Here’s the thing: Human beings are wired to seek novelty and challenge. It may sound nice to live on the beach sipping fruity drinks all day, but the reality is that no one really wants to do that all the time.
So we reach and stretch and find that we always have a little (if not a lot) too much on our plate. We generally feel slightly overwhelmed. And that can feel stressful. But it doesn’t have to.
One of my clients wanted to write a blog for years. Recently she saw that her local city newspaper was asking for submissions for a “readers write” column. She saw that this would be an opportunity to write for public consumption and make connections within her new community, thus accomplishing two of her goals, so she jumped on it.
Then she found out she was among a handful of semi-finalists for the job. This was great news, but she also found out that in order to get the gig she must submit a winning column in seven days.
The prospect was a little unnerving because she would be on a business trip for most of the time around the deadline. She would have little time to research the piece (including interviews), and write it, and polish it before the deadline. The discomfort around the timing led her to wonder if she really wanted the gig after all.
I agreed that the timing was’nt ideal, but then I suggested that the unexpected deadline in the midst of a busy week was not a bad thing. I reminded her of Parkinson’s Law, something I always remind myself of in a time crunch. (In fact I’m working under it as I write this article!)
If you’re not familiar with it, it goes like this: “Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.” For myself, I’ve added a corollary sentiment best expressed by Duke Ellington, who once said “I don’t need time, I need a deadline.”
In other words, never mind how long something has taken you or others before. Chances are good that it took as long as it did because there was simply more time to get it done. Instead, focus your attention and get going.
What’s the best way to get going? I’ve written about this before, but I’ve found that my best friend when I’m facing a deadline is a timer and the concept of the “15 minute sprint.” That’s how I accomplish almost everything. I define the task, set the timer and Go. For 15 minutes. And I repeat as necessary.
If you’re really up against a seemingly insurmountable goal, I encourage you to use the sprint in combination with the following additional strategies as needed.
1. Get Accountability
The easiest way to meet a deadline is to give up, of course. When we’re working on something in our private lives, giving up is extremely tempting.
At work, though, that’s generally not an option, and many folks who let their dreams languish can move mountains when they’re on the clock. That’s why I love having (and being!) a coach.
The coaching relationship provides the same support and accountability that we get at work-but it does so for goals that we set. So ask your friend to be an accountability buddy, or pay for a coach.
Make it public. Tell your family at dinner, or announce it on your blog. Whatever you want to do, figure out what it means to you, but put some kind of system in place so you have to get it done
2. Define the Time
A goal should be grounded within a time frame and given actual dates. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency.
At the same time, Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. So you when you want to finish a project, or a task related to a project, set a completion date that seems just a little ambitious.
“Someday” isn’t a viable plan. But if you anchor it with a date, “by July 15th,” then you’ve set yourself into motion to begin working on the goal.
3. No Distractions
You know what’s great about setting the timer for 15 minutes? Your brain finds it a totally doable amount of time to fully commit to a task without distractions.
Any longer and you’ll find yourself thinking about whether you’ve got an email, or that you have to start the dishwasher, or you need to pee. I call it the “15 minute sprint” because I like the feeling of being in a race against the timer. And I want to win.
Just as a successful life comes out of a collection of successful days, a successful project really does come out of a successful series of sprints like these.
So whether you’re setting a timer for 15 minutes or an hour or an entire afternoon (keeping in mind that what you think you can manage and what your attention span can actually manage may be two different things), remember you’re in a race against time and avoid distractions.
In fact, half an hour spent eliminating distractions (answering e-mails, starting the dishwasher, etc.) plus half an hour of intensive work is probably worth more to you than a full hour spent working while fighting the urge to address all the other things you have to do.
4. No Excuses
This is actually the most important aspect of all: your belief in yourself. You can do whatever you set your mind to. That’s the other thing I love about the coaching model-I may doubt my ability to pull something off, but my coach always believes in me. She sees me in my best possible light and with her reflecting that back at me, it’s like I can’t help but do the same.
Maybe you don’t have a deadline looming the same way my client did. But I’m guessing there’s something you want to accomplish, but haven’t. Know what?
All the same rules apply. Even if it’s something that seems impossible, if you set a date and do a little bit of concentrated work on it every day, you’ll be shocked at how soon a dream can become reality.
So I suggest you take a moment right now and think about some big dream or lofty goal you have for yourself. Now, what do you need to make these dreams a reality?
Please share in the comments!