Set and Prioritize Your Goals
Many executives are whirlwinds of activity, racing from meeting to meeting or crisis to crisis without giving much thought to the rationale for their hectic schedules. Many of those professionals like the feeling of doing something; they are not comfortable reflecting on their priorities. Their typical approach can be described as “Ready, fire, aim!” Others get bogged down in a schedule dictated by their company or spend most of their time responding to “urgent” requests from others.
As a result, those energetic, ambitious people end up spending too little time on activities that support their highest goals. Despite their talent, they often report a serious mismatch between their work priorities and time allocations.
No matter what your career aspirations are, you should begin by thinking carefully about why you are engaging in any activity and what you expect to get out of it. In this chapter, I will walk you through an exercise to establish your highest-ranking goals and to determine whether your actual schedule is consistent with this ranking. This process has six steps:
1. Write down everything you are doing, or are planning to do, in order to achieve your professional goals.
2. Organize the items by time horizon: Career Aims, yearly Objectives, and weekly Targets.
3. Rank your Objectives by their relative importance, taking into account what the world needs as well as what you want.
4. Rank your Targets by their relative importance—both those serving your Objectives and those assigned to you.
5. Estimate how you actually spend your time, and compare that with your prioritized set of Objectives and Targets.
6. Understand and address the reasons for mismatches between your goals and your time allocations.
1. Write Everything Down
On one or two sheets of paper, write down everything you are required to do in your professional life. This includes all those routine tasks in your job description that you have to do on a daily or weekly basis, such as filing reports or reviewing documents. It also includes any longer-term projects assigned to you.
But don’t stop there; if you spend all your time responding to crises and tasks assigned by others, you can only tread water. To get ahead, you also need to think about what you want to do. These may be long-term goals, such as advancing your career. Or they could be short-term goals, such as developing a new skill or meeting more people in your industry. On the same sheet of paper as your assigned tasks, add these aspirations for your work. Don’t worry about separating tasks and goals; just jot them all down. We’ll organize them in step 2.
To illustrate, I’ve completed this exercise from the perspective of the manager of one retail outlet of a consumer electronics chain. I’ll call him “Joshua.” The list below contains thirteen tasks that Joshua must do—or wants to do—at work. Throughout this chapter, I’ll use Joshua’s example to illustrate the concept of setting your priorities.
Hire more sales staff.
Increase profits by 15 percent.
Participate in “community history day.”
Become a top executive at chain.
Attend a tech expo.
Create a pleasant customer experience.
Write weekly sales report for boss.
Hire an interior designer.
in retail industry.
Meet with area store managers.
Get fancier offices.
Develop a local marketing strategy.
Refine performance standards for sales staff.
Please be as broad as possible with your list. The point is for you to capture all your tasks and goals here; you’ll evaluate whether they are significant later in the chapter. If you get stuck, keep reading. The rest of the chapter should help prod your memory.
2. Organize by Time Horizon
The next step is to divide your list into three time categories: Career Aims (5+ years), Objectives (3–24 months), and Targets (1 week or less). Some goals won’t fall neatly into one category; consider each on a case-by-case basis. If it’s a relatively quick and simple goal, assign it to the shorter time period. If it’s long and requires many cumbersome steps, make it part of the longer time period.
• Career Aims: These are long-term goals over at least five years. For example, a young law school graduate might have a Career Aim of becoming a U.S. attorney, the general counsel of a company, or a partner in a large firm. Or perhaps even all three.
• Objectives: These are the goals for your professional life over the next three months to two years. They typically require many intermediate steps. Objectives could include completing a systems project, doubling the sales of a product, or developing a new organizational structure.
• Targets: These are “action steps” that should guide your work on a weekly or daily basis. For example, your Targets could involve writing a short report, resolving a client’s problem, or finishing one part of a larger project.
Next, make sure that each of your Objectives has one or two associated Targets. If any of your Objectives lacks a Target, think hard about the next actionable step you can take to advance that Objective, and then add it to your list of Targets. For example, if one of your Objectives is to double the sales of a product, a Target for the next week might be meeting with a large vendor to make a sales pitch. If an Objective is to publish a research paper by the end of next year, a Target may be to start writing a grant request that could get your experiment funded.