Time Allocation Goals vs. Output Goals

When people set goals they usually define clear, measurable outputs. E.g.: “Today I’m going to write 1,000 words” or “This afternoon I’m going to finish QA testing this version release.”

But this approach doesn’t work as well for tasks of considerable complexity where what’s required of you is uncertain. Projects where there’s a clear end-goal but it’s in the distant future. The specific intervening steps, and the time required for each step, are unknown.

I’m involved in such a project right now. When I work on it I set goals around how many hours I want / need to spend. My daily goal might be: “Spend four hours working on [specific thing related to general project].” Then I’ll put my head down and make progress. And if I spend four solid hours, I consider the goal met. I am very disciplined about making sure I only count time that’s real work — if my mind wanders or if I get distracted, I turn off the clock.

As I’ve set time-allocation goals I’ve figured out the maximum amount of time I can realistically apply toward different types of tasks in a given day. I can usually do at most 4-5 hours of “hard focus work” and 4-5 hours of “light focus work” (email, blogging, Skyping) per day. A big variable for people is whether meetings fall into “hard focus” of “light focus.”

Bottom Line: The right kind of goal setting depends on the person and projects involved. For long-term projects where the specific steps and time necessary for each step are uncertain, setting short-term time allocation goals works well for me.

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All inbound email to me is now automatically marked as “read.” No more bold messages that scream to be opened. I would find myself opening the bold messages even before I had finished dealing with an older email. Thanks to Cal for this idea. I reccomend trying it.

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