This is one of my all time favorite counselor stories. I was teaching a kindergarten class about safety rules and I asked the students for some examples. I got the usual; wear your seat belt in the car, stay seated on the bus, don't run in the halls etc. Then I called on one little girl who told me in her most serious voice that “you should never, ever run in the bathtub."
I think running in the bathtub though is a great description of the way many of us approach goal setting and goal accomplishment. We’re expending a lot of effort; we're slipping and sliding in constant motion but getting nowhere. Sometimes it helps just to take a deep breath and refocus.
One of the most useful techniques that I have found for accomplishing goals is planned neglect. It is certainly not a natural approach for me but it is definitely successful when I use it. It very simply means that I plan to ignore or neglect those tasks that call so loudly to me but that interfere with achieving my goals for the day. What sort of things are these? For me, these are simple, compelling things that on the surface seem seductively quick and easy to do. For example, checking my email, emptying the dishwasher, putting in a load of clothes and a myriad of other things that I think I will quickly complete before I get on with the big important task at hand. I can occupy myself endlessly with the little tasks, convincing myself that I am accomplishing much because I am checking so many things off my to do list. At the end of the day however, when I allow myself to be sucked into this vortex of activity, I have accomplished much of little significance. Often, one small task leads to another and before I know it the time has disappeared and there is something that I really feel I must do that causes me to put the major goal aside for yet another day. There is an appointment to make or it is mealtime and I must prepare and eat something. The day has been lost in a wasted effort.
Here’s how I have tackled this problem. First thing in the morning I spend some quiet time identifying my primary, gotta-do-it goal. Often, this is a blog to write, a marketing effort to plan and execute or most recently writing a few chapters of my book. During days when I am not on my regular day job, I schedule the first block of time in the morning to accomplish this task. I do not allow myself to even look at email, or begin any household chores first. These are danger areas for me where time can vanish before I even recognize it and I am left with a wasted day. Once I have finished about 90 minutes of focused time on my goal, I then take a break and allow myself to do something that is very time limited before I get back to work. This might be making a cup of tea and starting a load of clothes in the washer. Things like reading email though are out. I am easily lost in the vast world of the internet if I allow myself to even peek at one!
I repeat this process until I have accomplished the goals I have set for the day. Once I have done so, I then can delve into things that may seem urgent but that will overpower my primary goal if I focus on them first. I have found the technique of planned neglect to be one of my most powerful tools in my arsenal of goal setting. It certainly keeps me from running in the bathtub!
What about you? How do you accomplish the most important tasks in your life?