started moving, things started falling into place. Of course I've come across obstacles and dead ends, but I have just got on with dealing with them as they arise. It's only taken a couple of  days to get this far.

Monday
Sep182006

Getting to Your Goals: Step Four

Have you ever launched out into a major new project and after a few weeks lost interest or motivation?

If so, it may well be that you forgot about Step 4.

Step 4 is monitoring your progress. It’s the dynamic equivalent of Step 2 (Knowing Where You Are). You don’t just need to know where you are when you begin to move towards your goal, you need to know where you are every step of the way.

To use the analogy of reading a map, you find where you want to be on the map, make sure you know where you are, and then move towards the destination, keeping track of your progress on the map. If you don’t keep track of your progress, you are likely to find yourself wandering around in circles.

Most people don’t monitor their progress anything like enough. I mentioned in my article on Step 2 my amazement that some people try to run their business off the half-year balance sheet. To run a successful business, you need to be able to put your fingers on up-to-date key figures all the time. It’s only by keeping track of the figures that you can identify when and where problems or opportunities are beginning to arise.

Whenever you start on a new goal, identify the key things that need to be tracked and decide how you are going to track them. Most of these key things will be numerical. How many hits on my website were there today? How much money have we raised for the Church Tower appeal so far? How many bookings have there been for the seminar? How many press- ups did I do this morning? What percentage has my investment portfolio risen by this year?

These figures mean little by themselves. But they mean a lot when they are shown in the context of the preceding figures, and even more when they are expressed in terms of the target.

Another secret of good monitoring is to present the tracking visually. Graphs make excellent visual tracking devices. So does colouring in squares for simpler projects. The essential thing is to be able to see immediately what your progress is all the time. Putting a chart on the wall and filling it in every day is a great motivator.

Exercise

Try out the motivating power of monitoring your progress for yourself. Select one of your projects which you have been making little progress on so far. Then think to yourself what you could monitor about it. Try and put this in numerical terms and work out how you can express it visually. Put up a chart on your wall or somewhere else you can see it all the time. And make sure you fill it in every day without fail!

Sunday
Sep172006

Feeling Good

One way to improve your general ability to work and keep going is to monitor how good you are feeling. Procrastination, stress, overwhelm, burn out are all very closely linked and it is difficult to be feeling good when one is suffering from any or all of these! However the reverse applies too. It is difficult to be suffering from stress, overwhelm, burn out and procrastination when you are feeling good. So monitoring your overall state of mind can have a very beneficial result.

It’s very easy to do this. Let’s try it now. Stop reading for a second and ask yourself “How good am I feeling now?” Answer by giving a mark out of 10. If you are feeling tense and upset you might answer “3”. If you are feeling on top of the world you might answer “8” or even higher. Try it now. What was your answer? Write it down on a piece of paper.

If you did this in the way I just suggested, a couple of questions may have occurred to you. One might be what I mean by “good”. I quite deliberately didn’t give you any definition of what “good” meant. The reason is that you will discover what “good” means for you by the act of asking “How good do I feel?” The more you ask the question the more you will begin to realise what your mind is looking for when it provides your answer. You will also notice which things in your life tend to affect the score. So don’t worry about the definition of “good”. You will find the right definition for you by practising the exercise.

Another question you may have asked yourself is how much you should think about the answer. Should you spend some time deliberating it? No, the best answer is the one you give straight off the top of your head. You may find it easier to give the answer as “4 or 5” rather than as a single figure.

Now, this is important: once you have given your answer do not try to make yourself feel better. Just carry on observing your feelings by regularly asking yourself “How good do I feel?” This will make you more aware of your state of mind and that in itself will tend to have the effect of increasing the score.

Ask yourself the question again now. Write the answer down again. Is it the same as the first time or has it changed? You may find that your score has increased already. If it has, that is simply because you have become more aware. Don’t worry if it hasn’t!

This technique is a very subtle one, but also very powerful. It takes time but you will find if you keep using it your score will slowly rise. If you started out feeling 3 or 4 most of the time, you may find that it rises within a few weeks until you are feeling 6 or 7 most of the time. Bear in mind that when this happens you have altered your entire mental sense of well-being. This will inevitably affect many areas of your life. I cured myself of a fear of flying (caused by being in a helicopter crash) by using this technique. During my first flight for over eight years I was able to maintain a score of 10 throughout the entire flight, including take-off and landing. Since then I’ve flown all over the place.

