stop setting goals you don’t actually care about, time management is ruining our lives, and more

Over at the Fast Track by QuickBase today, I take a look at several big work-related stories in the news right now: why and how to stop setting goals you don’t actually care about, why time management is ruining our lives, and more. You can read it here.

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Quality Systems Specialist

    I find the bit about time management to be rather interesting, because it seems to be yet another example of how an individual solution is tied to a systemic problem. You see this a lot in discussions about personal finance (just stop buying a latte every day!) or healthcare (people are fat because they are just lazy and drink nothing but 64oz Cokes) as well.

      1. NonProfit Nancy

        Email as an infinite to do list that anyone in the world can add to – that is a perfect description of how I feel at work! How am I ever supposed to get my actual work done when I am continually shoveling out my inbox?

  2. AnotherAlison

    I’m a huge fan of #1. This has come up a lot in my personal life in the past couple years. I started a marathon training program in 2003. . .I finally ran a marathon in 2015 after deciding I could either do it in 2015 or I could give myself permission to never think about it again.

    My thought is if you’ve had a dream to do something and you haven’t done it within a couple years, you probably don’t really want to do it. Even if you kinda sorta want to, there are obviously things you rather do instead. If you REALLY wanted to build an airplane for 19 years (like my father, ahem), YOU WOULD HAVE ALREADY DONE IT.

    1. Parenthetically

      I think a lot of those goals are actually, “I want to be the sort of person who has run a marathon,” or “I want to be the sort of person who builds a boat.” Being honest with oneself about those sorts of things is REALLY hard.

      1. Isben Takes Tea

        I went to an improv workshop where this phrase was etched in my brain: “There are no ‘sorts’ of people: if you want to be a person who does a thing, do the thing.” It was part of a discussion about we assume we need permission from the universe to do or be something different.

        1. Adonday Veeah

          Ooh, I’m this way about running. I’m 64, and thinking that I would like to run again. Not because I enjoy running (I never have, even when I did it), but because I remember that awesome rush I got afterward. I’m looking for the rush, not the running. And at 64, having spent the last 10 years on my aging bum, it’s probably time I look for other avenues to that high.

        2. PlainJane

          This is totally me, especially about writing. I also have trouble starting stuff (especially exercising and writing), but once I get going, I enjoy it. Yet when it’s time to do it again, I still have trouble starting.

      2. AnotherAlison

        For me, I think it was that I set the goal as one person, and by the time I did it, I really didn’t care about it. 2003 me cared, and I ran a lot of half-marathons over about 10 years, so I think I already was the type of person (I ran in a running club, I was super thin like a runner “should” be, I had a bunch of gadgets).

        I just never stepped back to see if I actually still cared, or if it was just a generic bucket list item. I think we do that in careers, too. 22 year old me wanted to reach a certain level. 38 year old me does not think that level (now reached) is so great. 30 year old me could probably recognize that this was not the best career fit.

    2. AthenaC

      Yes and no. Sometimes it’s a matter of not knowing how to go from Person Who Wants to Do X to Person Who Actually Does X. Or needing something outside of you to do it.

      For example, I have always wanted to be the kind of person who was fluent in a foreign language, but it didn’t actually happen until I enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to DLI and put in a 63-week class to learn Chinese. I needed the external structure to become the type of person I wanted to be.

    3. Tau

      I have to differ on the last paragraph. I’m sure it works that way for some people, and I’m happy you’ve found it’s the case for you, but it’s the exact opposite for me. I am really, really bad at turning internal motivation into action, and generally need some sort of external structure or motivation in order to get stuff done. I can sometimes manipulate things to make that external structure appear, but that’s tricky and not always possible. Thinking the way you suggest here really screwed me up for years (nothing like convincing yourself you don’t actually things you do in fact want quite a lot) so I had to jump in and protest the idea of it as a general rule!

      1. AnotherAlison

        Sure, it takes time to build foundations to meet goals, whether that’s a fitness foundation, saving money, taking prerequisite courses, or gaining job experience. I guess I agree–I’m looking at it more like once all the structures are in place and you still don’t work towards a goal. . .or you work to a certain point multiple times and then stop.

        In my dad’s 19 years of NOT building a plane, he did a lot of groundwork. He bought land & built a barn to do the plane building in, got a pilot’s license, saved the money, and a ton of other stuff. He’s been “ready” for 10 years.

