Archive for March, 2009

How to Use Deadlines to Reach Your Goals

Deadlines are an extremely valuable tool to use as you pursue your goals. As a college professor, I see this all too clearly.  If assignments didn’t have deadlines, most students wouldn’t complete them.  If you left every deadline until the end of the course, all of the work would be done at the end of the course.  Deadlines naturally spur people, pushing them to complete the project at hand.

The same phenomenon can be seen when you are preparing to go on a vacation.  Have you ever noticed how much more work you get done on the day before you leave? It is because you have a firm deadline looming, and tasks that need to get done before you leave.

This phenomenon can be used as you pursue your goals.  Having a deadline will force you to move forward. You will need to work hard to reach your goal by the deadline, and as the deadline gets near it will inspire you focus hard and get the project done.

Here is how to make use of deadlines to help you reach your goals more quickly:

1. Make a deadline for every major goal that you are pursuing.

Every major goal you have needs an accompanying deadline.  If the goal is important enough for you to set and pursue then it is important enough to have a deadline for completing it. If you set the deadline for the major goal, you can then break down the goal into monthly and weekly components that will help you stay on the right timeline.

Some of your life goals may be continual, or ongoing, goals.  These might better considered habits that you are working to create.  For me, these include things such as working out five times a week, writing five days a week etc.  While they don’t need to have an extra deadline, you should do a weekly review of all of these goals to ensure that you are making progress.  By doing this you are able to create a weekly deadline to have completed that task the number of times you want.  So, for example, my workout goal has a weekly deadline; to reach it I need to have worked out five times by the end of the week.

2. Make the deadlines external

The best deadlines are deadlines that are set for you by someone else. For students the deadline for handing in an assignment often helps them have the surge in energy needed to finish.  For you it might be the tax filing deadline that creates action as you drop other things to get your taxes done.  Both of these are examples of external deadlines.

As you set personal deadlines for achieving goals, you need to hold yourself to them like an external deadline. You can do this by putting some form of external pressure on your internal goals.  You can do this by:

  • sharing the deadline with many people around you so that they hold you accountable and apply peer pressure
  • placing your deadline around an existing external deadline, such as a vacation, holiday or special event (ie. making your goal to complete your project before you leave for an Easter weekend trip)
  • giving yourself a significant reward, but only if you complete your goal before a set deadline
  • committing to someone else that you will complete something by a certain time so that they can take the next step in the project
  • having a partner that you work with and both share the same deadline

Any of these methods can help increase the power of your deadline by applying external pressure.

3. Make the deadlines firm

Many times people who are pursing a goal will set a deadline only to continually be pushing back the deadline because they aren’t going to reach the goal.  You need to make the deadline firm. There cannot be any extensions.  You simply need to get it done.  If you get in the habit of giving yourself extensions you will start to rely on them.  Eventually you will get in the habit of never reaching the deadlines that you set for yourself.

4. Make the deadlines appropriate

You deadline needs to be appropriate.  This means that the deadline cannot be too easy to reach, or too hard. If it is too easy, you simply won’t get started because you will always believe you have all the time in the world to complete your goal.  After all, you believe the goal is really easy to achieve by the deadline.  Unfortunately when this happens the time will fly by and you may not think about the deadline again until it is too late.  You need a deadline that will cause you to get started right away.

The deadline also can not be too hard.  If the deadline looks like it cannot be met, you will quickly become discouraged and stop pursuing the deadline; you will give up, because you don’t believe you can succeed in time.

Instead, make the deadline challenging, but reachable. In order to do that you will need to learn your tendencies.  Do you tend to overestimate what you can accomplish with your time, or underestimate your ability?  I tend to overestimate how much work I can get done with my time.  Because of this, I need to make the deadline a little easier to reach than I would first expect.  If I expect that I can get a project done in two weeks, I better give myself a deadline of three or four weeks to be more realistic.  Some people work the opposite and always think a project will take longer than it really does.  If you fit into that category, set the deadline for a shorter period of time than you might first expect.

5. Complete, Celebrate, Commence

These three Cs are the cycle for achieving goals with a deadline.  The first C is to complete the project you are working on.  Work really hard towards a goal with the focus on completing it. If you are like me, you likely have the tendency to have a number of project lying around that are started, perhaps even near completion and yet not finished.  One place I notice this in my life is how many books I have partially read.  Often I find myself part way through several books, but not completing any of them. To break this trend, focus on completing the project.  You can set a new deadline for completing the project if you are nearly done well before the original deadline.