Sunday
Sep172006

My Favourite Time Management Tool

Do you often find yourself distracted when you’re trying to get an important report written? Or perhaps you have trouble getting yourself moving on it at all? Perhaps you tend to find yourself wandering off around the net while you’re supposed to be answering your e-mails. If you have trouble with any of these, then the answer may be a very simple piece of technology – a timer.

Timers are my favourite time management tool. I started off years ago using a clockwork kitchen timer. Now I’ve progressed to an electronic one, which can also be used as a basic stopwatch. It is a flexible tool with many uses, most of which are to do with helping you to concentrate on your work and avoid being distracted.

If you have paid attention to my articles in the past you may have introduced some more structure into your day, in the shape of breaks and a definite time for stopping work. This sort of structure works best when the timings are exact. Imagine you are back in school. When the bell goes, you all pile out into the playground. The last thing the teacher wants is you hanging around in the classroom during a break. But as soon as the bell goes again, you all troop back in for the next lesson. You may have noticed how annoyed you get when you attend a seminar or a conference when the timetable starts to slip. It destroys your ability to concentrate on the subject under discussion. A timer or an alarm (like the one on a mobile phone) are excellent ways of keeping to any structure which you may have laid down for yourself.

The timer is also great for working in timed bursts. If you have a big writing project it is usually most effective to work in bursts of, say, twenty minutes with a brief pause between each. The exact length of the burst doesn’t matter so much as long as the fact that it is timed and as long as you stop immediately when the timer goes off, even if you are in mid-sentence. Make sure you time the breaks too because they will be more refreshing as a result.

The mind goes on working while you are taking a break, and you will find that it’s easy to get back to the task and that your mind has moved on because it has had a chance to assimilate.

When you are resisting a big task really badly you can try working on it for a very short timed burst of five minutes. Then you can gradually increase the burst each time, perhaps by five minutes. So you work a series of 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes and so on. This is a very good way of overcoming resistance and procrastination.

An alternative way is to say “I’m going to work on this for not less than five minutes”. Once the timer goes off you can stop or go on working as you please. But note that you must have decided which method you are going to use before you start. It’s no use saying “I’m going to do a timed burst of five minutes” and then going on working when the timer goes off. You will lose all the effect and make it more difficult for you to use the technique in the future.

Another method is to use the stopwatch for occasionally timing such things as clearing your daily email. Make it into a competition with yourself to see whether you can beat your own record. It’s surprising when you are working against the clock in this way how conscious you are of how much you normally waste time.

If you’ve never used a timer as a time management tool, then why not dust off that kitchen timer now or invest in a cheap electronic one? You won’t regret it!

Sunday
Sep172006

The Way I Want It?

It can be surprising how little control we have over our lives. We like to think we are in control of ourselves, but in fact when we look at how our lives are we realise that for all the control we have over them it might just as well be another person living in our bodies.

In fact loads of professionals – teachers, doctors, therapists, counsellors, coaches and so on – depend for their professional success precisely on the fact that it’s often easier to control someone else than it is to control oneself.

I’m not talking here about the things which are genuinely out of our control or mainly so, but the things which are fully in our control – in theory.

Have a look in the mirror and yourself a few questions:

Is my body the way I want it to be? (I’m talking here about what you have made of the body you have been given)

Is my weight the way I want it to be?

Are my clothes the way I want them to be?

Is my fitness the way I want it to be?

Then look around your surroundings and ask yourself:

Is my house the way I want it to be?

Is my office the way I want it to be?

All these things are more or less directly under most people’s control. If they are not the way we want them to be then it’s because we are not acting as the person who is controlling our bodies and our environment. There’s someone else in there doing it for us – and not making a very good job of it either!

Time to reclaim control. Choose one aspect of your life to start off with – make it something small - perhaps your desk or your bookcase. Ask yourself “Is this the way I want it to be?” Don’t put up with it not being the way you want it to be any longer. Work on it until it is exactly the way you want it. You are in charge – why are you allowing it to be any other way than the way you want it?

Once you’ve made that the way you want it to be, choose something else and keep on like this until you have made everything that you have direct control over the way you want it.

That could be quite a journey!

Saturday
Sep162006

Back to School?

Do you remember how long a school day was? How it never seemed to end?

Do your days seem much shorter now that you are an adult? Do you ever find yourself saying “It’s four o’clock already, and I haven’t done a thing?” Do your days seem to be over in a flash?

