Timeboxing – An easy 2 step approach
Timeboxing daily tasks is one of the quickest ways to increase productivity.
A few notes before we get started:
If you'd prefer to skip my story and get straight to the content, feel free to scroll down to the section that says "Here are my key insights from the book:"
For the first several years of my life, I wasn't much of a goal-setter. I'd say I was more of a rolling stone. I kinda drifted through life. Nothing too special.
I didn't spend too much time thinking about what I really wanted and I didn't really plan ahead.
My life was ok, but I wasn't really happy. I did have moments of happiness but there was no sense of deep satisfaction.
I didn't feel like I was living a life of purpose. There was a certain emptiness inside. Things were kinda ... meh.
When I hit my early thirties, a few things happened.
Firstly, I met my wife and settled down. So it wasn't just me on my own anymore. Decisions needed to take her needs into account. I had to plan for a future that included a family. A structured approach was now a non-negotiable.
Secondly, I became more aware of my mortality (as most of us do at that stage in life). Watching the Steve Jobs Stanford address was a big catalyst for me. That talk really drove the point home.
This meant I had to get more focused on how I used my time.
Whittling away endless hours on meaningless pursuits no longer held their charm.
I started to get more focused on my core values. I needed to get clear on what I wanted to achieve in this life before it was all over.
This meant my goals had to be aligned with these core values (more on this later).
There is one thing I want to point out before we get into any detail on this topic.
I subscribe to the habits-first rather than the goals-first approach. I'll talk more about this later in this blog post.
One of my big takeaways was that setting goals are relatively easy (though that does take some thought too — more on this later), but achieving them? Well, that's another story.
Perhaps the title of this blog post should be "Brian Tracy on how to ACHIEVE your goals" because that's what really matters.
This section of the book was very important to me for a few reasons. Brian shares his personal story in this section but what stood out for me was the title of the section.
While I found Brian's story very moving, the title of this section spoke volumes to me.
It reminded me of the importance of focusing on the journey (to achieving your goals) and not just the destination (your goals)
Here are three reasons why I think the journey matters more than the destination.
Ultimately, goals are fleeting (by definition) and are only going to make you happy for a limited period of time (an hour, a day or maybe a week).
If you imagine your goal as the "destination" then your daily habits are the "journey" to that destination.
I believe in focusing on the habits and celebrating adherence to habits rather than goals. That way you focus on enjoying the journey and have a much more fulfilling life.
As a community (especially in entrepreneurial circles), we've gotten to be very goal-obsessed. As an extension to the first point, we've become outcome obsessed with very little celebration or acknowledgment of how we transform as a result of achieving our goals.
What happens when we've achieved a goal?
In most cases, we celebrate furiously for an hour, an evening, or maybe even a week. But then we set ourselves another goal and we're back on that hamster wheel of suspended satisfaction ... until we achieve the next goal.
And on and on it goes.
Becoming a millionaire with very little in the way of learning or contribution to society is arguably worse than having not achieved that goal at all. I appreciate that not everybody agrees with this viewpoint but I'd imagine a high proportion of the readers of this blog would agree.
There is a dark side to goal achievement. In some instances, goals can lead to unethical behavior.
Before you start setting goals, you need to set yourself up for success.
This means you need to get your mindset right. You need to challenge your limiting beliefs (or at least develop the skills to do so)
Tracy talks about the importance of getting clear on your goals and focusing on what you want (as opposed to what you don't want).
According to theories around our reticular activation systems, we tend to experience what we think about most of the time.
While I agree with this in principle, I think it's worth noting that magical thinking (as implied in The Secret) isn't something I personally subscribe to.
Spending all your time clarifying your goals and visualizing them doesn't "manifest" them. There are usually years of hard work and persistence involved — something that's conveniently overlooked by many people.
Mark McCormack shares a study conducted between 1979 and 1989. Harvard MBA graduates were asked if they'd set clear, written goals for their future and made plans to achieve them.
Here are the findings:
Get clear on your goals and then write them down!
There's something to be said for setting yourself big goals. In this conversation with John McGrath, at the 3-minute mark, he talks about the importance of thinking big. John says when you aspire to be the best the decisions are of a richer nature.
Once you've decided on your big goals, you need to get clear on them.
For years, I expected to just "know" what my goals were. I expected them to be obvious.
It took me years to realize that getting clear on my goals was a process, not an event.
In my experience, you need to go through the process of "trying different goals on for size" much like you'd try an outfit and walk around with it on for a day or two.
Over you'll start to get clear on whether the goal "fits" and you'll either accept it or reject it.
If it's not a good fit, then you try another one on for size.
Eventually, you'll find something that "fits".
You could try using the 5-why's approach (but that didn't do it for me).
Regardless of the process, you choose to follow, you need to get clear on what you want out of the key areas of your life.
Living without clear goals is like driving a super-fast car in a thick fog. No matter how well engineered the car is, you're going to move slowly even on a smooth road.
Ideally, you want to state your goal in the present tense and you want to be specific (more on this later).
When it comes to goals clarity reduces friction to achievement.
Ultimately each of us is responsible for the choices we make and the life that results from those choices. This is obvious to most of us, but being aware of this from moment to moment isn't quite as obvious.
I recommend considering a mindfulness practice. It's a great way to become aware of your thought patterns and correct them 'in-flight' as you go about your day.
I don't believe we can choose our emotions, but I do believe we can choose our responses and our attitude at any given moment.
The challenge is remembering that we do always have that choice in each present moment.
Developing an internal locus of control will help you feel self-directed, confident, and empowered. This won't happen overnight but if you persist, it will happen moment by moment.
This is why I think mindfulness is so powerful (over time).
The more responsibility you accept, the more likely you are to feel a sense of control, and the happier and more confident you become.
It's a virtuous cycle.
Most of us are confused about our goals. We often think we lack motivation but what we really lack is clarity.
Clarity around our goals but also our values.
Having goals that aren't aligned with our core values can be very demotivating.
Your values are what make you the person you are.
Success usually works from the inside out.
Clarity around your values is critical if you want to ensure that your goals (your outer world) aren't in conflict with your values (your inner world).
Tracy explains this process using the Five Levels of Personality
Tracy asks you to imagine your personality by thinking of a target with 5 concentric rings:
As I write this blog post, the biopsychosocial framework proposed by Engel comes to mind. It's a popular psychological framework and might be an interesting read.
As you can see from the above frameworks, it all begins with getting clear on your values.
"Be sure that, as you scramble up the ladder of success, it is leaning against the right building" — Steven Covey
Before you race towards your goals, you need to get clear on what's important to you. Your (inner) values have to be aligned with your (outer) goals.
Here are a few ways to get clear on what's most important to you:
Here are some examples of values to get you thinking
Stop reading this post, grab a piece of paper right now, and consider the values listed above.
How would you prioritize the values listed above?
What values would you add? Why?
What values would you remove? Why?
Write them down on a piece of paper and play around with them.
And then come back to this blog post.
See you when you're back.
Ash Roy has spent over 15 years working in the corporate world and collected an MBA (Masters In Business Administration) from the Australian Graduate School of Management along the way.