As the new year approaches – and with it the inevitable wave of self-improvement plans–we’ve identified some strategies for advancing your career in 2016.
From recovering from an office blunder to learning why it doesn’t pay to be Mr. (or Ms.) Nice Guy, this plan offers daily tips on what to do and how to do it.
You are juggling way too many projects and goals at once. There don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get it all done. And the stress of keeping all those balls in the air is killing you.
I may not know you personally, but I’ll bet that’s a pretty accurate description of your work life. I’ve yet to meet a successful professional who feels like they have time and energy to spare.
You probably use some version of a To-do List to track of everything you need to accomplish. (There may even be another one on your refrigerator at home that contains things like clean out the backyard and paint the guest room.)
To-do lists seem like a good idea, but they merely catalog tasks–and cannot help you accomplish them.
If all you do is make lists of the projects you need to finish, odds are good that they will remain unfinished far longer than you’d like.
Decades of research on goal pursuit shows that when it comes to execution, there are two major pitfalls that keep us from doing the things we intend to do.
First, we don’t get specific enough about what exactly needs to happen – the various actions we must take to reach our goals. If, for example, your goal is to make a good impression on your boss, you need to break that down into component actions, such as arranging a weekly meeting or turning in reports on time. To-do lists be helpful on this end, so long as they contain specific actions rather than vague goals.
But the second problem – which To-do lists don’t solve – is that we miss opportunities to take action. Did you really have no time to work on that assignment today? No chance at any point to return that phone call? Of course you had time, but you were probably preoccupied with something else, or simply forgot about it until it was too late – something busy people routinely do. Achieving any goal means grabbing hold of these opportunities before they slip through your fingers.
The good news is that there is a solution to this second pitfall: It’s called if-then planning.
The trick is to not only decide what you need to do, but to also decide when and where you will do it, in advance. The general format of an if-then plan looks like this:
If (or When) __________ occurs, then I will _______________.
When it’s 3 p.m. today, then I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and work on that project.
If it’s Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I’ll go to the gym before work.
If it’s Tuesday morning, then I will check in with all my direct reports.
Studies show that this kind of planning will train your brain to be ready for a certain action at a certain time. On an unconscious level, you are actively scanning your environment, waiting for the situation (e.g., 3 p.m.) to occur. So you are much more likely to notice 3 p.m. when it happens, and seize the opportunity to take the action you included in your plan.
With each action on your To-do list, add a when and where. You can transfer your To-do list to your calendar if you prefer – just make sure that you pair what you need to do with details about when and where you’ll do it, and your productivity will soar.