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Goals are misleading- this the only tool you’ll ever need to get things done

I recently started a new clinical placement. As nursing students still learning the trade, we are the very bottom of the hospital hierarchy.

We are treated well, don’t get me wrong. Still, there are instances where we are overworked and hijacked to meet other peoples’ agenda. Tasks that the nurses are either too busy to do or don’t want to do are often delegated to us lowly students. Not wanting to rub them the wrong way, we often take on the unsavoury chore with a smiling face.

Now this is all well and good, until these chores start taking over our time on the floor and impinging our own ultimate goal – learning clinical skills. When this work starts to affect students’ personal mindset and self-worth, it becomes less conducive to the rapid learning that we are expected to undertake in order to blossom into competent nurses.

There’s only so many bed baths we can do and only so many call bells we can answer before we start feeling undervalued. While the subtle pressure to please our nurse preceptors may not be intentional, it is pervasive, nonetheless, as a consequence of being at the bottom.

On the long drive home, up Toronto’s picturesque Don Valley Parkway, I thought hard about this phenomenon of hijacked agendas and how they affect us mentally.

It struck me that this so-called ‘runt of the litter’ problem isn’t just limited to healthcare. It is universal regardless of the line of work that you are in. In every profession, there will always be superiors giving away their tasks as if they were presents – and its hard to say no.

An over-loaded senior staff member decides to bite off more than they can chew, who ends up doing the job? The junior of course. I guess with experience, and the climbing of the proverbial ladder, it probably gets easier to say no and set clear boundaries over time. For the newbie navigating the murky waters of professionalism though, sticking to your own agenda is not just difficult – it is imperative in order to succeed in our increasingly chaotic workplaces.

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Goals vs. Agendas

Even if you don’t work in an environment where you are constantly interacting with other people, it is very, very likely that other people’s agendas often intersect, support or hinder your own. The first step in staying true to the direction you want your life to take is to understand the difference between a goal and an agenda. Notice how we’re using the word agenda here. For decades, personal management experts have touted goals as the holy grail of success and productivity.

Goals are misleading.

With goals, you think that once you have the entire plan set-up, and you follow it, you will get what you want. Bam! Instant gratification.

Life is rarely straightforward though.

There are always curveballs. Delays. Interruptions. Setbacks.

Goals make you think that work is always linear. Achieving goals requires you to make a plan and stick to it. But its really not that simple, is it? A personal agenda is a non-linear system that allows for unexpected changes, interruptions and the vagaries of life.

Oddly enough, after we wrote the first draft of this article, we found the following excerpt by James Clear.

“You can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.) But every time we set a goal, we try to do it…”

He suggests instead that you should build feedback loops. Sound advice for a world in which we are overwhelmed with an influx of relevant and irrelevant information.

“Feedback loops are important for building good systems because they allow you to keep track of many different pieces without feeling the pressure to predict what is going to happen with everything. Forget about predicting the future and build a system that can signal when you need to make adjustments.”

You can find the original article here.

Your life process is rarely ever linear, and your working systems shouldn’t be either, especially where other people are involved in the work that you do. It is human to get sidetracked from your personal vision or agenda.

To move forward unfazed however, you need to keep reminding yourself of what it is that you are working towards.

Continue to Part 2 of the Staying True to Your Personal Vision series.

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The Glaring Benefits of A Productivity Pre-Party

You sit down to work. The phone vibrates, you just got a text from a classmate asking you how to solve question #3 on the assignment that’s due tomorrow. Your inbox dings as you receive 3 emails in a row. Your child starts crying at the top of his lungs. You need to tend to your crying child, you need to reply to your classmate and reply to your emails or they might think you’re rude and irresponsible. Your work session comes to a halt before it even started. Could you have avoided any of these distractions? Check out our previous article on creating a distractions and solutions list.

Here’s an innovative and effective way to ensure that when you sit down to work, you actually get stuff done. Plan a pre-party. No, not the kind you have before a night around town. I mean creating an atmosphere, both internally and externally, that will be conducive to a productive work session.

[message_box title=”Ask yourself:” color=”beige”]

  • Why are you sitting down to work?
  • What specific goals do you need to accomplish before you get up?
  • What are the things on your mind which may stop you from focusing on the task at hand?

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I’m going to let you in on a secret- it’s a checklist of the things you should do immediately before you sit down to work.

1. Set a start time. And be firm with yourself. Finish all your menial but urgent tasks, so you don’t have impending doom lingering in your mind. Setting a particular time aside for working will send a powerful signal to your brain that you mean business. If you do it enough times, this habit will become internalized and help you quickly get into “the zone” once you sit down to work.

2. Eat brain food. Nuts, eggs, flax, fresh produce, whole grains. I recently started going to this Yoga class where the instructor talked about eating just enough to sustain yourself and not gouging on junk to satisfy your cravings. The goal was to eat clean, healthy nutrient rich foods in just enough quantities to sustain you thorough your Yoga practice, but not so much that it hinders your movement and takes your attention away from doing what you have to do. The same principle applies to eating before work as well. Eat just enough to sustain yourself. Eat clean, fresh, healthy food. Keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum. If you really need something to sip on, try herbal tea. If you find yourself lethargic or lacking in energy, opt for energy right, nutrient dense foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, dates, raisins and walnuts to keep yourself energetic and focussed. Most importantly, drink lots of water to flush out the toxins and keep yourself vitalized.

3. Gather supplies beforehand. Get yourself everything you need – pen, paper, textbook, laptop, sticky notes. Organize your workstation. There is nothing as distracting as sitting down to work and realizing that you’re missing an essential tool for your work and having to get up repeatedly to gather the things that you need. Even if you sit down motivated and ready to make a dent in your to-do list, constant distractions can erode this motivation and bring you back to a state of unproductivity.

4. Disconnect. Turn off your gadgets and stay away from the Internet. Use programs such as ColdTurkey and SelfControl if you need to stay connected to the internet for the purposes of your work- it aids in blocking distracting aspects of the internet and is not that easy to work around. Read more about using apps and other tools to improve productivity in this post.

5. Let others around you know that you will be preoccupied and busy for a set amount of time. A lot of times, lack of clear communication hijacks your efficiency and gets you annoyed at people who keep interrupting. A simple gesture like letting people know in advance can resolve the issue and protect your working time. Letting friends and family know that even though we may be physically present, we will be unavailable mentally and emotionally in order to get an important task done, can help us gain their compliance, respect and even support.

6. Pump yourself up. Both physically and mentally, you need to be in optimum condition in order to work productively. Use exercise, cardio, aerobics, quotes, positive thinking, meditation, visualization – whatever your tonic, make sure you indulge in some tender loving care towards creating a healthy mind and body. The rewards of such self-care will be evident when you start working more efficiently, enjoy your work more and generally feel more engaged when trying to complete a task. Personally, I am a big positive quotes junkie. So if I’ve been experiencing a lack of concentration, I’ll read quotes to remind me about the importance of staying concentrated, how to stay concentrated or really just anything that’s been on my mind lately.

7. Write down a list of SMART goals that you want to achieve this session. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Example, “I will finish reading section 3.2 in 30 minutes.”

8. Write down all other things on your mind. DUMP so you can think on efficient things. Free up important brain space for the important things you are trying to accomplish. Check out this exercise about doing the Morning Pages to free up your mental and emotional space in order to ramp up your productivity.

 

Here is a checklist for you to print off and use before you sit down to work. 

Share your thoughts, and comment below with any suggestions.