The second C is to celebrate.  Once you have completed a major project or met a major goal you need to pause and celebrate.  Find a way to celebrate that is a true reward. For me, a steak dinner at my favorite restaurant is a great reward for completing a major project.  This has to be something you do rarely enough that it truly feels like a great celebration.  Your celebrations may change from goal to goal depending on what feels like a reward to you in the moment.  Bigger goals that took more time and effort to achieve should have a bigger celebration than small goals.

The final C is to commence.  After you have celebrated, you need to commence progress towards your next goal; set a deadline and get going.  Notice that this final C does not take place until after you have completed the previous goal and celebrated its achievement. If you start sooner, you’ll end up with too many projects to focus on.

Using deadlines that are firm, appropriate and have external pressure will help you make progress more rapidly towards your goal.  Set deadlines for all of your major goals and then follow the cycle of the four Cs to reach those goals.  You will quickly move onwards and upwards towards the success you desire.

Written by:

The Success Professor – Danny Gamache

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Posted on March 31st, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  1 Comment »

Sunday Browsing: Sprinting Towards Your Life Goals

Sunday Browsing

Hello everyone,

It feels great to be back in the flow of writing for this blog.  Today’s links are a collection of great links to help you reach your goals more quickly.

1. Alex Shalman writes about how to Set Goals With the End in Mind.

2. Learn how to use Benchmarks to reach success from Pick The Brain.

3. Zen Habits shares 7 Tips to Achieve More.

4. Seth Godin suggests that you SPRINT! towards goals!

5. Scott H Young says that you should Say Hi.

Enjoy these, and have a great week!

The Success Professor – Danny Gamache

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Posted on March 29th, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  No Comments »

How to Get Going Again: Re-engaging With Your Goals

Progress towards a goal is never a straight shot. There will be times when you progress rapidly, and there will be times where things go a lot slower, and forward movement towards your goal is a struggle.  Sometimes, you will completely lose forward momentum towards your goals and your activity level may come to a standstill.

Perhaps this standstill is simply because you needed a break, maybe you went on vacation, or maybe you engaged in a period of focused imbalance where you simply needed to let that goal slide for a short time.  Sometimes people stop progressing towards their goals because other goals get in the way, or simply because bad habits start to creep in and you end up taking the lazy way out.

It is when your progress is completely stopped, that is when you need to dig deep inside yourself. This is when your true character is revealed.  You have two options here: you can let your goals slide – essentially giving up – or you can dig deep and work to get things going again.

Just like a train locomotive, getting started after you have stopped is the hardest part.  You have created a “state” when you have stopped, and you need to move out of the stopped “state” into a “state of motion. The law of inertia says that a body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body in rest tends to stay in rest.  While inertia is true in physics, it is also true as you work towards meaningful life goals.  Thankfully there are steps you can take to get yourself going again and re-engage your goals.

1. Accept the Situation

The first step in getting yourself going again is to accept the situation.  When you have let your activity towards a goal slide you are likely disappointed with yourself and that can easily weigh you down.  So don’t beat yourself up.  It doesn’t help for you to feel bad about what you haven’t done, or to pile up blame on yourself. Even if you should not have let your activity level slide, and even if it is your fault that you are not progressing towards your goal, it doesn’t say anything about who you really are!

By accepting the situation you can learn from what has happened with a focus on the future.  Learn what caused you to stop moving towards your goal. Was it an unusual life event, or did the normal things of life get in your way?  What do you need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?  Look at your life’s habits.  Did you let some habits slide?  Are there new habits you need to create?  Analyze what has happened, but always with a focus on the future.  Discover how to not let it happen for you again.

2. Revisit your goals

Next, take some time to revisit your goals.  Think back to why you want to achieve the goal.  Deeply ingrain in yourself an understanding of this WHY.  Is the goal really important?  If so, you need to clarify this importance and use it to help you build momentum.

Perhaps the goal is not important for your life and in that case you should let it slide.  Likely, if you have been thinking about it and acknowledging the need to get back to it, the goal is important. Chances are that you forgot about the importance of this goal and that was part of why you got stalled.  If you have ingrained within yourself why a goal is important you will be less likely to quit.  For example, I’ve deeply ingrained in myself the importance of exercise and staying in shape.  Because of how clearly I see the importance of physical fitness, I’m much less likely to stop working out, even when I’m forced to give up other goals. As a result, even when I recently went through a period of focused imbalance, I was able to stick to my fitness commitment.

