Why Set Goals
Time is Money is a common phrase.
For example, when I typed it into Google for personal finance, I got the following:
1. The Simple Dollar: Money and Time Are One and the Same (and Seven Other Unusual Personal Finance Ideas I Use in My Life)
2. Millennial Money: WTF is Money & How to Make More [#3 Maximize Efficiency: Doing More in Less Time]
3. Young Adult Money: 100+ Ways to Improve Your Finances
I agree that Time is Money and I don’t think many of us disagree with the importance of money, but what does that mean to you? You have spent all this time learning how to manage your money in the FIRE community, but you have not spent as much time learning how to manage your time. Holy Waffles , what do I do now?
Well, you don’t have to worry. This share is meant to help you manage your time, based on what I have gleaned through my work experience and through a summary I did many years ago of the Book Manage Your Time, Your Work, Yourself.
Interestingly, the approach to managing your time, and yourself, is quite inline with Stoicism. For example, it is important to recognize that to Master Your Time, You Must First Believe You Can Do It!
It is within your control!
Before we dive in, some things for you to think about:
1. People who focus on their intended results tend to plan more. They are more proactive, have a definite action plan, and tend to be more productive. They also tend to have calmer days.
2. Doing the right thing part of the time will not be good enough. Successful people form the habit of doing the right things — All the Time. Good time management is not easy; it requires substantial self-discipline. Disciplined people do what they know they should do, whether or not they feel like it. They live their life based on Decisions not Feelings. As Jocko Willink says, “Discipline equals Freedom”
3. Time use is a Habit. To improve your time use, you must resolve to change your habits. Stick with your resolution day-in and day-out, until it becomes a habit. Until, one day, you become a different person [Incremental Improvement].
4. Planning is an intention. Scheduling is a commitment.
5. If you are failing to plan, you are planning to fail!
Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things
If you want to control your time and increase your effectiveness, you must determine exactly what your goals are and keep them up to date.
1. At all times, know what your Goals are and exactly what you are trying to achieve.
2. Ask yourself throughout the day, what is the Best Use of My Time?
When setting my goals, I tend to think about my personal, professional, and financial goals, focusing in on these categories:
- Career trajectory
- Side hustle(s)
- Long-term opportunities
- Expense reduction
- Net worth targets
- Investment opportunities
Each person should have their own goals. The goals in each category should be compatible, or at a minimum not contradictory. They need to be your own and they have to be written down.
In the same way that my FIRE may not be your FIRE, my goals should not be your goals.
Annual Goal Setting Process
At least annually, reflect on your prior year goals. How did you do? What went well? What went poorly? What would you change?
Armed with this knowledge, reflect on your goals:
- Identify objectives
- Clarify your priorities
- Decide on your plan of action
For the annual goal setting process, consider the above across your various categories, and:
- Set your Annual Goals and break them down into Quarterly Goals
- Break down your Quarterly Goals into Monthly Goals
- Break down your Monthly Goals into Weekly Goals
- Break down your Weekly Goals into Daily Goals
Setting SMART Goals
SMART in SMART Goals stands for:
Realistic in terms of available time, resources and skills, and
I will not go into significant detail on setting SMART Goals, which is a topic unto itself.
Weekly Planning Process
Before we dive into the weekly planning process, you should be aware of three ideas that will help minimize the gap between your short-term and long-term goals:
- Keep a master to-do list
- Be sure there is a date assigned to each project
- Estimate the time required to complete each project
Master To Do List
A master to do list is an amazing tool for managing yourself, and your teams at work and is something I started using ten years ago in-depth. In fact, when I start at a new company, it is the very first thing I have my team prepare for our activities. Generally, it is a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet that is broken out between daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual activities and it has the following categories:
- Month performed*
- Day performed
- Description of the task
- Distribution list
- WP reference, with hyperlink and process document
- Whether it’s distributed internally or externally
*The month performed is actually a +1, +2 or +3 because from a checklist perspective we print it out each month and if you are in month two of a quarter, you would look for any +2 items.
If anyone thinks a sample consolidated master to do list might be beneficial for them, please let me know and I can build out a template.
Okay, back to our weekly planning process. Remember, we already said at all times, know what your Goals are and exactly what you are trying to achieve. After all, what gets measured gets managed.
Also, given we are attempting to break things down all the way to daily goals, you will need to revisit your goals regularly, I believe at least once per week.
Many people spend time planning on a Monday; however, there is a better way to do this. In general, researchers have found that Friday’s are the least productive day of the work-week, why not use your Friday to get ready for the upcoming week?
You can then take the weekend off, knowing you are ready for the upcoming week, which will reduce your anxiety and stress over the weekend and let you focus on the Present Moment.
When setting my professional goals for the upcoming week, I go over the following in my planner:
- What is coming up on my Master-To-Do-List?
- What regular reports need to be prepared?
- What is coming up on our team calendar?
- What do I need to be doing to execute?
In an ideal world, I would use the above documents each week, plus the information I learn from our shareholders to consider what is happening in the next eight weeks and what my team needs to be focusing on today to meet those objectives.
The schedule I create from that would be a Phase Schedule, which highlights what I believe we should do and after meeting with my team, I would create a Look-Ahead Plan, which highlights what we believe we can do.
