Deadlines or Lifelines?

How do you feel about deadlines?  I mean, how do you really feel when you have a deadline?  Are you delighted?  Do you want to jump for joy and celebrate?  Or is your first reaction one of dread?  Do you resist the deadline and start thinking of all the reasons that you can’t possibly meet that deadline?  If you are like most people, you are more inclined toward the latter.

What causes us to dig in our heels when a deadline is looming near?  I think it triggers the natural response to rebel against authority that we experience as teens.  Think back to when you were a teenager.  How did you respond to deadlines, especially those regarding homework assignments?  Were you excited to hear you had 3 weeks to complete a big project or paper?  Or were you dreading it, trying to think of all of the obstacles like “How will I have time to do things with my friends?” or “I can’t possibly get it done because I have other classes, homework and a job. I just don’t have time to do this?”  Yet, somehow, even with all of your objections, I’m guessing you usually found a way to get it done by the deadline.  So how did you do it?  How do you do it today, as an adult?

I operate under the theory that “Deadlines are lifelines” or “Deadlines are our friends.”  I didn’t always believe this theory and there are times when I still resist the “dreaded deadline.”  But experience has taught me that I am more likely to accomplish a goal when I have a deadline.  Think about this:  what if your boss said, “Hey, I have an important project I need you to do for me.  There’s no big rush so take your time and do it well.  We don’t have a deadline so don’t stress about it.  Just get it to me when you can.”  (Like this would really happen, but just humor me.)  How many of you would rush to work on this project?  He/she told you it was important, but what do you think about it?  “How important can it be if there is no deadline?”  Am I right?  Now what if we take the same scenario but include “I need it before next Tuesday”?  How do you feel about it now?  Do you feel a sense of urgency?  Are you more inclined to get to work on it?

There is something about the sense of urgency that kicks us into higher gear.  Left to our own devices, we will find other things to occupy our time, even if we are told it is “important.”  Think about a birthday or holiday such as Christmas.  What if you had no date to consider as the “deadline,” would you buy gifts or cards to make it before the deadline or would it be easy to figure, “Oh, well.  I’ll get around to it sometime.”? 

I think most of us are familiar with the saying “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”  To accomplish a goal, we are much more likely to take the steps necessary when we put it in writing and include deadlines for each step along the way with the big deadline at the end.  I recently had my book writing accountability partner challenge me to create a deadline for launching my book.  My first thought was “I can’t set a deadline!  I haven’t written enough, yet.  I don’t even know what all I need to do to have everything in place before I launch it.”  You can see that I was ready to dig in my heels and justify, blame and make excuses in an effort to resist the “dreaded deadline.”  Thankfully, I know this about myself and once I voiced my thoughts, I followed up with “Help me to figure out a timeline for all the steps I need to take so I can come up with a launch date.”  Once I became open to the idea and saw the necessity in doing it, my mindset became one of exploring solutions vs. making excuses.  We mapped it out, I contacted 2 editors and have a hopeful launch date!  I am so excited to be taking the necessary steps to reach this long-term goal I have had for years!  Would I be able to make it by the launch date if left to my own devices and the idea that “it is important, but I don’t need a launch date, yet. I’ll just keep working on it” or would I continue to drag it out over months and years?  My guess is that it would go on.

Something in us shifts when we make something a priority by putting a deadline on it.  “Beginning with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey says in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a key to success.  He says, “To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination.  It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”  It is easy to be busy, but are we spending our time in activities that help to move us closer to our goals?

I had a roommate in college who set a weight loss goal for herself.  She posted sticky notes all over the kitchen and house with her goal weight.  By making it visible, she kept the goal at the forefront of her mind and achieved it faster than she would have if she had just said her goal was “to lose some weight.”  I agreed to write monthly blogs/articles for the ATD Newsletter which means that I have a deadline every month.  If I didn’t have the deadline, I may only write 2-3 articles a year instead of 12.

