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Don’t let daily deadlines get in the way of long-term planning

These three tips will help you determine your goals and ensure they get the attention they deserve

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business man standing before a glass wall and arranging Post-It notes on itWant to get around to your important goals? Use your prime time hours wisely (Getty Images/Westend61)

That onslaught of deadlines throughout the day may leave you feeling like you haven’t accomplished any of the important stuff. Answering emails and performing administrative tasks can get in the way of your long-term goals.

It’s often is seen as a badge of honour to be “too busy,” says Joe Girard, a sales coach and trainer based in Victoria, B.C who specializes in helping people achieve their goals. “The honest, nobody-wants-to-hear reason people struggle with this is that they don’t take action and they make excuses.”

If you’re ready to commit to your important long-term goals, here are three ways you can ensure they get the attention they deserve.

1) DETERMINE YOUR GOALS

The first key is to be clear on what’s important to you, says Ann Gomez, a Toronto-based productivity consultant, and president of Clear Concept Inc. 

“Just pausing to plan is so crucial,” she says. “I think about planning from a micro perspective and a macro perspective. From a macro perspective, we want to think about our top goals—and I tend to limit it to just three goals. Most people are trying to boil the ocean. They’re trying to do too many things at the same time, which means they’re spreading their impact across many projects.”

Your long-term goals should be specific, measurable and realistic.

“Break down these goals into projects, and those projects into activities,” Girard says. “Try creating a 90-day sprint…where you focus on the next three months and get clear on getting stuff done. It’s a nice timeline because you can get a ton done and the finish line isn’t that far away.”

Girard adds that if your long-term goals are too lofty or unachievable, you’ll be less motivated to spend time on them.   

2) USE PRIME TIME HOURS WISELY

High-performance people spend roughly 60 per cent of their time on their top goals—while others might spend less than 50 per cent, says Gomez. But how can we spend so much time on our goals when each day brings a new slate of urgent deadlines?

“Don’t give away your prime time to reactive activities,” suggests Gomez. “Another thing that high performers do is start their day with the most important goal. I advise people to spend the minimum amount of time on reactive stuff in the morning, and instead concentrate your first hour or hours to proactive tasks—the rich, meaty, strategic thinking. Your energy levels are higher in the morning, your control of your day is higher, and your willpower is higher.”

Starting your day with your important goals also ensures that you actually have time for them. As Parkinson’s Law states: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. 

“We take time for the urgent,” says Gomez. “If something has to get done today, we will find a way to make it happen. It’s the important stuff that tends to get bumped. So based on that reality, we can turn our schedule around and start with the important stuff and then trust that we will figure out a way to get the urgent stuff done.”

3) MANAGE DISTRACTIONS

Putting energy towards our long-term goals means we need to protect time for them, and that starts with distracting activities. In one study that analyzed “889 hours of observed task switching behaviour,” nearly half of all interruptions were self-imposed. If we’re responsible for so many of our own distractions, what can we do to stay on track? 

Gomez says she uses the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s that uses a timer to break down work into intervals, separated by short breaks.

“I set the timer for 60 minutes, and as the timer is ticking down, it reminds me to stay focused on that one goal. If someone comes to talk to me, I just put the timer on pause. I try to manage those interruptions and then go back to the timer again. Even though I’m tempted to go check email or I’m tempted to go work on something else or go get a snack, I remind myself that I’m committed to those 60 minutes.”

BE PRODUCTIVE AT WORK

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