Taking positive steps to help achieve goals - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Taking positive steps to help achieve goals

CHRIS WHIPP
outlines some of the tools that
can make a real difference, when
properly employed, in helping to
find the time to do what you want
and need to do

LAST month we looked at the perennial challenge of finding enough time to do the things you want and need to do. We discussed the importance of having a plan but being flexible, of living and acting in the present and avoiding undue attachment, whether it was to the future, the past, success or just being right. This month, I promised to share some of the simple tools that I have found can make a real difference when properly employed but first a little background because tools of themselves have limited value, mean different things to different people and may or may not be applicable in your situation at this particular moment in time. It is not a question of whether the tools will work – they all work – it is a question of whether you can make the tool work for you, in your current situation, today, in a way that is worthwhile to you. Last month we also explored the difference between “ways of doing” (What do I need to do to get the results I want?) as opposed to “ways of being” (How do I need to be to do the things I need to do to get the results I want?). Whilst the former may offer a quick fix that often does not work, working with the latter takes longer but offers the potential of lasting success. Most of the time we are driven by a complex assembly of habits of thinking and doing that significantly affect what we do and how we do it. These habits may be good, in which case we call them expertise, or they may be bad in which case we have the choice either to change them or pretend they don’t exist. Tools can only make a real difference to time management when they are used to change existing habits and whilst this is a simple thing to do, it is not easy. You need to be prepared to invest the time and effort required to break old habits and develop new ones, to fail perhaps repeatedly in the short term and build benefits that will sit with you for years into the future. Now for some tools and methods…

Control and influence

We have already mentioned the spheres of influence and concern (Figure 1); today we consider the difference and balance between control and influence. Intellectually, it is self-evident that there is no point spending time and effort worrying about things that we can neither control nor influence. Unfortunately, our emotions and habits of thinking frequently get in the way. In 1991, Chris Agyris (Teaching smart people how to learn) described a “default human program” that encourages us to: (1) maintain unilateral control, (2) maximise “winning” and minimise “losing”, (3) suppress negative feelings, and (4) be as “rational” as possible. As a consequence, we often waste time and energy seeking to control or influence matters beyond our reach. The key is developing a more realistic view of what is possible and being happy within that environment. Steps include:

  1. Control what we can control (our reactions to what happens and not a lot else).
  2. Increase your sphere of influence.
  3. Reduce your sphere of concern.
  4. Maintain a smaller but none the less challenging “area for learning” between the two.
  5. Don’t waste time on the rest.

Pareto’s principle

Also known as the 80/20 rule, the principle was first described and applied to a range of economic processes by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in 1895. The principle suggests, for example, that within practice 20% of your clients account for 80% of your turnover and 80% of your product sales come from 20% of your products. In time management terms, this “vital few” (20%) of tasks contribute 80% of your results. Instinct often pushes us to procrastinate over these vital few and waste time on small and relatively unimportant tasks. The key is to really analyse your tasks, identify the vital few and focus on those until they are achieved.

Sector II tasks

This tool provides a simple way to prioritise tasks and shift the focus of activity in more productive directions. It comes from the excellent book Seven habits of highly effective people by
Stephen Covey. It uses a two by two matrix to categorise tasks into four quadrants (Figure 2). The art is, having developed the habit of categorising tasks, to avoid both the temptation to play the hero in Sector I (these are going to get done anyway) and
the distractions of Sectors III and IV.

Eat that frog

Mark Twain once wrote: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.” This little method is a great way to start the day, challenges procrastination and fits well with the Pareto principle mentioned
above. There is a tendency for our habits of thinking to encourage us to defer the more complex challenging tasks and we may start our day either immersed in the “busyness” of our inbox or doing a minor task just for the sake of getting “something” done. The method is simply to look at all of the tasks sitting in front of you and equate them to frogs of varying appearance, with the biggest, ugliest frog relating to the most challenging task. Do that task first and you get a real sense of achievement, your day gets better from there on and the task was almost certainly one of your vital few. Brian Tracey has written a small book called Eat that frog which goes further.
Many of these ideas can be quite challenging and a simple article alone is unlikely to enable you implement them. The key is doing something positive to move forwards now! E-mail ChristopherWhipp@aol.com for further information/reading or to join a free online discussion.

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