Self-Management: Do the Right Things

Reducing your forward momentum is the first step to freeing yourself from the beliefs, habits, feelings and busyness that may be limiting you. ~ Peter Bregman

Self-Management: Do the Right Things

We start each day knowing we’re not going to get everything done. Every year, we reflect on our progress and wonder where the time went. Why haven’t we completed our innumerable to-do lists?

My clients often ask, “How do I know that I am doing a good job?” I work with people who are very self-aware who often receive little or no professional feedback, unless something goes terribly wrong. While we assume we’re doing our best to juggle work, family and friends, we often move along a path that isn’t quite right. The majority of people that I coach do not receive performance reviews, and if they do it is a routine check-list with little or no conversation about how they are really doing. If the information exchanged is not helpful for their professional growth, then the review is a formality and a waste of time.

Even if we recognize an aberration, we may refuse to change course or intentionally become distracted. We instinctively know, nonetheless, that we can improve. Reading another “do-it-now” time-management book isn’t the answer. It may, in fact be just a way of procrastinating. It’s important to not let your mind wander by trying to analyze why you’re stuck and why you’re putting it off. If you find yourself experiencing anxiety, do your best to ignore these negative and debilitating thoughts. We need to break our self-sabotaging patterns to ward off the unimportant, interrupt our inertia and start feeling good about our accomplishments.

Harvard Business Review columnist and consultant Peter Bregman offers four starting points in 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done (Business Plus, 2011):

  1. Where are you now? Are you doing the right things, with the right people, in the right way to make the most of who you are?
  2. What is this year about? On which five areas of focus (work and personal) do you want to spend most of your time over the next year?
  3. What is this day about? How do you concretely structure your day so it’s productive, satisfying and capable of measurably fulfilling your five identified focal areas?
  4. What is this moment about? How do you get started, manage distractions and stay on track?

You’ve probably known for some time that you need to apply focus and make smart, thoughtful decisions about what’s worth doing (and what’s not).

Here are some simple tools and tactics to help you follow through on these decisions–and even enjoy the process.

Where Are You Now?

Your life has two versions: the one where you’re a star and the one where you’re a little lost. Reality lies somewhere in the middle. Your opinion inevitably reflects some reality and some fantasy.

The two strategic questions are:

  • How can you best use your strengths and talents to achieve the things that will make you happy, productive and successful?
  • How can you know if you’re truly maximizing your potential?

The foundation of a Sustainable Leadership plan begins with your reflection and the integration of your values, purpose and strengths. Often we are our own worst enemies in not claiming our strengths or living into our potential. We often confuse claiming our strengths with ego, bragging, having a “big head”, or being intimidating, listening to those internal voices that create havoc and confusion when we want to claim our strengths and live big.

Most people insufficiently use their talents because they fear stretching goals and the prospect of leaving their comfort zones. They continue doing what they’ve always done because it’s safe, instead of taking risks and working with a professional coach. But self-discovery–especially of one’s strengths–is critical for any quantifiable success.

Most of us are reconciled to the path we’re on and rarely stop to take stock. Like the Energizer Bunny, we just keep going and going…and going.

Bregman proposes two tactics to break this negative momentum:

  1. Slow down.
  2. Start over.

Where Do You Want to Go?

Answer the following questions so you can begin to design a successful plan, avoid drifting and ultimately reclaim your life:

What are your strengths?

Take a look at your life, work, proficiencies and the activities you enjoy.

  1. What are your weaknesses? What subjects or tasks do you naturally avoid? How can you use your weaknesses to your advantage?
  2. What are your differences? What makes you unique? How can your experiences, talents and proclivities make a difference to others?
  3. What are you passionate about? Which tasks excite and energize you? How can you become more involved with them at work?

Somewhere at the intersection of these four questions lies your foundation for success and happiness. Your time is best spent on blending these components into something productive.

When we operate from – and leverage – our strengths, we function at our personal best. This holds the greatest possibility of living and working in flow, which often leads to greater satisfaction and happiness in all aspects of life. Each of us needs to have faith that we have been given just the right strengths to be all that we dream of being. We need to claim these strengths and gifts, aloud. It is our responsibility to make the most of the role we were born to play and to live our strongest possible life.

Focus for the Year, Plan Each Day

Write down two or three goals you want to achieve at work. Then, write down two areas on which you want to focus in your personal life (i.e., family, sports, interests). Limit your list to five focal areas so you can realistically accomplish them.

Most of your daily tasks should fit into these five areas. Allow another 5% of your time for life’s miscellany. This approach allows you to stay on track each day. If you’re spending time on tasks that fall outside your focal areas, recognize them as distractions that pull you away from your goals.

Take 5 minutes at the beginning and end of each day to plan and review. Checking in twice a day helps your subconscious sound the alarm if you veer off track.

Start Now

Many people enthusiastically write out elaborate plans, and their momentum invariably fizzles when it’s time to implement them. If it’s hard to get started or sustain energy, consider hiring an experienced coach. Working with others often hastens success.

Choose one task that will make the greatest difference in your life and do it–no matter what. Then, quite naturally, you will start to incorporate other changes. With time, you’ll find that your life moves in a purposeful direction.

If you would like some help moving forward, please contact me. I would love to work with you.


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