I have this sort of funny, sort of kitschy book of office sayings sitting on top of my desk. One of my favorite quotations in that book is “I love deadlines. I especially love the sound they make as they go whooshing by.” It would almost be funny, except I think there is a little truth in that saying, and we all too often experience it in the workplace. There is the occasional day in my office that I work hard and stay busy, but then at quitting time, I have to ask myself what I did all day. I worked diligently but everything on my to-do list that morning is still there. Unfortunately, that project or new program that I have wanted to start but just haven’t gotten to yet is still staring me in the face. Also, that task that I am not particularly looking forward to do just seems to sit on my to-do list and never gets accomplished. If this sounds familiar, then read on!
It’s easy to fall into bad work habits that prevent you from doing what is most important in your job. Focusing on the tasks that are fun versus undertaking the more pressing ones, doing routine tasks because they are familiar and comfortable instead of jumping into something new, focusing on what someone is asking you for right now instead of prioritizing it against all of your other tasks — all of these can lead to a loss of long-term productivity and success. All of these bad habits can certainly keep us busy. But are we really performing our jobs to the best of our ability? Goal-setting can be an important tool to help us stay focused on what is important to better serve the needs of our organization and community.
A work plan is a tool used to set medium- to long-term goals. Often used by boards, commissions and standing committees, the work plan identifies the high-priority work projects for the group. The plan is usually developed for a period of 12 months but can be for as long as three to five years. For a 12-month plan, there are typically no more than 10 items on the plan, but the number of items depends on the size of the group and the amount of time they have to work on each item in the work plan.
Work plans can also be used by individuals. I use a work plan to set my goals for the 12-month period between my performance evaluations. I identify about six or seven major items I wish to accomplish with at least one goal that is related to my professional development. For example, one of the items on my work plan for 2012 was to completely rewrite my department’s emergency action plan manual.
I ask my supervisor to provide input on my work plan for the next evaluation period and also to use my work plan to assist him in evaluating me over the next year. This is great motivation for me because what gets measured also gets prioritized and ultimately done. There are other options for accountability if your supervisor is not supportive of your work plan being part of the evaluation process. You can find a mentor or co-worker who is willing to help you stay on track and encourage you to make progress.
Each item on the work plan should have intermediate steps that will mark progress toward completing the work plan item within the 12-month period. These intermediate steps or goals should be specific actions that are placed on a timeline and can be completed within the month or quarter. Using the rewrite of my department’s emergency action plan manual as an example, some of my intermediate goals included: form a work committee, research what changes were needed, develop a draft, etc.
Immediate goals are the daily goals that keep you on task and help you meet your intermediate and long-term goals. Of course, the to-do list is part of this. But if your to-do list is anything like mine, there are many more things “to do” than I can get done in one day. My co-worker Seth shared the “Six Things” rule with me: take the highest-priority six things from your to-do list and just focus on accomplishing those in one day.
My co-worker Vic constantly finds himself getting booked for meetings, so he blocks time each week on his calendar to make sure he has enough time to work on important projects. And lastly, one must understand the difference between urgent and important. Urgent tasks are time-sensitive, but are not necessarily important. Make sure you don’t spend all of your time on what is urgent and neglecting what is important.
I have found that with a few simple exercises I can increase my efficiency at work and make sure that the important projects and tasks move forward. Find out what works for you. Happy goal-setting!
Kathy Capps, CPRE, is the Grants and Risk Manager for the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department in North Carolina.