If you had to identify the biggest challenge most of us have with achieving our goals, you’d probably guess correctly that most of us just don’t plan for it. Sure, we work hard to accomplish specific tasks but we do so with the hope that someone else will see these great feats and automatically make the connection to the next step in our career. We don’t think about what these connections might be or how to make them ourselves. It’s not an easy thing to understand and takes time and analysis to comprehend. But, we don’t take the time or is it that we don’t have the time.
With so many things competing for our attention today, how can we effectively wade through the barrage of information to sort out what is truly important to our career?
In order to understand our challenge a little better, I interviewed David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” to find out what we could be doing differently. While the question was directed at MBAs, David’s answer will give everyone the key we’ve been looking for. Here’s part of our discussion.
Todd: What do MBA graduates miss when they develop their career goals?
David: One of the biggest things they miss that they don’t get in their training is to create a personal systemic process to manage keeping their own work and lives under control and being focused on the right things at the right time. This is a core or a meta-behavior or a meta-set of best practices that make all other best practices viable. If you’re out of control and unfocused, you can read all the best “market yourself” books but you won’t be able to execute on it. The critical element is that when you think about going into a job or a career, in terms of how well you manage the stuff you need to manage, you must be able to keep track of it.
It comes down to the two aspects of self-management: control and perspective. The only time you think you need a better system of management is when you think one of these is suboptimal. Either things are not as in control as possible or you feel you’re on unstable ground. If you’re on unstable ground, there’s a part of you that has the inability to focus appropriately or execute appropriately. You don’t have any traction. Even if you’re on stable ground, are you pointed in the right direction? If you’re pointed at the wrong stuff, you’ll create instability again. There’s a direct correlation between control and perspective.
If you have good self management skills, you’re ready for anything. If you have these behavior sets, you are ready for surprises that show up or if things don’t go as expected, you can recalibrate yourself quickly to take in new data, new situations and decide what they mean. Then you can hold this up against everything else you have going on and re-point yourself in the right direction. Simply put, can you keep yourself only as organized as you need to be and no more? [End of Interview]
To maintain control and perspective, you must possess a method that you can refer to when you need it. It must be easy to use. It must be simple. We’re already too busy and a lengthy process would never find time in our calendars. Well, David has suggestions for that too. In his simple approach, you must take the time to understand what it is that is commanding all of your attention. What are all of the things that are living inside your head? When it comes to mental processing, your conscious mind does not do the hard work. Most information goes to your subconscious mind anyway, where your problems are really solved. Your conscious mind actually gets in the way when you have too many things you’re trying to focus your attention on. You subconscious mind wants you to just tell it what you want it to figure out and then forget it. It will do all the work and come back to you with an answer. If you’re constantly thinking about an issue, your subconscious can’t help you figure it out. Your task is to keep your conscious mind clear.
Here’s a tip you can do today that will clear your mind and free up some processor time to solve problems and plan your path. Grab a notebook and write down all the things that are occupying your attention. This could include some basic needs like paying bills, getting new tires for the car, homework for a college course you’re taking, meetings you must attend and so on. This activity can take you several hours to complete. Notice I didn’t mention any work-related, networking or other career-related activities. You must write them all down. Once you complete your list, you’ll find that you normally have a lot on your mind. Most likely, you have too much on your mind and you’re occupying thought time on things you probably shouldn’t be (but this will be addressed later in another step in David Allen’s process).
Well, I hate to leave you with only the first step in this great process but this post is getting too long. Stay tuned for our next ebooks to be released where we’ll share the rest of David Allen’s process for removing the clutter from your conscious mind and how you can put your subconscious mind in top performing condition. You’ve heard the old adage “that life is all about the little things.” Well, it’s those little things that can slow you down in achieving the goals you really want when you spend too much time thinking about them. Free your mind and let it work the way it was meant to.
Thanks to David Allen for a great interview and advice on how we can improve our mental performance. You can learn more about David Allen at www.davidco.com.