Even though Summer is fading, I’m sticking to my #Constructive Summer reading goals. Sometimes projects take longer than you expect, but I’m still learning a lot and that’s what matters.
At this point I’m still working my way through Carson Tate’s Work Simply and here’s what I’ve learned so far: cultivating awareness of what distracts our attention is the only way to avoiding distraction and maintain focus; our ability to remain focused on tasks until they’re completed is the key to making the most of our finite resources of time and attention.
I’m thinking of it like exercising at the gym: cultivating awareness is your strength training, building a set of mental and emotional muscles strong enough to keep the force of distractions at bay; focused attention is your cardio workout, building endurance to keep moving forward at a comfortable pace with enough reserve on hand to sprint when we need to. Our muscles, heart, and lungs all work together, and the stronger they are, the more we can do.
So I’ve taken a look at my distractions, and I’ve begun to improve my ability to focus attention on the tasks at hand. But these are just the foundations to being more productive with our time, because we can have all the control over our attention and focus we want, but if we’re not putting that to a purposeful end, how do we know if we’re succeeding?
There is no measure of success without goals.
In general terms, we think of productivity as the number of tasks completed divided by the amount of time it took to complete them – widgets per hour, stitches per minute, etc. The higher the rate, the more productive we are. If we want to increase our widget productivity, we can set a goal that is a higher number than what we have and make adjustments until our output matches that goal.
But what if you’re not making widgets, but designing websites? What if you’re an editor or producer or photographer or accountant? What if you’re not making anything directly, but managing a whole team of makers? What you have now is project-based work, where the driving factor isn’t quantity but quality, and a deadline for when it should be done.
Here’s where goal setting becomes more complex and stressful for the modern “information worker” because we don’t have easily quantifiable quotas to meet (10 widgets per hour) but just a pile of tasks and projects that we need to complete by a certain time. In fact, that’s not even just how we work, but how we live, because the projects and tasks of our lives at home are structured pretty much the same way: there are always ongoing projects, chores, and needs of others to meet at home just as there are at work.
This is why we’re stressed out about getting stuff done. And this is where the latest lesson I gained from Work Simply gives me hope:
You can’t create an effective plan for getting things done until you know the goals you’re trying to accomplish, and the goals you set should be goals you know you can actually achieve.
In the book, Carson Tate calls these READY goals, because they should follow five basic criteria if you’re going to actually achieve them: they should be Realistic, Exciting, Action-oriented, Directive, and Yours. In other words, these are things you know you can achieve over time, that you’ll be engaged in, that can be broken into tasks, that keep steering you where you want to go, and that you have a personal stake in. These aren’t someone else’s goals for you, and they aren’t vague, unrealistic fantasies.
Defining these goals — actually writing them out on paper — is the first step to understanding the why behind how we’re spending our attention each day. It brings intentionality to our actions, and motivates us more strongly than merely wanting to get stuff done just so it’s done.
Tate recommends setting READY goals for an entire year at a time, right on New Year’s Day if you can. Her four primary categories for goal setting are:
- Professional (career goals, team goals, improving skills)
- Personal (strengthening relationships)
- Health (improving how I feel, exercise, eat, and rest)
- Spiritual (nurturing inner spiritual needs and values)
Once you have READY goals within each category, your priorities become clear. And that is when you can get to the hands-on work of investing time, building habits and scheduling your days to reach these goals.
That’s the next big step I’ve hit as I keep making my way through this book, and the part that I probably need the most. At the rate I’m going, it looks like that will be my big goal for September.