Many times we rely on intentions that don’t get us anywhere. There is something in many of us that makes us think we can skip goal setting and just get straight to execution when we want to accomplish something big. Too often our intentions are greater than our actions. Our ideas stay in our head or become the focus of some heavy conversations, but not much more happens. Three years later we may find ourselves still thinking or talking about the same ideas without any evidence of an attempt to make them tangible.
Sometimes it might be fear holding us back, or sometimes just plain laziness. Whatever the reason for not sitting down and plotting out our actions, the result is the same: nothing happens. I’m not sure that analyzing the cause takes us much closer to taking action, but analyzing the results should.
A common response to many tough projects is to try to save time by diving in the middle of it without thinking through steps or timelines. This may produce more than not taking any action at all, but it can also lead to wasted time and disappointment. Have you ever received a package of “easy-to-assemble” furniture? Did you start off by putting pieces together, only to find out that they don’t fit right? Did you then go back and read the instructions, only to learn you had put the pieces together backwards? Imagine how much easier it would have been and how much time would have been saved if you had just followed the directions.
A really big goal can be overwhelming. So much so, you may end up doing absolutely nothing. If you take your big goal and establish a very realistic time frame for accomplishing it, the first burden is now off your shoulders. The next step is to determine exactly what each action step is, from start to finish. This part of the process may seem tedious, but it is really the most critical. By listing each and every thing that has to be done, the reality of each step is visible and also much more doable. You can plan timelines much more accurately and track your progress to make sure your target dates for hitting key milestones are closer to reality.
A really big goal can be overwhelming
Goal setting is not really a complicated process. Making a change of any type includes a specific goal, and the process is roughly the same: take stock of where you are and compare that to your goal, assess your own behaviors, influencers and resources, determine where you want to be and set a goal. Then write the recipe (action steps) for getting there.
Let’s use weight loss as an example because the concept is simpler for many people to grasp than trying to imagine an as-of-yet undefined goal to make a career change. Needing to lose 50 pounds can be completely overwhelming when you focus on the total loss required. Losing one pound a week is a much easier objective to see and imagine, and a plan to accomplish that is much more doable. The process required to accomplish the weekly one-pound weight loss is far more sustainable than trying to imagine which new diet you can rely on to lose 50 pounds quickly. The following simple example illustrates how much easier things can be when they are thought out in advance and when simple step-by-step actions are defined.
- Record and examine your current status. Evaluating exactly what you are doing and where you are is a fundamental point for getting started. On one hand, tracking exactly what you eat each day for two weeks will tell you what you are currently doing. On the other, you will need to record your current physical activities each week (or lack thereof). It’s important to analyze your habits and record the actual number of calories you take in and the number of calories you burn to show you what you are currently doing to sustain your current weight.
- Evaluate potential changes. On your own or with a doctor or nutritionist, you can examine what can change; e.g., trading a handful of potato chips for a couple of carrot sticks to decrease calories. At the same time, on your own or with a personal trainer, you can examine your activities and determine what you can add to increase your calories burned. Making minor changes and plotting out exactly what you expect to do as an activity each week is much more likely to make the process doable and successful. Making small changes over a period of time helps you build new habits.
- Develop your plan. Outline what foods you will start incorporating into your diet. Schedule your activities. Set yourself up to succeed by making sure your activities are added to your calendar so you can be aware of how they fit with your work schedule and family time.
- Get started. The time to begin is when you can see exactly what you need to do, one day at a time. Record your results and recognize when your choices work and don’t work.
Instead of delaying your weight loss because it seems overwhelming or setting an unrealistic goal of achieving a 50-pound weight loss in three weeks, get started with a plan that allows you to sustain small changes that you develop into habits. Instead of eating only alfalfa sprouts and water and working out every day for four hours to lose 50 pounds in three weeks, you will have designed an actionable plan with a more realistic timeline that will allow you to lose 50 pounds over the course of a year. The change will be gradual and much easier than committing to something extreme. Your weight is much more likely to remain where you want it.
Whether you want to change your health or your career, enlisting the help of a professional is going to make the process smoother, and you will have support when your plan seems too hard to carry out. In order to make a career change, the same process has to be followed: record and examine your status, evaluate potential changes, develop a plan for making a desired change and get started. Looking at job postings expecting to find the perfect job to save you from your current plight is no different than expecting to find a magic pill to lose 50 pounds.