Perhaps you find your days seem to get long again when you go on a seminar or a conference. Why is it that days at school, on a seminar or on a conference seem so much longer than the days we have in the office? What makes the difference?

The answer is that your days in the office may lack structure while the others are highly structured. Let’s look at the two different structures.

You probably do have a definite start time for your work, but many people don’t have a definite finish time. They just work on until they feel they can’t go on any longer. They tend to work through lunch too. If they do take any breaks during the course of the day they are taken on the spur of the moment. It’s very difficult to predict what you will be working on at any given time of day – it could be almost anything.

By contrast, the typical school, conference or seminar day is highly structured. It is divided up into sessions which have definite start and finish times. In between the sessions there are breaks and these also have definite start and finish times. There will be definite mealtimes which just about everyone will attend. Finally the day will have a definite finish time. At any given time of day you only have to look at the timetable to know where you will be and what subject you will be working on.

You can learn from this and give yourself a longer, more focused and more productive day by introducing a bit more structure into your work day. You can start off by introducing a definite finish time when you stop work and go home. When you have got the finish time established, then introduce a lunch break with a definite start and stop time.

You can also introduce a mid-morning break of 20-30 minutes and another one mid-afternoon. Make sure you start and finish these at a definite time. Giving yourself a structure of concentrated work sessions followed by time to relax makes the day as a whole much more manageable and focused. You should also feel less tired at the end of the day.

Thursday
Sep142006

Making Decisions

Of all the strange things that human beings do, making decisions must be one of the strangest. It’s a very human thing. An animal makes decisions yes, in terms of what it’s going to do next, but its decisions have a different quality from human decisions. They seem to be reactions to the immediate situation – or at least that’s what it looks like to us on the outside. Animals by and large don’t spend days, months or years agonising over the consequences of their decisions. They just get on with it.

To many of us it would be a blessed relief to be able to make decisions as simply and directly as an animal does. All our decisions would happen immediately and we would always choose what was appropriate to the circumstances. Decision making would be automatic, and we wouldn’t have to think about it. You never see an animal thinking about a decision. It may need to know more about the situation – we see a cat or a dog sniffing an unfamiliar situation to learn more about it – but once it has got the information the decision is instant.

Of course we do make animal-like decisions all the day. We wouldn’t be able to function if we didn’t. But for humans decision making can often become a difficult and long drawn-out process. Often the decisions we need to make are dependent on other decisions we haven’t yet made. How do we decide what clothes to buy, if we haven’t decided yet whether we are going to the party? How do we decide whether we are going to the party, if we can’t decide whether we can afford the new outfit? How can we decide if we can afford the outfit if we haven’t decided whether we’re going on holiday this year? We can get stuck in this sort of vicious circle for a very long time.

I have had many coaching clients over the years who have been wanting not just to change jobs, but to change careers. Obviously this is one of the most major life decisions one can make. Often they seem to have become stuck in a swamp of indecision. They can’t decide what career they want; they can’t decide to make the leap; they can’t decide to stay and make the best of it. This can go on for years. No amount of questions like “What needs to happen before you can decide?” or “When is it going to be easier to change your career than now?” can get them to budge.

I think that the reality is that decisions make themselves. However much we pretend to be in charge of our decisions, they actually come from somewhere out of our conscious control. They rise up from the abyss, sometimes when we least expect them. And sometimes we have to accept the fact that they don’t.

We may give very good reasons about why we made such and such a decision, but if we are honest with ourselves the reasons we give are often really justifications for making the decision rather than the real reasons themselves. The sequence seems to be 1) make the decision, then 2) invent reasons for having made it.

If this is really the way decisions happen then we can see why people get bogged down in decision making. They are trying to do it the wrong way round. They are trying to find the reasons before they make the decision. Until they have got reasons that are completely iron-cast they hold themselves back from making the decision. In fact what is happening is that they are not trusting their unconscious processes to make the decision that is right for them at the time that is right.

Now I realise that many people in business will be looking askance at what I am saying here. They spend ages researching, making cost analyses, working out the discounted cash flow and all the rest. Their decisions are entirely rational, it seems. Yet who looking around at the way most governments and businesses actually work in practice could believe that their decisions are made exclusively on rational grounds?