The look-ahead plan would drive a weekly work plan, which we are committed to as a management team and can communicate to our individual teams through our 1:2:1s and team meetings.
At the end of the week, I would review the weekly work plan schedule that was agreed to against what we actually achieved and begin the process again.
This same approach can be applied to our personal lives. To our personal goals and objectives, which is something I have started to do and I am achieving goals beyond what I’ve traditionally achieved through a combination of discipline and tracking.
Lesson learned. I just taught myself. After all, if I am failing to plan in those two areas, I am planning to fail in those two areas!
That is now my methodology, which has evolved from the systematic approach I recall from Manage Your Time, Your Work, Yourself, which my notes noted begins by asking six questions:
- Results: What are my goals, what do I expect to accomplish?
- Activities: What will I have to do to get those results?
- Priorities: What are the priorities involved?
- Time Estimates: How much time will each activity require?
- Schedules: When will I do each activity?
- Flexibility: How much flexibility must I allow for the unexpected to occur?
The first three questions form a Work Plan and the last three questions form a Time Plan.
Miscellaneous Time Techniques
The remaining miscellaneous time techniques are simply things that you can do throughout the day to save seconds, minutes, and eventually hours.
Remember the compounding effect: incremental improvements + consistency + time = exponential results
Once you start doing this, the value of a single minute becomes more and more important.
Some simple actions that will improve your common to do list:
- Add priority codes to indicate what is most important
- Second, add time estimates of how long each activity will require
In Outlook, I add an Importance Category and rank it as A, B, or C. I also add an Urgency Category and rank it as a 1, 2, or 3. Colleagues on my team will know that an A1 task is the most important and an A2 may take more priority over a B1, unless I state otherwise. Many refer to this as an Eisenhower Box method.
The key with an Eisenhower box also ties to another time saving technique, which is to only handle an electronic document or piece of paper once and decide whether you will do it, defer it, delegate it, or delete it.
When working with my team, I never like to set their time estimates, which would not provide an appropriate buy-in from my colleagues.
Instead, knowing my outside date, I will ask them when they believe they can reasonably deliver it in time for us to review, edit and submit the work. If they’re within my inside date, I might push them a little to tighten the delivery date, but will accept it. Further, because they set the date, they’re bought into it.
You will probably make better decisions if you stand up to review paperwork, mail, filing. Only open your mail / emali at set times each day, which will increase your efficiency. For example, when you arrive at work, after lunch and before leaving work.
Further, when someone comes to your work area to talk, consider standing up to talk to them. First, it will reduce the likely length of the conversation and second, it will show respect for the other person that you have acknowledged them fully.
That said, before someone comes to you, you ought to have trained them to do their thinking before they come speak to you. Ask them to write down exactly what they want you to do. Frequently they will solve their own problems as they think about them. I highly recommend asking some of the questions from the Coaching Habit, which I have taped to my desk:
- What’s on your mind?
- And, what else? [this question is so powerful — aim to use it at least four to five times]
- What’s the real challenge here for you?
- What do you want?
- How can I help?
- If you say yes to this, what are you saying no to?
- What was the most useful for you?
For someone dropping by my desk with a question, I might do a #1, #4 and #5 and not walk through the full chain; however, I would walk through #1 to #7 in each 1:2:1 with my colleagues.
Also, before people come to see you, ask them to bunch routine items versus coming to you one at a time. Keep regular meetings your key reports and consider asking them to book appointments instead of relying on spontaneous drop-ins.
Finally, to ensure that they interrupt you with less questions, proper communication is key. When asking them to do something, consider restating your idea in several ways until you are certain it is clear. Consider having them restate the idea in their own words. Also, follow up with written confirmation of the discussion to ensure that they have the information they need.
Have go to tasks that you are able to do in the 5 to 10-minute gaps during the day between meetings and deep work, such as clearing your inbox, writing a to do list, setting your priorities. This is also good time to review work, read news and magazines.
Projects can always be challenging for people.
Where to start?
As Stephen R. Covey says in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, start with the end in mind.
When I work with my teams, the end in mind must contain two things. What and When. Specifically, what is the ultimate deliverable and what is the deadline. Once my team has that, I ask them to prepare a lookback schedule. A lookback schedule should accomplish the following:
1. Break the project down into manageable components
2. Allow you to assign the components to colleagues on your team
3. Build in sufficient management review time, as required for the components
Effectively, a lookback schedule is akin to a GANT chart and should be used for all projects on your team to ensure deadlines are met.
Make sure the first hour of your day is a productive one. The first hour sets a pattern for the day. If you get a good start; the day will go good.
I actually suggest you start with other than work, specifically:
- Creative writing or journaling
To combat procrastination, try to schedule your unpleasant tasks at the beginning of the day to get them out of the way first.
Don’t only keep a To Do List, but also a Not To Do List, which may be more important.
Dealing with Stress
Sometimes, managing your time this intensely can result in stress and so I tend to also like to provide stress-reduction techniques!
To deal with stress and change, do the following:
- Get adequate rest
- Follow a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Develop positive attitudes
- Listen to relaxing music
- Try autonomic relaxation exercises
- Take a break
- Talk it out
- Slow down
- Do Navy Seals breathing
- Do something for others
Keep in mind the Serenity Prayer, which is also quite STOIC: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change those things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.