Some people say “work hard”, other people say “don’t work hard, work smart”. But even if you have the smartest plan and you work super hard, you still face the risk of failing. Here’s why…
As I’ve been preparing for next week’s free live webinar I’m hosting, called “How To Track To Stay On Track”, I’ve touched on a subject that’s often overlooked. That webinar is about learning a method to make sure you stay on track to deliver your goals. I created it to help people that have goals they want to achieve, who might even have written down their plan and who want to learn how to stay true it and maximize their chances of achieving their goals (if interested you can check it out here…). But even if you have a plan, and even if you’re taking action consistently towards it, there’s a chance you’ll miss your target, despite your best efforts. It’s not for lack of work, and actually it might be because you’re putting in too much work… I know it sounds counter-intuitive, how can you miss your goals by working too much? Simply put, it’s not always the amount of work you’re putting it that matters.
Many of us set our goals at the beginning of the year, then jump into action and work ourselves to the ground because our focus is not in the right place. We lose sight of our grand plan and ultimately don’t pursue it anymore for lack of motivation or because life has caught up with us and we need a new plan.
Let me tell you a quick story. Marc (not his real name), a mentee of mine last year, decided he wanted to change careers and become a digital marketer. He couldn’t quit his day job and go back to school, so he had to learn on his own, outside his work hours. For many reasons, it’s not that easy to pull off. First, all the time you have is your evenings and weekends, probably trading your social life to have time to study. Second, you have to work up your energy and motivation to, simultaneously, stay focused at your day job while nailing it on the studies. But that’s not why Marc almost missed his goal of ever becoming a digital marketer. Marc knew that he had to educate himself and gain experience as soon as possible because you can’t truly master your trade if you don’t have real work experience. So, he defined a plan where he would learn just enough to be market-ready and he’d start freelancing on his free time. He quickly got into the first phase of his plan and learned about the fundamentals. As he read about SEO, content marketing, lead generation, paid ads, and more. He soon realized that there was significant depth to each of those topics and each action leading to another, he dived step by step, deeper into each one of them. Each month, he would define an action plan that he would follow diligently.
There’s one thing though that Marc did not do, and that’s stepping back every month before doing his action plan to make sure he’s still aligned with his grand plan. As he advanced in the year, he unconsciously put himself on a path fully dedicated to furthering his education, forgetting literally his belief that gaining work experience was just as important. Unknowingly, he actually tricked himself into doing what he felt most comfortable with, spending time in front of his computer or reading books on theoretical knowledge while procrastinating to gain real work experience, something he knew was important to his career change.
Ultimately, we worked together to get him back on track but that’s a very common story behind many startups failing, career changes not happening or more generally projects not getting delivered. It’s the story of actions leading to more actions and inch by inch steering you clear of your chosen path. Here are a few things you can do to avoid it:
- Make some time, at least once a month to take a step back. Forget the actions you just took, the path you are on or the priorities you already have in mind for the coming month. Just take out your original plan and prepare a new action plan as if you were starting the year just now. Then compare it to what you were going to do. Are there areas of your original plan you stopped working on which should get a bump up in your priorities? By going back to your original plan every month, you make sure you don’t get off track. It’s your monthly course correction opportunity.
- Set quantifiable targets for each part of your plan. Some things are easier to measure than others but there’s always something you can use to measure progress. You need to have a way to measure your progress, to make sure there’s an unambiguous (read: no BS) way to know if you’re doing a good job. We all want to feel good about ourselves and we’re all very good at patting ourselves in the back even when we underachieved. That’s why we need targets, and numbers that tell us if we’re really doing a good job.
- Make sure at least 25% of your actions are outside of your comfort zone, otherwise you’re probably procrastinating on some of your goals. There’s an easy way to know if you’re doing this one right. If you achieve your goals without breaking a sweat, then maybe you’re not being ambitious enough. Making progress on the significant projects of our life doesn’t usually feel comfortable, and that’s good, because it means we’re growing personally or professionally.
- Another great way to make sure you’re true to your plan is by surrounding yourself with advisers. Depending on your situation, this could be other professionals, people you worked with in the past, friends that have a specific expertise or any other person who could give you advice without being involved in the operations of your plan. Someone who focuses on how to achieve success and who will make sure you stay true to your plan.
There’s a course I found very interesting on LinkedIn Learning called “Achieving Your Goals” by Dave Crenshaw. He presents there a 7-step process that’s going to be worth your time and you can check out below a video I’ve unlocked from this course about making a public commitment. I think it ties in nicely with this article because it’s another interesting way to make sure you stay on plan and that’s by telling people whose opinion you care about what your goals are and by when you expect to deliver on them. By telling those people, you’ll create a new source of motivation coming from the fact that you might not want to disappoint them. You’d be surprised how effective this is and how focused you become when comes the time to make progress. Check that video below
How do YOU stay true to your plan? Do you have a method you use that’s making a real difference? You can share it here, we’d all like to learn about it…