When I look a the major decisions that I have made in my life – things like getting married, changing my career, deciding to have children, where to live – I can see that the last thing I did at the time was weigh things up in a rational manner. It’s only now looking back on them that I can see some sort of pattern in them. Most of the decisions that seemed like a complete leap in the dark have turned out very well. Most of the decisions that I made because it seemed to be the right thing to do turned out less well. Where I’ve made decisions on the basis of pressure from other people’s concept of what would be correct, it’s usually turned out less well. In other words where I have allowed the decision to make itself it has turned out well. Where I have allowed reasons to make the decision for me it has turned out badly – or perhaps not badly but it has not been a decision that satisfies me.

What about the truly disastrous decisions that I have made during my life? (and there have been more than a few) These have usually been made on the impulse of the moment. They have been reactions rather than decisions. A decision needs time to mature. The important thing to be doing during this maturation process is to gather knowledge about the situation. It is important to gather knowledge without prejudice to the decision – in other words you are not trying to find reasons for making the decision one way or the other. The sequence for a good decision is Research – Decision – Reasons; not Research – Reasons – Decision; or, even worse, Reasons – Research – Decision. You may be asking why, if you make a decision according to the Research – Decision – Reasons model, you need the last stage at all. Strictly speaking you don’t, but you have to have something to tell your friends, family and shareholders!

I know this sounds completely counter-intuitive and contrary to everything taught in books on decision-making. But it is in practice the way that decisions are made. Look at the last major decision you made in your life, perhaps something like buying a new house or car, or changing jobs, or getting married. Did you examine the possibilities? You almost certainly did. Did you weight up the pros and cons? You probably did to some extent. Did you make your decision on the basis of the pros and cons? If you are honest, the answer is probably no. The decision itself was something deeper, more visceral. If you did make the decision purely on the basis of the pros and cons, are you entirely happy with the results of that decision?

Finally, having made your decision for better or for worse, do you now have an armoury of reasons for having made the choice? I’ll bet you do! But were they the real reasons? You can only answer that question for yourself.

Exercises:

I am going to give you three simple exercises to give you the feel of what is involved in making a decision. Each involves holding a pencil out in front of you at arm’s length and then either dropping it or not dropping it.

1) The first time you have to decide before you hold the pencil out whether you are going to drop it or not, and also how long you are going to hold it out for.

2) Now repeat exercise 1), but this time you have the option of changing your mind once you are holding the pencil out.

3) This time do not make the decision before holding the pencil out, but just hold the pencil out and let it fall or not fall of its own accord.

Which was the easiest way of making the decision? In which did the action take place in the most graceful and natural way?

Monday
Sep112006

Getting to Your Goals: Step Three

So now you know where you are going; you know where you are - what do you do next? The answer is easy: you start moving in the direction of where you want to go.

In many ways this is the easiest step of all. It’s usually obvious what you can do to move in the direction of where you want to be. Notice I said “start moving”. You don’t have to have the entire route mapped out. It may help if you have a clear idea of the route, but it’s not essential. What is essential is to get moving. And then keep moving!

Notice that it is very important to move in the right direction. People often talk about doing things in order to advance their goals, but then start moving in the wrong direction or get stuck in a dead-end. Just to give one example out of many, we are often told that the way to expand our business is by networking. So we may go all out to attend lots of networking events. But if we do not keep clearly in mind that the purpose of the networking is to expand our business, we may just find ourselves attending lots of events without achieving anything very much. Remember the aim is not “networking” – the aim is to expand our business. That means we must be clear what we want to get out of the networking and make sure we get it. If we don’t have our final destination clearly in mind, we may find ourselves wasting a lot of time on unfocussed activities.

We always need to be asking the difficult questions like: “How exactly is this going to move me towards my goal?”; “What would move me towards my goal?”

Once we’ve started moving there will of course be plenty of obstacles and setbacks, but provided that we have the goal clearly in front of us, we can simply deal with them one at a time. We will almost always find that we have the resources to deal with them provided that we keep two things clearly in our minds: where we want to be and where we currently are.

The exciting thing about moving towards a goal is that we will find opportunities opening up before us. When we focus on something, it is amazing how we find ourselves finding paths which we hadn’t even imagined existed in order to get there. That’s one of the reasons why detailed planning is not one of the necessary steps in order to get moving on a goal. I’m not saying that detailed plans may not be essential at various stages. In my first example of building a bridge between the mainland and the Isle of Wight, you would obviously be going to need very detailed plans and specifications. But the project’s originator will have started moving on the project long before the detailed plans are drawn up.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about this third step because it’s surprising how many people forget the simple truth that to get something done you need to do it. Time and time again I have had clients who have got stuck on a project simply because they have stopped taking action on it. The secret is to start taking action again – not in a haphazard or aimless way, but by deliberately taking the next step in the right direction.