Take a look at your goal list.  Are they really goals or are they just dreams without deadlines?  How can you stop digging in your heels, holding yourself back and move forward toward achieving a goal or two that have been on your list for a while?  I challenge you to choose a goal and set a deadline.  Then find an accountability partner or coach to hold you to it.  Map out the steps and follow through.  It works like magic!  Instead of a “deadline”, it becomes a “lifeline” leading you to a more fulfilling life.

New Year's Resolutions: Success or Failure

Here it is – the New Year!  What this means for many of us is that it is time for New Year’s Resolutions.  This can also mean it is time to set oneself up for failure.  So should we even bother with Resolutions if we are going to fail and give up within 6 months anyway?  If we do choose to make them, how can we stick with them so we succeed?

I have recently been interviewed by 2 reporters for Channels 10/11 on this topic of interest to so many, so I decided to pass along the information I shared with them in this blog.

The fact is, there is nothing special about January 1 as far as setting goals and being successful.  People tend to put a lot of stock in the idea of trying something new at the beginning of a new year, but the truth is that you can set a goal and make a plan for success at any moment in time and on any day of the year.  You just have to change your mindset – move away from the idea of “New Year’s Resolutions” and move toward the idea of setting achievable, reasonable goals for yourself.

Another aspect to consider is the answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?”  In other words, “why do it?”  If there is no pay-off or emotional tie-in, we aren’t likely to follow through, which leads to failure and the cycle repeating itself.  We don’t do things unless we get something out of it (even things that we know are not good for us because if we look deeper, we will discover what the pay-off is).  If you set goals to please somebody else or because you think you “should” do it, you don’t have the emotional connection to motivate yourself with following through. 

I ask my clients where they are on a scale of 1-10 as far as willingness to follow through on a goal and if they are anywhere below an 8, I tell them to hold off on it until their willingness moves to an 8 or above because they are not ready to do what it takes to make the change, yet.  This doesn’t mean to give up, but to see themselves in a stage of pre-contemplation or contemplation in order to get their brains ready to move them into action.  Once they hit an 8 or above, they are more likely to stick with it and achieve their goal.

Many people fail because they don’t put it in writing.  Research shows that those who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them than those who don’t put them in writing.  You need to be specific and create contingency plans for each goal to help you to stay on track when something comes up that may interfere with your plan.  For example, years ago I discovered that I needed to have Plans A,B and C for my exercise goals.  Plan A was to walk 4 miles in the neighborhood first thing in the morning.  Plan B took into account cold weather whereby I would move indoors to walk in a rec center or gym.  Plan C was based upon considering the road conditions when it was impossible to get out of our cul-de-sac.  In this case, I would go to my basement and plug in a DVD or use the Wii Fit Plus.  (I also continue to use Plan C when I don’t have enough time to make it to the gym for water aerobics class at the scheduled time.)  By setting up contingency plans, I took away my excuses and knew that regardless of the weather or the road conditions, I was going to get my exercise in every day.  I also kept my exercise clothes near my bed so I wouldn’t be tempted to talk myself out of getting up and going.  I would awake and begin putting them on before I could talk myself into staying in bed.  This is part of creating a plan for success by setting up your environment for success. 

When you do slip up, don’t let it stop you from getting back on track.  Remind yourself of the reasons for your goal and look at how far you have come!  Meeting your goals 2/3 of the time is 2/3 better than before!  Recover quicker after each set-back realizing that nobody is perfect.  Look for the pay-off that caused the detour and find a different way to get the feeling you are looking for – something that keeps you on track.

Find an accountability partner.  This may be a friend, an acquaintance who has a similar goal, or a life coach, like me who will help you to stay on track.  When we hold ourselves accountable through another person, we are more likely to succeed.  There are various apps available to help you to keep track of your goals (for example diet and exercise) which also keep you accountable and mindful of the choices you are making.

Include fun in your goals!  Keep them small and have some fun with them.  According to the January 2015 issue of the “O” Magazine, you should consider these habits:  Laugh, read, daydream and connect with others to reduce stress, be more inventive and to live longer.

