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Pick a number: It can simplify your life

Pick a number: It can simplify your life
Number 3

So, what does Jerry Seinfeld and a typical sales person have in common? A focus on a key number. Seinfeld always needed new jokes so early in his career he used a calendar and a big red marker to cross out each day he sat down for a session to write new material. He needed one session per day and made sure every day on his calendar was marked. His number “1” helped him to become number 1 in his area. Anyone working in sales is quite familiar with “meeting the number”, whatever that number is for his or her manager or company.

We often over-think and over-complicate the methods we use for achieving our goals. A great way to achieve our goals is to define a key number and use that as our motivator, measuring stick or target. Here are some examples of how a simple number can positively impact goals and likelihood of achieving them. Use whatever number you want to relate to whatever is important to you. The examples relate to simple numbers (1-10) and are in a range of areas.

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  • Number 1: the special thing you do every day to become number one.
  • Number 2: education – read two books per month.
  • Number 3: dieting – the maximum number big meals taken at a restaurant per week.
  • Number 4: fitness – the number of exercise days per week.
  • Number 5: sales – the number of appointments per week for new prospects.
  • Number 6: television – the maximum number of viewing hours per week.
  • Number 7: goal review – the number of days each week for a review.
  • Number 8: sleep – eight hours per night is best for most people.
  • Number 9: goals – the maximum number of items on the goal list.
  • Number 10: networking – meet ten new people per week (or month).

The main idea here is not to create a list like this one, but to simply pick one or more simple things to attach a simple number to. If exercise is a key, pick the number of sessions per week and put a system in place for getting it done. The simpler the number, the easier it is to remember and visualize it being accomplished. Seinfeld had his big full year wall calendar and reminded himself to never break the chain of marked out days.

Why does this work? Because there is no ambiguity nor is there a place to make excuses when there is sufficient importance put on the simple number. When we establish complex systems for our goals, it becomes easier to defeat them through clever means. They are also harder to remember and visualize. They are also harder to explain to others. With something simple like deciding whether or not to watch a television movie, it becomes easier to switch the thing off if the 6, 10, 2 or whatever hour per week quota has already been met.

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Be careful about building tolerances into the numbers. There is a place for a zero tolerance or zero deviation goals, but they should be used sparingly and only for the main goal. Build in a little flexibility for other goals that are less important. Beating yourself up for not meeting arbitrary goals can be unhealthy. Another aspect is that the goal number needs to be achievable, even under unusual circumstances. Reading two books per month becomes more difficult if you are traveling on a six week vacation and forgot to bring reading glasses along. No need to force-read four the following month or stress yourself out during the vacation because that would be counterproductive.

An important aspect of picking a simple number is that this works better for the long term than for the short term. This technique is great when you are trying to form habits and create lifestyle changes. If you have a financial problem and are working your way out of debt, a simple goal like a “a minimum $20 per day increase in net worth” won’t do much in the short term. After a few years of this, the outcome can be quite dramatic. Similarly, a weight loss goal for an obese person of say “1 pound per month or sustainable weight loss” won’t do much in the first year but it will form the habit for longer term results.

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Don’t forget to build in a termination clause. Keep the weight loss goal going too long and there might be a problem at the other end of the scale. Build in a “mission accomplished” goal number and reward yourself for achieving your desired outcome. Seinfeld probably doesn’t write every day anymore now that his show was a big hit and ran its course. There would have been some great parties and he likely has new goals.

There are a couple points on process that matter. Like with other types of goal setting, there needs to be a visual, tangible way of setting these things down. Use a calendar, notebook, wall chart or some other type of written list to make the number stick to reality. This helps with visualization, demonstrating it to others, maintaining accountability and providing a record. Keep a log of your exercise activities if fitness is your goal. Make it as real as possible. If motivation is a problem, get a partner to help. Having a goal of killing the television viewing won’t work very well if your spouse loves movies but will work great if you are both working on reading more or spending more time in bed.

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So, simplify your life by focusing on key numbers. It worked for Seinfeld.

What’s your number?

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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