Long-term personal and professional goals are essential when it comes to setting overall targets. But in the short term a personal goal, such as starting a family, may take temporary precedence over long-term aims such as running a business.
Write down all your goals and then divide them into short and long term, personal and professional. Consider whether your goals are realistic: while you cannot change your physical attributes, you can learn new skills at any time. Think about which skills you need to acquire to achieve the goals you have set. As the traditional idea of one job for life disappears, you may have to update certain skills in order to remain employable, and this means your professional goals can be richly varied. Finally, set a timetable – decide when you would like to achieve each of your goals.
To help you achieve your goals, it is important to make long- and short-term career plans that you can bear in mind as you plan your use of time from day to day. You may find it useful to write down your experience, skills, and qualifications. As well as work, you may have acquired valuable management experience from running the home or looking after siblings. Looking at these skills and experience, list all the careers to which they would be relevant.
Once you have listed your long- and short-term professional goals, you need to arrange them in priority order. Each goal will involve the successful completion of a number of tasks. Decide which tasks are the most important and need urgent attention.
Be as honest as possible about your current job. How much of your time is spent doing the wrong task at the wrong time, and missing the goals you have set for that day? If you have 10 objectives to achieve each day, ranging from the mundane and routine to the urgent and complex, which of these takes priority? Analyze your working day, and decide which of your projects are routine, which concern ongoing or mid- to long-term projects, and which are extremely urgent and important, or due for imminent completion. Whatever your position within your workplace, the careful planning and organization of your day will make all the difference to your efficiency at work, and how successful you are at achieving your goals.
To work out your specific priorities, look again at your task list. Now make three separate lists – one each for A-, B-, and C-tasks. Starting with the A-tasks, work through the lists, deciding which tasks need input from others, which ones only you can do, and which can be delegated. Consider whether any tasks are unnecessary, and discard them. Involve people with the tasks that require outside input, and hand over jobs that can be delegated immediately. This will leave you with three shorter lists of A-, B-, and C-tasks that only you can do, enabling you to go to the next step: planning your day. By estimating how long it might take you to complete each of these tasks (noting down timings next to each item), you will be better placed to begin coordinating contributions from colleagues, fitting your tasks around organized meetings, and planning longer-term projects.
Any working day should include a mixture of A-, B-, and C-tasks. Plan a selection of tasks that you can realistically achieve in one day, while making sure that the working day does not stretch to 20 hours. Spread the three types of tasks throughout the day, rather than working in sequence through all the A-tasks followed by B-tasks, and so on. This way, you can intersperse blocks of intense concentration (devoted to A-tasks) with periods of less demanding B- and C-tasks.
Priorities change all the time because we receive information all the time, whether from the Internet, the telephone, or a colleague popping their head around the door. New information may change a task’s importance or urgency. It may push an urgent job off your critical list. Why prepare a report for a meeting scheduled for tomorrow when it has been postponed for three days? When you receive any new information, quickly reassess your list of priorities.
There are few things more stressful than exaggerated expectations, so be realistic about what you can achieve in a given period of time. You will not benefit yourself or your colleagues by embarking upon a punishing and overambitious schedule that you cannot maintain. Learn to recognize the limits of your capabilities, and do not undertake a project that you know you cannot complete successfully. Likewise, try to be realistic in your expectations of others. Do not demand too much from your colleagues, or you will be frustrated by their inability to complete the jobs you have given them, and they will soon become exhausted and demoralized. Once you have established what is reasonably achievable – whether for yourself or for others – stretch your expectations from time to time. People sometimes need to feel stretched and challenged when at work, and they want to enjoy the satisfaction of having achieved something that is a little bit beyond their expectations and experience.