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The Way to Success: Know What It Looks Like

The Way to Success: Know What It Looks Like

I’m waiting for a meeting. It’s a biggie: depending on the report I give, someone either keeps or loses their job, in the next 20 minutes. I’ve already had two big meetings today (on of them resulting in a contact for my company which on its own takes us 20% of the way to our annual targets!). I’ve got a huge meeting to come with a very influential man in my field.

I really can’t afford to screw up at any point at all today, so I need to stay calm.

The killer question is “How?”

I’ve written in a lot of other places about tools and tricks. Here I want to concentrate on just one more – and it’s so simple I feel embarrassed typing it.

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But here goes…

Ready?

Know what success looks like.

See! Told you it was embarrassingly simple!

Here’s the deal.

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Everyone knows what it feels like to screw up, right? We all know exactly what it feels like to fail – or at least we can imagine it. It’s not hard… the laughter, the mockery, the sense of having let everyone down; the letter saying you didn’t get the job…

But what does success look like?

Okay, for getting a job the result is (usually) getting the job, fair enough (although there are jobs you’re better of not getting, trust me on this as I speak from experience!) but for much of the rest of what we do success is harder to describe.

Let’s take my big meeting last thing this afternoon. It’s with arguably the biggest name in my field (presentation skills training) in the UK and obviously I want him to think well of me.

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I can imagine a million bad scenarios in my head, but how will I know if the meeting has gone well?

Well, the trick is to figure out what ‘good enough’ looks like. That, of course, is easier said than done but the important thing is always (seriously, always) do that before you get involved. Once you’re up to your neck in something it’s impossible to be objective about things, least of all when to call it a day.

A tool we use…

One technique I’ve found to be remarkably useful is to jot down the project on a sheet of paper… make sure you write it down clearly…. and create three columns. (The image is a grab from my iPhone of a whiteboard in our office about a training day we’re planning.)

    The first is the one you’ll find easiest to fill in, so do it first: it’s examples of how you know you’ve screwed up.

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    Fill in the right hand column next – this one is the same items but now itemized as complete success. Instead of the report being late, the report is now (as an example) written a week early, giving time for reflections and reviews.

    With the right hand column filed in it’s much easier to get to the point of the exercise – filling in the middle column… the column of “Good Enough”.

    This middle column matches the others, item for item, but now things are only ‘good enough’. For example, if the first column might include the report being late and the middle column would include it being on time – just.

    Once you’ve done that, you’re finished. It really is as simple as it sounds. Like all good ideas, the main problem is remembering to use it in the first place! The ‘magic’ of it lies in forcing you to be objective.

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    Featured photo credit: Sunset via Shutterstock

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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