Monday, March 3, 2014

A Question of Time

I love planning. My Sunday morning ritual of reviewing how I spent my waking hours during the previous week, identifying anchor points for the upcoming weeks, and writing several weekly goals to strive for is a helpful routine. However, I have consistently reached less than half of my weekly goals. My SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals often turn into DUMB (Disorganized, Unreasonable, Meandering, and Burdensome) goals. Once these stable of goals become even more dumber, they start competing with each other for time in my mind, and I spend inordinate amounts of time herding mental cats, attempting to prioritize them.

Quite often I find myself disappointed that my timelines for goals keep getting pushed back every week. I planned on filing my taxes a month ago. I planned on finishing my apartment de-cluttering by last weekend. I planned on blogging on a weekly basis. My time management efforts could use significant improvements.

But where do I start?

On surface level, I could look to the Holy Trinity of Effective Habits—exercise, nutrition, and rest—as starting points. They are often looked to as common sense solutions when life spirals out of control. We’ve all heard the explanations before: exercise is essential for building discipline and clearing the mind, healthy nutrition affects physical and emotional well-being, and getting appropriate dosage of sleep each night results in improved energy level the following day. But there seems to be deeper root causes for my SMART goals turning DUMB. I want to find out where these pigeons of discontent are residing. What are the reasons for the disconnect between planning and executing?

The first thing I can do is to go to the Gemba—or where the work takes place. In Process Improvement parlance, a Gemba Walk is performed to observe onsite the work being done and gain a holistic understanding of why the work is done the way it is. What if I take a mental Gemba walk whenever I feel like procrastinating instead of pursuing my weekly goals? Why do I prefer inaction to doing the work? Is procrastination caused by physical exhaustion, mental fatigue, paralysis by over-analysis, environmental issues, competition from life maintenance activities, or disrupted flow? Perhaps taking inventory of the snapshot in time can offer clues to why I am hesitant to do the work.

Striving for incremental process improvement in daily habits helps to a certain extent. The success of my “tweak-a-week” plans vary. Some tweaks, such as planning and setting aside a work week’s worth of office attire in advance have proven to be a time-saver when I commit myself to taking time during the weekend to do so. Some tweaks are routinely ignored (e.g. hanging work clothes up after end of the work day), while others have become an ingrained habit over the years (e.g. indulging in nature photography during lunchtime). My mileage varies. I’m figuring out what I can do to make the tweaks that become adopted routines that stick.

Perhaps there are more important questions that are begging to be asked. "Do my daily activities and weekly goals nourish my key life objectives?” “What are these key objectives?” “Why are these objectives important?” By starting with these questions, I may gain clarity.

If I elevate one of my key objectives as the raison d’ĂȘtre for setting weekly goals and tweaks—for example, studying for and earning a Certified Associate in Project Management certification before end of August 2014—my goals and tweaks could be better defined. I would try things that offer greater alignment with my key objective than those goals that do not nourish them, or tweaks that are more like band-aids. If I make studying for an exam a priority over the next six months, I would seek weekly goals, tweaks, and habits which free up time during my waking hours, as well as add value to my objective. I would likely be more inclined to spend weeknight hours reading study materials instead of communing with my PlayStation 3. I may even embrace “scrubbing the temple floors” instead of favoring activities that offer short-term glitz but little in the way of alignment with my key objectives.

Looking for answers and making changes that support the overarching vision is not easy. Adopting the mindset of “the reason for living is reason for leaving low-alignment activities” is a challenge. I could use greater self-accountability and self-responsibility for making my life’s work happen. Setting a framework in which all smaller goals and tweaks can directly support, is a good starting point. It’s time to start observing my mental Gemba and ask myself what my goals are.

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