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Personal Goals and Priorities Pathways and Pitfalls
by Jim Clemmer

"The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken." -- Samuel Johnson, 18th century poet, essayist, and journalist

• What are you so busy doing? Are you working on high leverage activities that will catapult you, your team, and your organization toward your vision? Or are you just busy? In First Things First, Stephen Covey, Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill write, "People expect us to be busy, overworked. It's become a status symbol in our society — if we're busy, we're important; if we're not busy, we're almost embarrassed to admit it. Busyness is where we get our security. It's validating, popular, and pleasing. It's also a good excuse for not dealing with the first things in our lives."

• Know thy time. Figuring out how effective your busyness is, starts with a time log. This takes some real discipline, but the learning and personal effectiveness you'll gain is immeasurable. For a few weeks, (ideally a month), keep a log of how you spend each fifteen minute block of your day from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. Before you start, develop categories such as reading, learning, meetings, family time, relaxation, travel, telephone calls, visiting, preparing, planning, etc. Estimate how much time you spend in each activity before you start your log. Once your log is complete compare your estimates to the way you actually use your time. Then compare that to your vision, values, and context. Identify the key areas for improvement.

• Plan your time. Use a time organizer system or notebook computer. Take it with you everywhere you go. Develop weekly or monthly activity lists that link to your vision, values, and purpose so you're always doing the most important things. Over the weekend or first thing Monday morning, sketch out your week. Each morning reprioritize your day's activities and plans.

• Practice servant-leadership; put returning calls and messages at the very top of your daily priority list.

• If you have activities of equal priority, start with those you hate to do most first. That will remove the dread and procrastination factor from your day's work. It also guarantees that you won't keep putting it off and having it eat at you. Once the unpleasant work is done, everything else is easier.

• Don't be a "time doodler". Use your travel and waiting times effectively. I am constantly amazed at the number of managers who use their quiet, uninterrupted airplane time to watch movies, sleep, read casual material, or have idle conversations. I've read dozens of books and articles, opened and answered mail, wrote columns, articles, and book chapters, or prepared presentations on airplanes. If you consider this relaxation time, check your time log. I'll bet the work you don't get done during this highly productive time cuts into weekend or evening family time or other things you've said are important to you.

• Always have a book, magazine, mail, or other reading material with you when you travel to a meeting or appointment. Leave lots of extra travel time to compensate for traffic or not being able to find your destination right away. If you're early or kept waiting, catch up on your reading (or make a few phone calls).

• Build an audiotape library. Listen to these tapes in your car. In the last few decades I've attended dozens of conferences (many record and sell audio tapes of conference presentations), read numerous books, and listened to many experts while stuck in traffic. Carry a portable tape player along to record ideas for later review and filing.

• Invest the time and take the courses to learn how to use the time saving features on all the technology you use.

• Start every project or activity by asking, "what's my objective?" or "what outcome am I looking for?" I find investing the time to clarify chapter or presentation goals and preparing a detailed outline is time extremely well spent. I keep pushing at and coming back to "what am I trying to say here?" or "what are my main points?" I can sometimes spend as much time on this focusing work as I do on the writing. But I always feel the final work is clearer and of higher quality because of this investment.

• Learn how to lead effective meetings. Poorly run meetings cost you and everyone else an enormous amount of precious time. There are few excuses for not starting and finishing on time, not having clear meeting outcomes and agendas, not keeping discussions on track, not minimizing disruptions, or not handling conflict effectively. It's a skill issue. Improve yours and you'll free up time for everybody.

• When I worked in an office 30 minutes from home, I would work at home until 9:30 A.M. then head in. That way I could avoid traffic and reach people in my time zone in their offices from my cell phone in the car.

• Do your most demanding creative mental work during your peak performance time. If you're a morning person, do it then. If you're a night owl save it for that time.

• Learn how to say no.

• Don't allow people on your team to "delegate up" to you. Develop them, guide them, empower, and energize them. But don't do their work for them.

• Break big jobs into little pieces and set small, incremental goals. Terry Fox was an inspiring young Canadian who lost his leg (and eventually his life) to cancer. To raise money for cancer research, he ran over three thousand miles on an artificial leg. He ran a marathon (about twenty six miles) a day. When he was running, his short-term goal was "to run to the next hydro pole."

• Don't overdo planning and prioritizing your time. Use strategic opportunism in your daily work. Often chance encounters, unexpected visits, or unplanned phone calls present small, but significant, opportunities to move a few steps closer to your vision. Most of those events can't be planned. If they're dealing with important issues, pursue them. If not, move on. But don't let a rigid schedule or plan bind you too tightly. It's all the more reason to prioritize your day. If you only get two things done on today's "To Do" list, make sure it's the two most important.

• Setting personal breakthrough goals that are well beyond your current character, ability, or habits is to set yourself up for failure. That's why crash diets and so many New Year's resolutions fail. Build a series of small wins and new habits that gather momentum and confidence to keep you moving forward.

Establishing goals and priorities, getting organized, and managing time is about balance. In "A Better Way to Live," personal effectiveness author, Og Mandino, puts it all in perspective: "Any goal that forces you to labor, day after day and year after year, so long and hard that you never have any time for yourself and those your love is not a goal but a sentence. . . a sentence to a lifetime of misery, no matter how much wealth and success you attain."

Jim Clemmer may be contacted at

Jim Clemmer is an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. His web site is



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