3. Start Small

When getting going again in movement towards your goal you need to be willing to start small.  You don’t need to, and shouldn’t expect to, jump in at the highest level of activity that you were maintaining before you stopped. You also don’t need to put that level of pressure on yourself.  Starting small is acceptable!

Say, for example, that when you are moving towards a certain goal, you used to make twenty sales calls a day. Don’t put that level of pressure on yourself to begin. Start small by simply making one call.  Often that first activity is the hardest.  Doing anything, even something very small, can help you create momentum and that can build and develop into inertia.

4. Move to Half-Way

After doing something to get started, the next step is to look for an opportunity to get back to your “half-way” activity level. This is where you make a firm commitment that you will do at least half of the activity that would have been considered your full activity level.

This is what I did to get back into the habit of writing.  At my full activity level I would write for one hour on four different days each week.  To get back into the flow after I stopped, I started by moving to the half way mark.  I did this by committing to write for thirty minutes a day for the first week.

Having a shorter time or activity level commitment can help you get started because it is less intimidating, feels easier to do, and gives you a sense of accomplishment. You should notice that I have used the world commitment several times.  When you move to half-way, you need to be committed.  You can’t simply plan on moving to half-way, or hope to get half-way.  If you do, that will never happen.  Instead, you need to commit to it, and follow through on your commitment, no matter what.  It is this kind of determination that is needed as you try to start moving again.

5. Increase to Full Out Effort

Now that you have moved to a half-way level of action, you can work to build momentum by continually adding in more activities and putting in more time.  Set a plan in place on how you will get back to your previous pace. Your plan may be involve a certain date where you move from half activity to full activity, or it may involve a more gradual increase.  The key is that you have a clear plan that fits that allows for an achievable way of reaching your previous effort level.  Of course, that plan can not sit idle.  You must follow the plan and do what it takes to get back to your full activity level.

6. Consider a Period of Massive Action

Often times after a period where you have stopped working or progressing towards your goals, a period of massive action can make a huge difference.  This is especially true in many businesses, and in any sorts of sales or marketing.  In this situation, you can still take a short while to ramp up your activity level, but instead of stopping at your previous activity level, go beyond!  In fact, go significantly beyond and create momentum.

Sometimes a period of massive action will help you make up for lost time and propel you to more rapid success. You may find that this higher level of activity is something you can maintain and that the efforts are really worth it; alternatively, you may find that you need to go back to your previous activity level.  Either way you’ll have created more rapid growth and momentum because of your period of massive action.

Remember, just because you’ve let your activity towards your goal slide doesn’t mean that you have any less chance of achieving your goal. Sure you may need to adjust your deadlines if you’ve sat back for too long, but your goal can stay.  Readjust your deadline, ramp up your activity and see the success you’ve dreamed about.

Written by:
The Success Professor – Danny Gamache
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Posted on March 25th, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  No Comments »

Periods of Focused Imbalance

In general I am in favor of having important goals in a variety of areas of life.  You should set goals for your work life, your family life, personal growth and for any other important role that you have (see my previous post on setting short term goals). Having these various goals allow you to pursue a rhythm in life; one that will allow you to make consistent progress towards all of these goals.

The Paradox

The paradox is that in order to achieve all of these goals you will need to have periods of imbalance; times when you get out of rhythm and focus completely on a major goal for a short period of time.  During this time you will need to allow yourself the freedom to leave other goals for the short term to put all of your efforts into what is immediately important.

I am just coming out of a three back-to-back periods of focused imbalance.  Towards the end of January an opportunity came up to significantly expand my home business affiliate program in a short period of time. The only catch was that it required that I drop almost everything else for a couple of weeks.  By doing that, I was able to achieve more in two weeks than I would have expected in two months.  Following that period of imbalance towards my business goals, I had a couple of weeks of focus that was required for the volunteer work I do as part of a church’s leadership time. I turned from there to a period of imbalance towards my job as a professor.  This semester I took on an ‘overload’ where I teach an extra course for extra pay.  To do this well, I took a period of focused work on class prep and marking.

