You just have too much on your plate, and chances are, your employees do as well. You suspect that you could all be making better use of your time, completing more projects and achieving more goals. You want to be more productive and help your team be more productive, but you aren’t sure where to start.
If this sounds familiar, you are far from alone in your confusion. Even the most successful and highly accomplished people have difficulty pinpointing why they are so productive. The intuitive answer – that they are born predisposed to having the intelligence, creativity and willpower to get the job done – is really just one small piece of the puzzle. In fact, decades of research on achievement suggests that successful people reach more of their goals not simply because of who they are, but more often because of what they do. Here are five scientifically-tested strategies that successful people use that are proven to help you reach your goals and make the most of your time.
- Get specific: When setting a goal, try to be as specific as possible. “Meet with every member of my team once a week” is a better goal than “meet more often with my team,” because it gives you a clear idea of what success looks like. Knowing exactly what you want to achieve keeps you motivated until you get there. Also, tink about the specific actions that need to be taken to reach your goal. Just promising you’ll “communicate more” is too vague – be clear and precise. “At our meeting, I’ll ask about each project we are currently working on” leaves no room for doubt about what you need to do, or whether or you’ve actually done it.
- Seize the moment to act on your goals: Given how busy most of us are, it’s not surprising that we often miss opportunities to act on a goal because we simply fail to notice those opportunities. Did you really have no time to work on that assignment today? Was there no chance at any point to return that phone call? Achieving your goal means grabbing hold of opportunities before they slip through your fingers.
To seize the moment, decide when and where you will take each action you want to take in advance. Again, be as specific as possible (e.g., “At 3pm today, I’ll stop whatever I’m doing and work on that report.”) Studies show that this kind of planning will help your brain to detect and seize the opportunity when it arises, increasing your productivity by roughly 300%.
- Know exactly how far you have left to go: Achieving any goal requires honest and regular monitoring of your progress. If no one else is looking over your shoulder, then you’ll need to monitor yourself, because if you don’t know how well you are doing, you can’t adjust your behavior or your strategies accordingly. Check your progress frequently – weekly, or even daily, depending on the goal.
- Be a realistic optimist: Belief in your ability to succeed is enormously helpful for creating and sustaining your motivation. But whatever you do, don’t underestimate how difficult it will be to reach your goal or complete your project. Studies show that thinking things will come to you easily and effortlessly leaves you unprepared for the journey ahead, significantly increasing the odds of failure. Express confidence in your employees, while always being honest with them about the challenges they’ll face.
- Focus on getting better rather than being good: Believing you have the ability to reach your goals is important, but so is believing you can get the ability. Many of us believe that our intelligence, personality and physical aptitudes are fixed – that no matter what we do, we won’t improve. As a result, we focus on goals that are all about proving ourselves, rather than developing and acquiring new skills.
Fortunately, decades of research suggest that the belief in fixed ability is completely wrong – abilities of all kinds are profoundly malleable. Embracing the fact that you can change will allow you to make better choices, and reach your full potential. People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination. Along those lines, telling your employees that you expect them to make a few mistakes as they learn is, ironically, the surest way to elicit their very best performance.
Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. is a motivational psychologist, researcher and author of the new book Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (Hudson Street Press, 2011). She is also an expert blogger on motivation and leadership for Fast Company, SmartBrief, Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Follow her on Twitter @hghalvorson