The bottom line is there is no better time to start your path to achieving your goals than right now, regardless of the date on the calendar!  Know yourself and what you really want.  Create a specific plan to reach those goals, put it in writing and find an accountability partner.  When you slip up, be gentle with yourself, look at your success so far and get back on track.  Make 2015 the year you Dream, Plan and Achieve!

This article was posted in the Coach's Corner of the ASTD Newsletter for January 2015.  You can reach Kolleen through this website, Linked In, Facebook or by calling her at (402) 499-5547.  She offers workshops, small groups and individual life coaching on a variety of topics to help you create the life you dream of but haven't been able to achieve. 

Kolleen was interviewed on KOLN/KGIN TV twice recently about New Year's Resolutions. Unfortunately, the links have expired. 

Time Management from the Inside Out

I have been reading the book, Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, again.  (Actually I have been listening to the audio book as I drive.)  She offers a number of ideas to help people organize their time just as she helped people organize their clutter in her book, Organization from the Inside Out.  I don’t have enough room in this article to recap the entire book, but I can give you some of the basics that I found useful.

Morgenstern compares time to space to help people realize how similar the two are.  She used the example of a closet which has limited space and if overfilled, becomes disorganized, haphazard and inefficient in its use of organizing tools.  The same is true of a cluttered or overfilled schedule:  you have a limited amount of time, which gets crammed with more tasks than time, jammed into any available time slot in no particular order, which makes it difficult for you to see what you have to do and causes inefficient use of time management tools.  How many of us don’t see a schedule as a container with limited space into which we must fit a certain number of tasks?  She says that when we start seeing our time as having borders, just as space does, we will become more realistic about what we can accomplish and more motivated to master time management tools and techniques.

She emphasizes the importance of discovering your “likes and dislikes, natural habits, needs, and desires.  These become the foundation of your time management system.” She offers ideas to help you accurately diagnose your time management problems so you can work on the solution.  Then she has you look at your “big picture goals” so you can see how your daily tasks fit in with these goals.  If you are having difficulty defining your goals, she helps you to zero in on one to achieve first.  You can add others later. 

She recommends writing down your goals as this has been studied and has been found to be one of the best predictors of success in achieving goals.  Review your goals often to increase your likelihood of success.  With each big picture goal, specifically list activities to do over the next year or two that will get you to your goal.  Revise your activity list every year, even if some of your goals stay the same.  Your circumstances will change so you will need to adjust your specific activity list to match.

One of the most useful tools Morgenstern offers is a “Time Map” which is “a visual diagram of your daily, weekly and monthly schedule” which helps you to achieve your ideal balance.  I haven’t done this activity for a few years so I have created my template and have begun the process of mapping out my daily activities for the next 1-2 weeks so I know exactly where my time is going.  I will label the activities by category so I can see if I am spending my time in the areas that are most important to me or not.  I can also see how much time I am spending on activities that could be reduced, eliminated or delegated. 

After I evaluate how I am currently spending my time, I will block out my schedule to accommodate all areas of my life to make sure I am keeping the balance that is right for me.  Then I can fill in the blocks with the activities that will help me to achieve my goals, both short term and long term.  I will re-evaluate it in a couple of weeks, tweak it and do it again.   I have done this activity in the past and have found it extremely useful. 

She goes on to discuss different types of planners and how to determine which one might suit you best.  Then she goes through explaining how the SPACE formula for organization can be used for time management.  On page 138 she explains the 5 step formula for organizing your daily to-do’s:

 “Sort potential tasks by category
Purge whatever tasks you can
Assign a Home to tasks you have decided to do
Containerize tasks to keep them within the time allotted
Equalize - refine, maintain, and adapt your schedule”
If you would like more details, I recommend you check out Julie Morgenstern’s book where she walks you through step by step plans, examples and explanations.  It is a useful tool, if you make the time for it.

This article was posted in the Coach's Corner of the ASTD Newsletter for September 2014. Contact us to discuss your needs and to see how we can help you and your business to manage your time more effectively.