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Setting ambitious targets and remaining zen - is it possible?

As a professional project manager, I pride myself on being well organised. I set and reach my goals in all aspects of my life, all while managing to stay on the right track. Up to that point, all is going fine. Overall, I'm happy with the results in both my personal and professional life. However, I find it difficult sometimes to be satisfied with what I have managed to complete during the day.

That's despite the plethora of methods and good advice available to me: being efficient and remaining effective, following the GTD method1, putting first things first2, managing tasks, taking time out for yourself, family and friends, practicing sport, eating well, remaining zen. How to not get snowed under with such a huge to-do list? How to not overload my days? How to be satisfied? Not always very obvious, is it?

I would like to share with you a 'light bulb moment' that came to me following my various summer readings. I realised that you can have two methods for evaluating your performances, one for "today" and the other for "the future".

The future will become clearer and evolve over time depending on our objectives and plans. This method will involve comparing our results and goals at specific moments in life and adjusting them accordingly. Our progress towards reaching our future goals will be assessed at regular pre-defined intervals (weekly, monthly, annually, etc.). Then, as soon as one goal is achieved, you set another. There is, as a result, a risk of losing sight of where you are going and of wearing yourself out.

The method for assessing "today" is less structured and helps us avoid this pitfall. It simply involves assessing our choices throughout the day in relation to our principles and values. This is instead of assessing yourself on whether you have ticked off all the things on your to-do list (virtually impossible for most people). The idea is to link our goals with our values and life principles.

Two examples:

  • For any project, the fundamental principle is to achieve the goals of the project. As a project manager, if the project is big enough, you are in danger of being overwhelmed with the amount of tasks needing to be done. How to pick? Prioritise the tasks which will have the largest impact on reaching the aims of the project. Will spending time with a team member really help you more to do this than writing a report? Depending on the context, it may be that either one or the other is the right option, even if this task wasn't originally on your to-do list.

  • You woke up early for a meeting and feel tired. You must hand in an article by the end of the day. Two principles are at stake here: your obligation to do your job and your obligation to respect your body. What do you do? You know that you will be more effective after a little nap - you take 20 minutes knowing that they will easily be made up when you start working again with a lot more energy.

By observing yourself, you can easily identify the moments which justify a break and a small period of reflection. An unexplained bout of tiredness, a surprising fit of anger, increased heart rate, feeling dizzy. Once it is identified, you can quickly set it right. You increase your chances of finishing the day on a high with a lot more energy.

Before going to bed, you can ask yourself: overall, have my choices been in line with my principles and values? The answer may not be yes all of the time, but the more you ask yourself the more you will improve. In contrast to our "future" goals, our values and life principles don't change. The more we are mindful of them, the easier it will be to make the right choices. We will live in harmony with ourselves - our principles will become our guiding star.

The important thing is to not completely empty the to-do list but to make the right choices. Have faith! If you let yourself be guided your principles then you will achieve the important goals.

Does this article inspire you? Give you ideas? Tell us about it!

Artwork: Mélanie Bénard Tremblay, 2020, © Marakoudja.

1) Getting Things Done, David Allen

2) The 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey

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