        1. TL -

          Yeah, I’ve generally found that when I really want to do something, I can find ways to implement external structures – spend money on a class or membership, make commitments to a group, find a buddy and make standing dates.
          I am into photography and I have external pressure to keep doing it – family and friends always expect me to have my camera and ask me where it is if I don’t, I take the occasional (pricey) class, and I have a flexible side gig doing photography.
          But I don’t sell prints, even though I’d like to; I’m not willing to put in the time or money to build the structure to do that at this point. If I really wanted to, I figure I would plop down money to market or for booth space or something and really commit to the idea, so I have to show up.
          It took me a while to realize that, though – that I have to put myself in a structured place to get things done on a timeline I think is reasonable.

    4. Elizabeth West

      I assume you’re talking about goals you intend to achieve but haven’t started. If you’re actively working at it but just haven’t gotten there yet, then by all means keep going. However, I think for a long-term goal, you do need to stop and re-evaluate methods every once in a while.

  3. Isben Takes Tea

    I’m sitting here stunned after reading the “Inbox Zero is BS” article linked from the Guardian article–nobody but you cares about your inbox.

    This might change my life.

    1. animaniactoo

      My inbox is only a problem if a) I can’t find what I need in it with relative ease, and b) somebody else has to go into it. As long as neither of those is true, it doesn’t matter at all what my inbox looks like. Wait, I found a 3rd condition – it does not have e-mails that need to responded to and have not been.

      1. orchidsandtea

        Unless you use Lotus Notes. Then a) is never true unless you’ve hand-filed everything and know what date it was sent on, because it (at least ours) isn’t freakin’ searchable.

        1. NoMoreMrFixit

          Make a local replica of your mailfile. Under Database->Properties you should see a tab for Index which will allow you to create a full text index of the mailfile. Once it’s done, which can take a while depending on the file size, you can search for anything.

          Or go to the All Documents view and search from there. Slower as it does a brute force search but it will search.

    2. SL #2

      I have former coworkers who love to post screencaps of their inboxes after they’ve reached zero state. I get it and I aspire to that state as well, but it’s a nice-to-have, not a need, and right now, I have much bigger priorities than what my inbox looks like.

      1. Liz2

        That’s so weird to me. That’s like sending pics of empty file drawers. Your email is part of your work, and that’s always moving so you should always have active things going on. The issue is people who give up or don’t MANAGE their email effectively. My inbox is my to do list. Once the item is totally complete, then it gets deleted or filed.

        Of course having scrupulous subjects help a lot.

      2. ScarletInTheLibrary

        Since records management is so tied to what I do, the idea of a zero horrifies me. Means things are deleted with no concern of how long they need to be kept (for administrative, financial, legal, or reference reasons).

      3. Chaordic One

        I have never heard of this before and never thought of doing such a thing. It just seems odd. Who knew this was a thing?

    3. Mike C.

      Here’s what I don’t get. You can just select all and “Mark as Read”. There, done.

      Where’s my book deal?

    4. BRR

      That part to me sounds like how people are addressing things that aren’t the actual problem but are perceived to be the problem. If someone is consistently not replying to emails that require a response it’s easy to assume that it’s because their inbox is a mess. The problem though isn’t the state of their inbox, the problem is that person is not responding to emails. It reminds me of the letter on here where the LW asked about how to handle an employee who listened to podcasts but was not being productive enough. The issue to address is the productivity, not the podcasts.

      1. PlainJane

        This. I love Inbox Zero, not as a thing in itself but because having an empty or near-empty inbox helps me be more organized, responsive, and productive–and it helps me be a lot less stressed that I’ve forgotten something critical (a key concept in David Allen’s Getting Things Done – get it out of your head and into your system so you can relax). I just finished giving a presentation on email and task management, and I told the group that the right system is the one that a) you will actually use, and b) that helps you be productive and responsive. Also the inverse: the only “wrong” system is one that a) you don’t use, and/or b) leads you to be “that employee” who doesn’t get back to people and misses deadlines.

    5. Username has gone missing

      Nope, my inbox definitely contains things that matter to other people.

      None of this “advice” is ever applicable to any job I’ve ever had.

      1. Isben Takes Tea

        Well yes, but what your inbox looks like is irrelevant, as long as you get your job done.

  4. MadGrad

    The time management portion is so, so very true for me and drives my boyfriend up the wall. In his ideal world, he has a schedule he can look at for both of us and anyone we’re spending time with that sets out the hourly activities for the day. For me, the idea of strictly scheduling my day sounds like a nightmare of inflexibility and constraint, and it just stresses me out so much. I’m not talking about work, I’m talking about weekend activities. Part of relaxing for me is not having a plan I have to adhere to.