Saturday
Sep092006

Three Types of Urgent

There are basically two types of people in the world. There are those who are perfectly ordered and who always have time to take new initiatives, while at the same time being totally unfazed by any emergencies that come up. Don’t we just envy them! The other type spend their lives rushing up against deadlines, have their plans completely thrown out by anything that “must be done immediately”, and have lots of stuff which they mean to get around to sometime but never do. In other words they are you and me. Well, OK, perhaps you aren’t like that, but in that case why are you reading this website?

What’s the difference between these two types? Is it that the first type are better people, who one day will be summoned to a perfectly ordered heaven while the rest of us are condemned to be mired in the hell of our own total disorder for eternity? No, I don’t think so. I think the difference lies in the fact that the perfectly ordered people have learned the difference between three different types of urgency:

1) stuff that needs to be done straightaway

2) stuff that has a deadline sometime in the future

3) stuff that needs to be done but doesn’t have a deadline

Orderly people know how to deal with each of these. Disordered people on the other hand only know how deal with the first – the stuff that needs to be dealt with straightaway. Anything that doesn’t need to be done straightaway gets postponed until it does need to be done straightaway! That’s why a disordered person spends their life in a state of constant rush and pressure. Rush and pressure are the only ways they can get anything done. Anything with a deadline gets left until the last moment, and anything without a deadline never gets done at all. That’s why disorder is so fatal to your effectiveness, because the really important initiatives that will take your life, business or job forward rarely have deadlines.

Let’s have a look at how the ordered person deals with these three. We might then be able to imitate them and hopefully become models of order and effectiveness ourselves. What’s their secret? It is that they deal with each of the three types of urgency in a different way. Let’s see how they deal with each in turn:

Stuff that needs to be done straightaway. They do this straightaway, just like you and I do. The difference is that they have everything else under control, so the interruption causes far less disruption to the rest of their work.

Stuff with a deadline. This is where the ordered people work in a completely different way from you and me. We tend to leave everything to the last minute. They on the other hand use all the time that is available to get a project completed. If they have two weeks to write a report, they will use the full two weeks to research it and write it up properly, instead of winging it in the last two days like the rest of us do!

Stuff without a deadline. Orderly people know how to deal with this too. They will tackle these things one at a time. We disorderly people do it a different way – we either never get around to doing any of them, or we try to do all of them at once. Either way it’s a disaster. The orderly person’s way is to list the things they want to do and then decide what order they are going to do them in. Then they knock them off one at a time. That’s the way to move forward.
Saturday
Sep092006

Plus or Minus?

Do you find that you have difficulty doing all the items on your task list? Perhaps you keep getting stuck because you are resisting some of the items. One way of overcoming this, which I have often written about in this newsletter, is to break bigger tasks down into smaller steps. In fact the most important step is always the first one.

The secret is to pitch your first step so that you don’t mind doing it. So for example if you have a difficult report to write, the item “Write report” might get you resisting hard. On the other hand “Write outline of report headings” might seem easy.

The trouble is that you often don’t succeed in identifying that you are resisting an item until too late. At the end of the day you find you haven’t even made a start on it. Instead you have spent the day on trivial displacement activities. Ideally every item on your list would be pitched just below your level of resistance, and then you could really power through the list.

There is a very simple technique for achieving this. Once you have written out your task list for the day, just run down the list and mark each item with a plus or a minus, depending whether you feel positive or negative towards that item.

So you might end up with a list like this:

- Write report
+ Phone John
- Write new company strategy document
- Organise Charity Ball
and so on

Here there’s no problem phoning John, but you are feeling negative towards the other three items. The next step is to cross each of these three items out and write in a new item which cuts the task down smaller. Then check the new items again to see whether they are plus or minus. So your list might now look like this:

+ Phone John
+ Write outline of report headings
+ Write letter inviting colleagues’ input for strategy document
- Set up Charity Ball Committee

Now you have three plus items and one minus item. Break the minus item down further and you final list looks like this:

+ Phone John
+ Write outline of report headings
+ Write letter inviting colleagues’ input for strategy document
+ List names of potential Committee members

Because you are now feeling no resistance towards this list, you can zoom through it. You will either finish or make a good start on all your tasks and will now be able take them to the next stage.

