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Escaping the Activity Trap
1996, Sep-Oct (July 10, 2007)
by Kat Turk

"It's incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life — to work harder & harder at climbing the ladder of success, only to discover it's leaning against the wrong wall."
-- Steven Covey
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Ever feel exhausted at the end of the day, and yet you don't feel as though you've really done anything? We — and others around us — often say there's so much to do in so little time. Of course, the time we have is constant, yet because we're thinking about everything we have to do, it just feels like we need more time.

Frequently, we get so caught up in everyday tasks, daily requests, and immediate demands that we forget we are in control! We can be so busy, we can barely see or remember what's really important. That's when it's crucial to stop and really think about what we're doing now and what we want to be doing.

So, how can we actually "find the time" we need for everything?

By regularly reviewing what's most important to us — what we really want and need to accomplish--we can establish priorities and plan ahead. Some things we want to do, and other tasks are required. Because both are important, we need to find a way to work both into our busy schedules.

Here's how:
  1. Identify and set long-term goals
  2. Break big tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps
  3. Plan weekly and daily goals and tasks in advance
  4. Review, reassess, and readjust at every stage

Viewing the Bigger Picture

Review the things you've always wanted to do but never seem to get around to (or can't seem to afford). Chances are, they're longterm goals: returning to college for a degree, taking a tropical vacation, turning a hobby into a career, spending more quality time with family or friends.

The old adages, "Where there's a will, there's a way" and "If you can think it, you can do it," certainly apply here! The very first step is attitude: Tell yourself you can...and you will!

Visualize the goal in detail. Picture yourself doing or having accomplished it, and how it makes you feel. Once you have a good idea of what's involved, start breaking it into short-term goals. And think about it often!

Break Bigger Goals and Tasks into Smaller Ones

To get from "here" (where you are) to "there" (where you want to be), you need a map that contains a series of smaller, more immediately attainable routes to help you. Visualize your long-term goal again, thinking more about the higher level steps you'll need to attain that goal.

For example, if you someday want to be regional manager for the branch office you work in, one of your short-term goals might be to return to college for an MBA. Lower level tasks might entail calling or stopping by area colleges to find out when classes start, how much they cost, and which will fit your needs. After that, you'll need to register, pay for the classes, buy the necessary books and supplies, and find out when and where the classes will be held. You might also need to rearrange your schedule in the evenings so you're free to attend classes and do the required assignments. You'll repeat some of the same steps each semester until you complete all course requirements.

Plan Your Weeks and Days Ahead, and Review

Once you've identified short-term goals, determine what weekly and daily steps, tasks, or actions are needed. Choose one day per week to review your long- and short-term goals, and identify the goals and tasks you want to accomplish that week. Then schedule daily activities to achieve your weekly goals.

So, when you invest more time in advance — to determine what's most important to you, you actually save time in the long-run. By reflecting on and deciding what you really want, it's easy to identify specific actions that move you quickly through your short-term goals. Each time you accomplish small tasks and goals, you feel the accomplishment. This in turn motivates you to do more, and before you know it, you've done something you've always wanted to! End of article.

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