time managementA few years ago, I did a vocal recording of Lee Ann Womack’s, “I Hope You Dance,” a song that challenges listeners to live everyday to the fullest. It was during the recording that I realized the vocal harmony in the chorus is lyrically different than the melody line. While the chorus repeats the words, “I hope you dance,” the words of the harmony behind the chorus are as follows: Life is a wheel in constant motion, rolling us along. Who wants to look back on their years, and wonder where those years have gone?” Every time I sing this song, with its dual “seize the moment” message, I can’t help but wonder what makes the lyrics so appealing. Why does the “embedded message” within the chorus hit home in such a significant way? It all boils down to one thing and, no matter how we live, there never seems to be enough of it. It’s a fluid phenomenon, involving the past, present, and future, a valuable resource – it’s money, something we save, waste, spend, lose, an entity that often eludes us and can never be recaptured. It’s that object through which we move and, as we progress, we find that, suddenly, we’ve run out of it. What is it? Time…

Regardless of how it’s measured, we all have available the same amount of time within which to accomplish whatever we choose. So, why is it that during a single 24-hour period some people are unbelievably productive, while others wonder where the time has gone? Quite simply, being proactive in life, rather than reacting to circumstance, can make the difference between personal and professional success and failure. To enjoy purposeful living, both personally and professionally, we must establish goals and consciously choose how we will use our time to accomplish them. To that end, I’ve found that, when setting goals and structuring time, the following guidelines (and subsequent sample plan) work well:

  1. Start with the end in mind; identify where you want to go, as compared with where you are right now. The answer to this question becomes your stated goal.
  2. Identify and prioritize 3-5 objectives to move you in the direction of your desired end. Objectives bridge the gap between the present state and the future goal.
  3. Break objectives down into manageable tasks, being careful to follow the “smart” rule – making tasks specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.
  4. Construct a daily agenda, divided into two sections – action items and a “todo” list. The action items are those steps necessary to complete your tasks, and your “to-do” list includes daily, weekly or monthly routine items, such as attending scheduled meetings, paying bills, taking the children to school, etc.
  5. Make your goals real and tangible through visual imagery. To do this, you can create a mind map (http://www.goalenforcer.com/), a treasure map (http://www.teamchrysalis.com/AC/V3/AC36_Treasure_Map.htm), an organizational chart or construct a template of your own, on which to frame your goals. For example, I once artificially imposed my goal plan onto the face of a sliced onion. The outermost ring represented my goal and the innermost ring my daily agenda, with each inward ring supporting its neighboring outer ring. Seeing your goals in various physical forms imprints them on your mind, while keeping them in the forefront of your consciousness.
  6. Display your goal plan in high visibility areas (e.g., on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, the wall beside your computer, next to the television, etc.). Eventually, your plan will be as familiar to you as your morning grooming ritual.

Goal Setting Sample (partial)

Goal: Within one year, I will start up a consulting business, focused on professional and personal growth and development.

1.      Objective 1: Publish

a.       Task 1: Determine writing genre/market

i.      Action Item 1: Explore self-help publications

ii.      Action Item 2: Find gaps in market

b.      Task 2: Identify writing outlets

i.      Action Item 1: Books versus magazines

ii.      Action Item 2: Publishing house vs. self-publishing

c.       Task 3: Research submission guidelines

i.      Action Item 1: For select book submissions

ii.      Action Item 2: For select magazine submissions

iii.      Action Item 3: For online submissions

d.      Task 4: Determine topics

i.      Action Item 1: Identify interests and expertise

ii.      Action Item 2: Based on gaps, select hot topics

e.       Task 5: Write essays

i.      Action Item 1: Write essay outlines

ii.      Action Item 2: Write rough draft

iii.      Action Item 3: Create final product

f.       Task 6: Submit essays for publication

i.      Action Item 1: Secure mailing information

ii.      Action Item 2: Write query letter

iii.      Action Item 3: Package documents for delivery

Objective 2: Network, and Objective 3: Market, follow in a similar manner.

As is true with “the best laid plans,” the greatest attention to process cannot possibly compensate for a lack of follow-through to productivity. If we genuinely desire to structure our goals and time, as opposed to them structuring us, the plan is merely the beginning. When it comes to realizing the value of the lives we lead, Lee Ann Womack offers heartfelt words of reflection, while Dr. Seuss, in his book Oh, the Places You’ll Go, imparts unto us words of wisdom:

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy [or gal] who’ll decide where to go.

In truth, the power to fully live resides wholly within each of us. What are we waiting for?

Published in The Oyster Pointer