“I need to get to the most important things on my list – much more quickly – because things are piling up”.
That’s a pretty common refrain from my private coaching clients. It might be true for you too.
The key isn’t working harder, or even faster. You’re going to have to be SMART about your work.
You might have heard me or other leadership gurus talk about setting SMART objectives – which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-specific. This isn’t a complicated idea. And once you get some practice with it you’ll become much more specific – even in your day-to-day tasking.
Before you start a task, run through a quick SMART checklist about what you’re trying to accomplish by spending your time on that task.
Specific – Do I know exactly what I need to do – and why it matters?
Get really clear on what you’re trying to do. For example, rather than “Workout” you might specify a specific thing you want to do within that time.
Measurable – How will I know that I have gotten the task where I need it to be?
Decide whether it is a function of time or getting the task to a particular place on the path to ultimate completion, or just getting it ready for someone else.
Actionable/Achievable – Can I actually achieve the goal within the time I have?
Are you putting 10lbs of stuff in a 5lb bag? Make sure you can actually achieve your objective, and that it can be done reasonably within the time you carved out. If the answer is “no” then you’re going to need to adjust before you start – so you can give yourself a win.
Relevant – How does this task fit in to what is really important to me?
This could easily be #1 on the list, except that it wouldn’t have made a clever word. Just because something is on your list doesn’t mean that it needs to be done when it comes up – or at all. Be sure you know how what you’re doing supports your larger objectives or goals. We’ll talk more about this when it comes to priorities.
Time-Based – you have a deadline, and defined checkpoints.
Have you noticed how tasks expand to fill available time – and more? Giving yourself some time constraint – whether it is the ultimate deadline, or just that you’re going to have to move on to something else is a great way to get more done, more quickly.
Practicing being SMART, and getting good at it, takes time and discipline. Sometimes you’ll remember and it will be great. You might try at it and fail spectacularly. It’s all part of the process.
One way to start is to use the SMART framework to help you pick what to focus on first. How you answer the questions will help you decide what is most important. If you can’t give yourself good answers, it probably isn’t as important as you think!
Learning to do this is one of the most important foundational things you can do to get more of what’s important done – in less time – and make it home on time for dinner.
Have a great rest of the week.
Doug Brown, JD
Chief Learning Officer & Executive Coach
Summit Success International
I help attorneys get more done in less time – and never miss a dinner again.
P.S… Check out my latest 5 Hacks to Get More Done in Less Time