Check your attitude, put together your vision and take action to accomplish your goals says Marie Herman
Every year, we promise ourselves that the coming year will be our best year ever. And yet, how often does that resolution melt away like snowflakes on your tongue? We coast through much of life, satisfied (or not) with the status quo, but never really taking steps to ensure that our lives improve, and yet not understanding why nothing seems to change.
There is a common question asked in job interviews that most candidates despise: Where do you see yourself (or want to be) in five years? We know this is a trick question. On the one hand, if we answer honestly (I want YOUR job!), they won’t consider us for the job because they will assume we are just taking it as a stepping stone to something else. On the other hand, if we don’t answer it honestly and say something like I hope to be doing the same thing I’m doing today, they will think a) we are lying (which we are) or b) we are lazy and lack ambition.
However, when it comes to your personal life and professional development, that is exactly the question that needs to be answered. How can you make any improvements in your life if you don’t know what you are working towards At best, you can make changes, but are those changes for the better? Are they enough to get you what you want?
Evaluate Where You Are
In late 2013, I did some serious self-reflection. I had told my husband when I started my job in 2007 that it was going to be the last job of my life – either because I would stay until retirement, or because I would launch my own business. Six years later, it looked like the status quo was going to make the choice for me. I decided enough was enough. I thought about what my life was like and what I wanted to change. Here is what I saw in my life:
- I was mostly happy.
- I had too much debt (following the recession and some extended periods of unemployment for my husband) and wanted to get rid of it; and we needed to find money to invest in some house maintenance projects.
- I was bored on the job. While this had suited my purposes when I was involved in some time consuming outside projects, now, the tedious days were stretching ahead of me.
When is the last time you sat down and evaluated every area of your life? Did you really sit and think about how happy/satisfied you are? Think about finance, health, family, marriage, home, career, etc.
Evaluate Where You Want to Be
Once I had clearly taken stock of where I was, it was time to do a gap analysis, I needed to figure out where I wanted to be and what it would take to get there.
I wanted to:
- start my own business doing something I loved, and feel like I was helping people and making a difference.
- be responsible for and in control of my own future and my own workload.
- craft a life for myself where I could be more flexible, including setting my own hours and determining my own level of income.
- be available to assist my mother in law as she aged and would very likely be needing more assistance.
- create a life that would support being home enough hours to have a dog.
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? I gave all this a lot of thought, envisioning in my mind exactly what it would look like, feel like, be like.
I thought about the pros and cons. Was I disciplined enough to work alone at home on my own business? Would I be lonely? Would I be able to bring in enough money? I had questions and some doubts, but most of all, I had confidence in myself. Naturally my husband had concerns as well, which we addressed through long conversations.
Do you have a clear vision in mind for what you are working towards? What would your ideal life look like? How would your days go? How would your relationships function? What would satisfy you most? Always phrase it in a positive way, not negative. For example: I leave work on time every evening; not: I am not working late. When it comes to creating a strong vision for yourself, think about what you are moving towards, not what you are trying to avoid or move away from.
Identify What Incremental Steps Can Take You There
Obviously, I couldn’t quit my job on the spot with a large load of debt and no other income coming in. So, once I had a clear vision of where I was headed, I put together an action plan to get me there. I started by brainstorming ways I could bring in extra money at first. My initial goal was to bring in $500-1000 a month by ways that were sustainable to grow into a full-time business.
It was critical that I be very focused in my efforts. That meant that I couldn’t take on too much at once. There’s a fabulous Steve Jobs quote that I came across that resonated with me and helped me truly focus: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”
I had to narrow down my list of brainstorming ideas, pick the one that I was going to focus on and set aside the others for another time. Many people erroneously believe that they can multi-task, but scientific studies have shown repeatedly that it is far less efficient than focusing on one task at a time.
Pick an area to focus on and commit to improving it to match your vision. What changes do you need to make for your vision to become reality?
For example, if you want to prepare for a promotion, some examples of incremental progress would be getting a copy of the job description, identifying the areas asked for that you don’t have experience with, speaking to someone currently doing the work about becoming their backup for lunch/vacation/sick days, shadowing them in the work to learn more about what they do, having a meeting with your boss to discuss what you would need to do to be considered for a promotion, etc.
