Force of habit
There’s a lot written about the power of goal setting. I’ve written often about how important it is to be clear on what you want. With clarity comes greater focus, and the ability to say ‘no’ to anything that isn’t advancing you toward your goal.
However, setting goals is not enough. You’ve got to do something. In fact you’ve got to do a lot, over a long period of time, if you want your goals to be realised.
Focusing on your goals is great, but when it comes to achieving those goals it’s what you do every day that matters most. Your habits, in other words.
In a recent blog from master of habit formation James Clear, How to Stop Procrastinating on Your Goals by Using the “Seinfeld Strategy”, he quotes an interview originally posted on Lifehacker, where Brad Isaac, a young comedian, caught Jerry Seinfeld backstage and asked if he had any tips.
Here’s how Isaac described the interaction with Seinfeld…
He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.
He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.
After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.
You’ll notice that Seinfeld didn’t say a single thing about results. It didn’t matter if he was motivated or not. It didn’t matter if he was writing great jokes or not. It didn’t matter if what he was working on would ever make it into a show. All that mattered was “not breaking the chain.”
It’s all about establishing great habits.
Getting good habits
So what are the habits that will get you to your goals?
Here are three great ones:
1. Regular meeting flow
Meetings are not something that should be hit and miss in your business. The most successful businesses I work with have a meeting ‘flow’ that ensures they are communicating well as a team and staying focused on the right tasks.
Typically that involves a weekly leadership team meeting, quarterly meetings that review goals set for the quarter, and a couple of days of annual business planning.
Pretty straightforward and a highly effective habit for any business.
In their book Triggers: Sparking positive change and making it last, Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter state that “One of the most dysfunctional beliefs is our contempt for simplicity and structure. We believe we are above needing structure to help us on seemingly simple tasks… When we presume that we are better than people who need structure and guidance, we lack one of the most crucial ingredients for change: humility.”
(Thanks to Matt Anderson of The Referrals Academy for the book recommendation.)
2. Focusing on what’s important – not just urgent
Whenever I read a statement like “Focus on what’s important, not just urgent”, my head goes straight to my work projects.
However, if I take a little more time to ask myself what’s important, a more balanced set of priorities emerge.
Things like keeping fit, making time for my important relationships, as well as the important projects that, if I can get them done, will really make a massive difference to my business.
To make sure these things get the focus and priority they deserve, I plan each week on a Sunday night and plan each day the night before.
You should too.
Dominika Sieradzka, a freelance practice management consultant who works closely with a number of my FP Advance clients, gets advisers and business owners to complete an annual capacity planner. They have to work out how long existing workloads will take (e.g. a year’s worth of client reviews), how many weeks holiday they’ll have, how much time to set aside for handling new clients, attending conferences, etc etc.
I did the same thing for myself this year in my business.
What did I and many advisers learn?
Once you put in all the stuff that is important or just has to be done, there isn’t that much time left. It’s quite confronting.
And this is why people don’t like to plan or fill in capacity calculators in my view, because it destroys the illusion that “you can get it all done.”
When you plan properly you are confronted by how little time you really have. However, it’s only by getting completely honest about this that you can you then plan effectively and use your limited time wisely.
Not only do you need to plan, but you need to be realistic in your planning and allow lots of time for the unexpected.
““I won’t get distracted today and nothing unexpected will happen.”
We don’t plan for the high probability of low probability events, like accidents, children not well enough to go to school, household headaches, stuck traffic, bad weather. Yet the odds of one of these is high.”
Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter, Triggers
3. Taking time out
For leaders and entrepreneurs, time out and time off is essential and often completely disregarded. In our ‘hard work is cool’ culture it’s easy to just keep slogging away.
I had a call recently with a person who is part of my current crop of Uncover Your Business Potential delegates. He’s been through some major change, working very hard for the last six months, and is doing great. However, with all the extra work as a result of these changes along with a busy tax year end and business-as-usual, he was a little behind on some work and feeling a bit flat.
I asked him what he thought he should do.
He said, “I know I just need to grind it out and get this backlog of stuff done.”
I said, “No, you need a break.”
We talked about taking a couple of extra days off to freshen up immediately. Then if the backlog really does need to be dealt with, set aside some time and get that caught up.
“As soon as that’s taken care of it’s time for a holiday; a week or two somewhere nice where you can relax and recharge.”
Time out allows you to renew and go hard again if that’s what it takes. However, the right cycle of working hard and taking time out is essential if you want to maintain your focus over a long period of time (e.g. 10 or 20 or 30 years).
Life’s a marathon not a sprint.
Become a creature of habit
Take a look at your current habits and see if they are taking you where you want to go.
If they’re not, maybe it’s time to change that up.
Let me know how you go.