One tip: if you take a lengthy break from actioning your list, make sure you re-evaluate your plusses and minusses on returning to it. It is surprising how resistance can increase overnight!
Thursday
Sep072006

Structure

Being myself by nature a completely disorganized and weak willed person, I have never been too keen on the idea of depending on willpower to make changes in my life. My experience is that if I leave something up to willpower alone it will sooner rather than later come crashing down around my ears – however sincere the resolutions which I have made!

My coaching clients often start off by saying that they need to have more self-discipline. What they usually mean by that is that they think they ought to be able to keep to a set of rules by exercising their will power. If they fail to do so they will accuse themselves of lacking self-discipline. For them self- discipline equals “good” and the lack of it equals “bad”. If they fail they will beat themselves up by saying things like “I’m absolutely hopeless at this sort of thing” or “I’ve got no will power at all”.

However ideas of “good” and “bad” aren’t really much help to the person who wants to be more organized. Willpower on its own will never make anyone organized if they aren’t already. Think of something you are really good at – did you achieve it by willpower alone? I suggest it’s most unlikely that you did – there would have been all sorts of other factors in play.

Basically human beings tend to follow the path of least resistance. So if it’s easier to do the right thing, then the right thing is what you will do. If it’s easier to do the wrong thing, then the wrong thing is what you will do. This means that the secret to doing the “right thing” (however you define that) is to look at how you can arrange things so that it is easier to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. To do this you need to pay attention to the way you are structuring your life and work.

Let’s look at a simple example of this. When you are working in an office as an employee, you will usually succeed in getting up and traveling to work more or less on time. But imagine that you leave this employment and decide to set up your own business as a home worker. Is it easy to get up and start work at the same time each day? For most people the answer is “No it’s not!”

What’s the difference between the two scenarios? In both you are the same person with the same talents, skills and failings. The only difference is the structure. In order to start work on time as a home worker you have to replicate some of the structure that you had as an office worker. Remember what you are aiming to do is to make it so that starting work at the right time is easier for you than starting at the wrong time. There are many ways in which you can achieve this. An example would be to always make your first appointment for the day at your official starting time. Then the embarrassment and inconvenience of being late would make it easier for you to be on time. Remember I said “make it easiER”, not “make it easy”!

Exercise
Think of something you habitually fail to do the way you would like to do it. Examine why it is easier for you to do it wrong. How could you change the structure so it would be easier to do it right?

Thursday
Sep072006

Space Invaders

These days computer games are all incredibly complicated. But some of us are old enough to remember the simplicity of the original Space Invaders game. http://tinyurl.com/oypo7 As you may recall the lines of invaders gradually got closer and closer while getting faster and faster. You couldn’t let them get too close or you ended up being overwhelmed.

It occurred to me the other day that my schedule is rather like that. All the deadlines for my projects gradually march closer and closer seeming to get faster and faster the nearer they get, until I am overwhelmed with the effort of dealing with them all.

And it also occurred to me that the solution is the same as it is with Space Invaders. You have to shoot down as many of the items as you can while they are still a good way off.

The ideal is to start dealing with any project as soon as you are tasked with it. If you have two weeks to get a report written, use the whole two weeks instead of trying to write it in a panic in the last couple of days. It will also have the advantage that you will produce much higher quality work as well as being less stressed about it.

Instead of dealing with all the urgent things first, try dealing with the least urgent things first. That way they will never become urgent!
Thursday
Sep072006

The 30-Day Challenge

Is there something in your life in which you’d really like to make a real change, but somehow you can never find the time? One way of doing it is to see how much difference you can make in 30 days. You aim is to keep going for 30 days, no more. You are far more likely to be able to find the energy and enthusiasm needed if you know that your commitment is only for a limited period like thirty days, rather than for the rest of your life!

Here are some of the challenges you might like to set yourself (only one at a time though!)

How many books can you read in 30 days?

How well organised can you make your office in 30 days?

How many prospects can you call in 30 days?

How many friends can you call in 30 days?

How many cigarettes can you NOT smoke in 30 days? (based on your present average daily consumption)

How many push-ups can you work up to in 30 days?

Once the thirty days are up, it’s up to you whether you continue or not. Most likely you will have made a habit of it by then and will continue without really having to think about it. Maybe you’ll breathe a sigh of relief and stop doing it. Whichever way, you are now ready for your next 30-day challenge!