Be careful not to confuse a step with a project. We get bogged down in projects because they are too big to check off in one step. If a degree were required, that would be a project. Steps would be researching the college degree options, attending an open house to learn about returning to school, registering with the college, signing up for classes, etc. Each project should get broken down into small enough steps that you can check off progress along the way.
Set Systems in Place to Ensure You Make Progress
It’s so easy to get bogged down in the planning and research stage that you never act.
I started by offering a study group for the Certified Administrative Professional exam. I posted a note on the International Association of Administrative Professional’s bulletin board forum that I was thinking of doing this and asked how many people would be interested. A dozen people responded yes. I got to work putting together a syllabus and researching webinar services. Having those people relying on me motivated me to take action much faster. If I had waited until I had done all the research and put together the syllabus and made all the PowerPoint presentations, etc. it would have taken me five years to get around to offering the class.
I put up a dry erase board in my home office with this question at the top: What ACTION will I take today?
Every single day I picked an action that would advance my vision and I did it. I focused on doing at least one thing per day. Some days were huge monumental steps where I got motivated to check off several items. Some days I was lucky to finish sticking a stamp on an envelope and mailing it. All my actions contributed to where I am today.
I found that it helped tremendously to seek out accountability partners. These were people that would cheer me on, but also call me out when they hadn’t seen any progress in a while. They helped me to stay motivated and to not let my goals slip off the edge of my radar screen.
What action will you take today to advance your vision? Post a list of your goals for the year somewhere prominent and add colorful dated updates on a regular interval about your progress. Peter Drucker was right when he wrote: “What gets measured gets managed.” Setup processes and reminders and accountability partners to help you maintain your focus and discipline. Book time on your schedule for completion of action steps and include reminders to go and update your goal list on at least a quarterly basis and preferably monthly. Use a visual aid to track your progress.
Put your action items on brightly colored post it notes somewhere highly visible and eye catching, especially at your “failure” points. For instance, if your goal is make home cooked meals, but you keep forgetting to do any prep like pull meat out of the freezer to thaw ahead of time, put a post it by the kitchen light that says – have you prepared for tomorrow night’s dinner, so you see it every night when you go to “shut down” the kitchen for the night. Consider adding a second post it on your garage door where you will see it when you go to your car in the morning, asking if you have pulled something out to thaw for dinner. It will help to develop habits for you.
Ask your family and friends to support you and give you appropriate motivational butt kicking when necessary. Stay away from toxic people that don’t support your vision.
Evaluate Your Success at Regular Intervals
Once you start taking action, you will see progress. Don’t just look for one measure of success, especially if that measure may fluctuate. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, don’t just track your progress by the number on the scale. Let’s face it, that scale is a fickle beast that may go up if you even look at a salty pretzel or drink an extra glass of water. Instead get a complete picture. Can you walk longer distances without getting out of breath? Do your clothes fit better? Can you do more exercise sets than when you started? Is your skin clearer? Do you feel healthier?
Look at the different ways achieving your vision is improving your life and pay attention to the little milestones along the way that show you making progress towards your ultimate goal. It’s not just the destination that matters, the journey is equally important.
In my own case, I had my goal of launching my own business within five years that I had set way back in late 2013. I tracked the income it was producing, the network I was building, the experience I was gaining, and more. I paid attention to how life was improving, how my husband’s outlook was becoming more positive and how our lives were becoming less stressful.
Every few months, I evaluated what was going well and what needed to be improved. What had I made progress on? What did I need to focus on more closely?
I set milestones for myself that helped me see how my vision was getting within my grasp. I was paying off debt at an excellent rate, building up my business and implementing incremental steps to smooth out the cash flow and make it more consistent while increasing each year, and basically counting down the days.
The day arrived on September 26, 2017, when I had checked off several key milestones and recognized that I was ready. On September 27, I walked into my boss’s office and quit my job of ten years. I can’t tell you how awesome that felt.
Does that mean 2017 was my best year ever? Yup, it sure was. But I feel that way every year. This year will be my best year ever because I am constantly moving closer to my vision.
My hope for all of you is that this year will also be your best year ever. I think if you follow these steps, you’ll find it will be true for you as well.
Your best year ever is within your grasp and within your control. Even though there are some things we can’t control, like illness and death, we can control our reactions to them and we can choose to not let them define or limit us. You can make it your best year by checking your attitude, putting together your vision and taking action to accomplish your goals.