Success Comes in Spurts

When pursuing goals of any sort you can count on the fact that success comes in spurts. In some projects a spurt is required to get momentum started and get moving forward.  In some projects it is a final spurt towards the finish line that is needed.  School is built around spurts (exam time and when term papers are due), most jobs are built around spurts (busy season, year end etc.), and even pleasure activities are built around spurts (set vacations).

You can see this in athletics as well.  In some sports a burst at the beginning is the key to building momentum that carries through to the finish.  The 100 meter sprint is probably the best example of this.  It is the early momentum that the runners create that carries them through to the finish.  In longer races, such as the 10,000 meters there is usually a gradual build up before a surge towards the end.  In professional team sports, we also see this spurt towards the end – called the playoffs.  However, before the playoffs many teams will have a spurt period where they go on a several game winning streak to help propel them into the playoffs.

The fact that success comes in spurts is not a bad thing; in fact it is part of the way we are built.  Spurts allow you to use an increased level of energy and carry a higher level of excitement for a short period of time. This can be followed by short periods of rest and recovery.  Further, if you have a number of areas in your life that at various times require a short spurt, simply changing focus can help provide another burst of energy.

Know what you are doing

One of the keys to effectively having a period of focused imbalance is to know what you are doing.  You need to be deliberate about the fact that you are taking a period of time to be focused on one goal over others. It is very easy to slip into a period of imbalance by accident.  This occurs when you end up focusing on one goal at the exclusion of others, but you do not do this on purpose; it just kind of happens.  When this happens your period of imbalance is likely not very focused, and it can have extra negative effects on your other goals. You want the move to being a period of imbalance to be a deliberate decision because it is the best thing for your life as a whole.

It is important that if you are taking a period of focused imbalance, and doing it deliberately, that you don’t feel guilty about the goals you put to the side. It is easy to feel regret and dwell on what you are not able to do for these other goals.  You need to remember that you are leaving some goals for the short term because of an opportunity to advance your overall long-term goals even further.

Of course all of this implies that that you have long-term overarching life goals.  If you don’t have a vision for what your life should look like, you will not be able to make decisions about when you should take a period of focused imbalance. Start by setting long-term goals for what you want your life to look like.  This vision should guide your short-term goals and the decisions you make about how to pursue them.

Keep all your goals in sight

During a period of focused imbalance it is important that you still pay attention to all of the goals you have, even in the areas you are temporarily putting to the side. This helps you to keep the long-term in mind, but also helps you to always have other important goals in your conscious.  There may be places where your goals overlap and something you are working on can carry over towards another project or goal.

You should review all of the roles in your life on a weekly basis.  Do your weekly goal setting, even during a time of imbalance.  Use this opportunity to deliberately consider each goal, remind yourself about why they are important, and consciously consider whether you should continue in the period of focused imbalance.

Keep your minimum activity level

Part of this process is recognizing what your minimum level of activity is for each of your life roles. Some roles will be things that you can completely set aside and do nothing, but likely most of your goals will need a basic level of activity even when you are in a period of imbalance.

Many of my roles require this minimum level of activity.  For example, my job as a professor requires that, at a very minimum, I prepare for and teach my classes, and have suitable office hours.  There are some things that I can put aside for a short period, but teaching my classes and holding my office hours are part of my minimum activity level.

One of the areas I “dropped the ball” over the past few weeks is with my minimum activity requirements for this blog.  With the focus on this blog being only a handful of months old, I had not gone through a period where focused imbalance took me away.  Because of that, I had not built in the minimum activity requirements for this blog.  My minimum activity requirements for this blog should have been, and will become, a minimum of two posts a week.  That means even during a period of focused imbalance I need to take the time to write, even a little.  Knowing my minimum activity level also frees me up, during those times, from promoting the blog, writing guest posts etc.

My period of imbalance allowed me to complete or make significant progress towards several of my goals. Because life generally moves in spurts, it is important to acknowledge the need for periods where most of your attention needs to focus on one specific goal over others.  Be prepared for this by having clarity over your life goals so that you can make deliberate decisions about your activity when you need to. Keep your goals in sight at all time and be sure to keep your minimum activity levels and your periods of focused imbalance will help you progress rapidly towards your goals.

Written by:
Danny Gamache – The Success Professor

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Posted on March 18th, 2009 by The Success Professor  |  1 Comment »