Reach your goals in 2017

Colorful 2017 New Year date in sparklers

If you are like me, you probably have a lot you want to accomplish in 2017. The problem is, with so many resolutions and so little time, where do we start? Last year, I wrote to you about the importance of making New Year’s resolutions, now, I want you to reach them.

What is the purpose of taking the time to set thoughtful resolutions if we do not strategize a plan to reach them? When the goals we set are work-related, they can be measured by quantifiable performance indicators unique to each industry. Thus, our strategy can be evaluated based on these indicators- if performance improves, we know our strategy worked.

But what about personal goals? After all, these are typically the goals that dictate our sense of purpose/happiness. So, how do we strategize to achieve personal goals that are more difficult to quantify?

Analyzing the habits of successful people, both in my life and in the news, I have identified two major themes, focus and time management.

First, you will need to develop a sense of clarity. Picture the version of yourself you want to see at the end of the year. Now, which resolutions will help you to achieve that vision? Here is an exercise I use to help myself identify goals that are most essential to my progress:

Warren Buffet’s 5-25 rule

  1. List your 25 most important goals.
  2. Circle the 5 most crucial to your progress.
  3. Items that are not circled become your “DO NOT TOUCH” list. These items receive no attention until you have accomplished one of your top 5 goals.

For the particularly ambitious, identifying your top 5 goals can be difficult. If you are stuck, use the 5 AM rule to discover which goals are most important. The rule is simple- ask yourself, “would I wake up at 5 AM to work towards this goal?” As sleep is typically the most difficult sacrifice to make, the 5 AM rule will undoubtedly identify the goals that truly motivate you.

Now that you have developed a sense of clarity, time becomes your next challenge. In my opinion, the saying “there is not enough time in the day” is nothing more than a widely accepted excuse. There IS enough time in the day IF you use it efficiently. So how do we use time more efficiently?

 It all comes down to one word…

no

Time becomes more and more important as it becomes less and less available. There is a common misconception that saying “no” makes us selfish. We hesitate to decline social invitations from friends or colleagues to pursue our own interests out of fear we are causing irreparable harm to our reputation. This is a dangerous practice that clutters our calendars and reduces the amount of free time available to work toward our goals. You would not reach in your wallet and throw money away, but why do we fail to exercise the same discretion with our time?

If you are committed to reaching your goals in 2017, you will need to take advantage of every free hour, every day of the year.

Successful people use the word “no” as a tactic to both guard and manage their precious time. This is not easy. I will be the first to admit that it does make you feel guilty and your circle of friends could change. Ultimately, as I have to continually remind myself, the people who think you are selfish for wanting to improve yourself, are not the people you want in your life. This process will help identify those people, but also, the people who understand your drive and will support you even if you don’t go out for drinks every Friday night.

I cannot claim to have made this discovery myself, rather, it was learned through experience. Two years ago, my good friend Ryan returned home to study for his Step 1 Medical Licensing Exam. After 8 years of medical studies, the score he received on this exam would dictate his acceptance to a plastic surgery residency program. For 8 consecutive weeks, Ryan studied 14 hours a day. I saw him for an hour each morning at the gym- time he used to give himself a mental break- but that was the extent of our interaction during his stay. To every invitation that did not help him to become a plastic surgeon, he replied “no”. The approach was simple but it paid dividends.

Months later, after sitting for the exam, Ryan received a score that placed him in the top 2% in the country. He is now a plastic surgeon in Houston.

This experience inspired me to view time as a resource that I need to manage and protect as I would my bank account. If you do not begin to practice saying “no” now, it will become less likely you adopt the practice, which can lead to regrets later in life. If you know this will be a struggle for you, check out these tips from Wharton School professor Adam Grant.

The process is not always fun, and it won’t make you the most popular, but it will work.

Good luck…

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