We probably all begin a new year with good intentions. Many people make resolutions to lose weight, improve their eating habits or get a new job, to name a few. If these sound like familiar promises you’ve made and ultimately fell short on, then it’s probably a good idea to evaluate what happened. Now is a good time to review your past year and figure out where things went sideways.
First, look back and take stock of what you did accomplish that you are proud of and happy about. What contributed to your success? Can you replicate your approach? How much of what went right can be applied to what didn’t?
On the flip side, did you fall short of accomplishing what you had hoped to accomplish? Were there events that impacted your performance or your well-being? How well did you handle them? What could you do differently if faced with similar challenges?
Start this next year with more than your good intentions.
You might be wistfully remembering how well you did in January and February, but by March, you were already starting to slip. Even with the best intentions, the resolutions you made in December were probably in your head and not recorded in your calendar. In other words, without an action plan and commitments for completing specific tasks by specific dates, you were pretty much doomed from the get-go. Now is the time to take the bull by the horns and pull a plan together to start this next year with more than your good intentions.
If there is something that has continued to show up on your “to do” list, then stop talking about it and get out your calendar. Make a commitment for getting it done, come hell or high water. Even if life events sway you, there’s a very simple strategy for not losing track of what you want to get done. Having clearly defined goals, and planned dates for accomplishing specific tasks and objectives, you will be forced to reconsider taking off for happy hour or adding some other inconsequential task into an already full day. If something happens that requires your immediate attention and you fail to complete the scheduled task, then you can simply reschedule it instead of leaving it on a revolving “to do” list or forgetting about it altogether. What we’re really talking about is accountability.
Going forward, plan around already-known events and block time in your calendar. Anything you plan can be changed to a new time if there is a true emergency that arises. Unplanned actions remain happenstance and are far less likely to get accomplished. Also include time to evaluate your progress each week. If you have trouble staying on track, find an accountability buddy who will hold your feet to the fire. Do what it takes to own your actions and remain accountable for your results (or lack thereof). Track your accomplishments and challenges to help you improve your productivity as you move forward. Most importantly, make this process a habit that you don’t deviate from. Make the new year your best year so far.
Having goals (as opposed to “wishes”) is the first step in getting on the right track to where you want to be. Thinking of resolutions for the New Year may be the necessary catalyst behind your goals, but assigning realistic timelines and considering how to achieve measurable results require commitment and a thoughtful strategy.
Some people execute plans very well but are unable to view the broader picture to get a sense of the reasons to change course. Having a clear strategy (and a positive mindset) will be instrumental in helping you achieve your goals, no matter how much your circumstances may change as you move forward. A strategy helps provide the framework that will keep you on the right path. When the tactics you are using stop working, it is easier to change gears if you understand the bigger picture. If you aren’t getting the results you want from your job search or business development efforts, it may be more than your tactics that need to change. Doing the same old thing because that’s what you always have done can lead to your missing the boat when a new opportunity surfaces. It’s important to start with a strategy for achieving your desired goals, then develop an action plan that supports the strategy. Without a strategy to drive your plan and its execution, your efforts could end up being a complete waste of time.
Schedules are great because they provide structure, and structure is helpful for planning purposes, but it can’t always be the driver behind an action plan. It is necessary to stay aware of the goal and adjust your structure when circumstances change. In a bigger sense, without an understanding of the strategy behind an organization’s goals, you are dependent on the person or people who designed the strategy to dictate your action plan. If conditions change and you are left on your own, you’ll need to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing, or your efforts can be wasted, opportunities can be missed, and you can be left out in the cold. Understanding someone else’s strategy, and also having one of your own, allows you to land on your feet when things go off course. If you don’t understand the need for a career strategy, you could end up being slow to change gears when quick action is required.
If you think delaying action for an hour or two, or even days, won’t make much difference to the outcome you desire… think again.
The relationship between strategy and timing is critical. If you think delaying action for an hour or two, or even days, won’t make much difference to the outcome you desire, think again. Consider how planes land and take off. The precision required to enter airspace at exactly the right time to avoid collisions is critical. Imagine what would happen if pilots believed their intentions were more important than their actions. The same applies to someone in job search mode or planning a new business. Understanding the “why” behind your actions is critical to helping you predict potential negative consequences resulting from deviations in timing and will hopefully allow you to work out ways to avoid them. Missing a deadline or taking too long to respond to a request can cause you to completely miss an opportunity, or, at the very least, it can limit your options.
Throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks is a tactic that rarely pays off in the way we imagine. Haphazard spurts of energy may produce results of some kind, but they are seldom sustainable and may end up leading to false hope when the initial response does not lead to anything longer term. An example is shooting out resumes or marketing pieces to random audiences. There may be an initial response of some kind based on curiosity, but the tactic may miss the mark if you are really looking for a sustainable relationship. Likewise, indiscriminately applying for posted jobs or focusing on developing a “cute” media presence with the hope that someone will find you are far less of a sure bet than digging in and doing the necessary research to understand your audience’s needs and wants.
Learning about the skills required to deliver the results your target companies need is much more likely to tell you how realistic your goals are. Being aware of the timing of special events, when budgets are developed and when seasonal fluctuations typically occur will help you to develop a more effective strategy for going after what you want. Timing your actions according to the intelligence you have gathered and committing to specific tasks at specific times will help you move forward. It also will allow you to track your progress and identify why things may or may not have worked out the way you intended. Overall, a well thought out strategy for achieving your goals and an awareness of critical timelines will help guide you when you face difficult decisions or reach a brick wall.
When one of my clients strays from the plan we have set forth, the fallout might be a frantic email asking what they should do because a situation has started to go south. It’s my job to help them dig their way out of whatever they got themselves into. It won’t work to tell them to “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”
I need to be there with a safety net, a remedy, and sometimes a crystal ball. In addition to assisting with a recovery strategy, I may be required to talk them off the ledge once their predicament becomes clear and they realize the damage done may be irreversible. You could call me the Reluctant Therapist.
Too many times unchecked assumptions lead the way to disaster. A candidate assumes they can easily pick up a required skill that seems to have been overlooked during the screening process. Once hired, they may find themselves completely underwater and on their way to the unemployment line again. The frantic email I receive from them is because they have been called on the carpet and issued an ultimatum. They may have taken their eyes off the ball and allowed their performance to slip while on the job. Or, if they have not yet gotten an offer, they may have had the rug pulled out from under them by the employer saying, “We think you are overqualified,” when they deviated from the script and ended up overspeaking the needs of the position.
There is a reason to begin with a strategy for getting, keeping, and/or leaving a job altogether.
The common thread in these circumstances is that a strategy could have been developed for getting where they wanted to go, but somehow they lost sight of the longer-term plan. There is a reason to begin with a strategy for getting, keeping, and/or leaving a job altogether. One step in the right direction doesn’t negate the need to carry on with the rest of the plan.
The stress encountered throughout an extended pursuit of employment is expected to disappear when the offer letter arrives, so people often let out a huge sigh of relief and let their guard down. They start behaving “as they always have,” without adapting to the market changes that have occurred or the new technologies that have been introduced. The stress they felt before the job can resurface 60 days later, when it is clear they are unable to meet the job requirements or they are bored out of their scull and haven’t attended to the side projects that would have kept them on track. Situations like these require my assistance to help pull things back on track. Hand-holding and coddling won’t help when action is required. A trip to the therapist will help them over time, but when urgent action is required, I am the first responder and end up writing the employment Rᵪ.
Naturally, it is harder to turn around a sinking ship than it is to make sure it is seaworthy to begin with. It’s important to get help with the development strategy and support in carrying it out if you are unsure how to go about it. There are some basic–dare I say?–common sense approaches to getting and keeping a new job that can help prevent some of the angst of not “fitting.”
Know more about the company, the department, your supervisor, and the job before you apply. If you are unclear about how to go about that, please read more about researching, networking, and conducting a targeted search in my other blog posts.
Be clear about what you are most competitive for. When you see a posted job and think, “That’s easy to learn. I could do that!”, what really needs to be considered is: Does this company need you, do they need to spend time training you, or are they likely to find someone who already knows how to do what they need? If there are others who are more competitive, then you need to ask yourself, “Am I interested enough in this kind of work to learn it on my own? How long will it take to learn? Is it worth the investment?” If you don’t think it is worth the investment on your own, why do you think an employer would be willing to support your training?
Know what you need to get out of the job you accept. This may not be a long-term fix. In fact, it may be something you fell into because your car payments were behind. Whatever the reason is for your accepting a position, you need to be clear about what you can learn and what you will take away, before you start.
Have an exit strategy. Know where you are headed and set a time line for accomplishing it. If this is a temporary scenario, then be clear about what is next and how that will happen. Don’t drop the ball and slide into complacency.
I’m here to help assess options, help design a strategy, and help develop a plan. It’s up to you to carry it through. Of course, when you run into trouble, contact me and I’ll deliver an Rᵪ. It just won’t be a magic pill.