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“Set a goal, make a plan, do the work.”

That’s a phrase used often regarding physical fitness and working out, but it applies to everything. Figure out what your priorities are, outline the steps to get there, and then do it.

Seems simple, right?

It is actually surprisingly difficult for many people to set and meet goals. To improve your success ratio, it’s important to make your goals reasonable and attainable — and to avoid these typical errors when setting priorities:

Pitfall No. 1: Too Many Priorities

The human brain is wired to do only one thing at a time, if that thing is to be done excellently. Studies are frequently questioning the validity of “multitasking,” concluding it is nothing more than “task switching.” With every switch, the lag time between tasks increases and productivity declines considerably. The law of diminishing returns kicks in when focusing on more than 3-5 significant priorities for any given period of time.

Pitfall No. 2: Vague Priorities

Unclear priorities that don’t answer the five Ws — “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why” — are predisposed to failure, or at best, underachievement. A target you can’t see is difficult to hit.

Plus, a priority must be measurable. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. The only way to see the progress of each of your priorities all the way through to completion is to have some way of quantifying that goal.

Pitfall No. 3: Priorities Without Visibility and Accountability

Being accountable to others creates an internal commitment to not let them down. It’s like the “tree falls in a forest” concept: If not a single other person knows what you’re trying to accomplish, who’s going to know whether your goal was met?

Priority Best Practices

1. Don’t Set More Than 3-5 Significant Priorities at a Time

This will allow you to really focus in on each priority and to complete them with your best foot forward, without spreading yourself too thin. Better yet, select one priority as your No. 1 priority. This priority is the most important and takes precedence over all other priorities if all hell breaks loose.

2. Set Clear Parameters for Each Priority

Make sure your priority covers the five Ws, so you know exactly what your focus is on and why. Then, find a way to quantify your goal, such as completing X number of workout videos by the end of the month. When you work through your goals one step at a time and you are able to check them off your list, you’re more motivated to keep going.

It’s also important for your goal to have a due date. The urgency of a deadline is a great motivator to action, which is why priorities with some time constraints are most effective. Otherwise, you could just keep putting your goal off until it disappears forever.

And don’t forget to celebrate your successes. Positive reinforcement and affirmation are critical to continuing success in setting and meeting priorities. Praise, rewards, and team celebration will sustain the positive momentum of the priority process.

3. Be Accountable to Others

Share your goals with others and commit publicly to their completion. This way, people can cheer you on and help you stay on the right path. Make your priorities visible to yourself and others so both you and your supporters can follow your progress. Keeping yourself on track can be as simple as creating a dashboard that tracks the key performance indicators for each priority, so you can see your results as you go.

In order to reach a goal, you must make that goal a priority, and you must be willing to focus on the steps it will take to get you there. Completing your most important priorities is critical to reaching longer-term targets, both in your personal and professional life. By following these simple guidelines, you will significantly increase the odds of your success.

David Pierce is a certified Petra Coach. Contact him at david@petracoach.com.



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