    1. Red Reader

      Whereas for me, if I don’t have a plan for what I’m doing, I end up stressing out because I don’t know what I want to do and have too many options, which is kind of the opposite of relaxing :)

      1. Red Reader

        Example: I’m leaving for Disneyworld on Sunday, and I have a list of which parks I’m going to on which days, which rides and shows I want to do at each park and pre-booked time windows to get on some of them, where I want to eat with several meal reservations made. I even have a running list in their app of some of the souvenirs I know I want to pick up while I’m there. (Though that’s because starting on Saturday I can just hit checkout on that list and they’ll be delivered directly to my hotel room for me and I don’t have to carry them around the parks.) For me, both making the plan and following the plan are relaxing, but if I didn’t prepare for the vacation, it’d be super stressful for me.

        1. MadGrad

          I’m good with loose lists and window planning, but I’m a scatter brain and invariably would budget less time for lines than needed or see something cool that I hadn’t accounted for and get thrown off. Then my schedule is messed up and get stressed out by that. That, and my family as a whole CANNOT get up and ready on time almost ever. I don’t hate schedules, but I know I just can’t handle them.

          1. Red Reader

            Other people’s inability to follow my schedule is definitely the stress-iest part of vacationing for me, haha. I am a Disneyworld vacationing expert at this point, but I am never trying to herd a dozen people over three generations through a Disney vacation again. There was at least one person on that trip I haven’t spoken to since.

            (Let me rephrase that. It’s not their inability to follow my schedule. It’s a combination of expecting me to schedule and plan everything for them — which is fine, and I don’t mind it at all — but not giving me any input, and then whining about the plans I set up. That, all of that together, is what I hate with the fire of a thousand burning suns.)

            1. the gold digger

              My mom wanted us all together in Durango for her 70th birthday. My sister and I were looking for a house to rent and were getting frustrated emailing back and forth and not finding anything we both liked.

              I finally told her that if she would do the work to find the place that I would not complain even one word about it. And my sister is awesome and found an amazing place, so there wasn’t anything to complain about. But that’s the rule: you can opt out of doing the work, but if you say you are opting out, then You. Have. To. Keep. Your. Mouth. Shut.

        2. PlainJane

          I’m in between. I start with a plan, but I deviate from it in the moment depending on how I’m feeling or what I want to do right then. My plans are guidelines, not rules.

    2. TL -

      I’m definitely a “start with a list of things we want to get done that day and an approximate timeframe for doing them” person – I find nothing wastes a good vacation day faster than waking up and spending the first part of your day arguing, planning, researching, and then eventually giving up.

      But my list is flexible – ie, today we want leave hotel at 9-9:15, go skiing, meet up and eat lunch around noon, and then go ice skating and snowshoeing. Sunset is 4:00 pm. There’s not a time set for most things, but I do have a good idea of what my time frames are and if I wanted to go skiing after lunch as well as before, I could do that easily enough.

      1. MadGrad

        Yup, this is fine. Like Plainjane said – guidelines. I’m very okay with guidelines and a few set commitments (shows, dinners etc).

    3. paul

      Different strokes for different folks. I’m big on an approximate schedule; if we’re going on vacation I want to know we’re doing X this day, Y that day, traveling these days.

      Within that, flexibility is great-hey X activity busted, lets see what else we want to do– but I gotta have that framework at least.

  5. Kathlynn

    I find the last point very true at my current job and last job. There was so much push to do everything as fast as you could, and if you couldn’t do it as fast as the fastest person could, you weren’t doing well enough. I don’t mind reasonable expectations, but not everyone can do everything as fast as the fastest person can.
    And my current job isn’t given enough of a budget for sufficient staffing, in my opinion. Having worked for an almost identical store, we are expected to do more, with the same amount of staff the other store had. But with another shift, and less people on the floor. (the person who made “donuts” before could watch tills and make coffees. now we have “chocolate covered donuts” that must be prepared in a different room, and the other person must make the normal donuts and make coffees. And still get everything else done.)

  6. sstabeler

    I think there are really two separate issues causing the time management problem:
    1) creating a schedule of some form to help you to complete your work- this is not inherently bad, in that it can help to be able to say “look, task A will take 5 hours, and task B will take 7. As such, it’s not possible to do both today” however, where the schedule is more, shall we say, inspirational (that is “you need to complete this task in 5 minutes or you won’t get all your work done” even if it’s a 5k word report) then it’s a problem.
    2) efficiency, where you are expected to do more in less time, however, either the gains exclusively benefit your employer, or you see very little of the benefits. ( basically, where increased efficiency allows you to do your work in 10% less time, you are expected to do more work to fill the time with no/little increase in wages or salary) That’s a problem, because it just breeds resentment ( to make ti clearer: I am not saying improving productivity is bad- just that it should really have the benefits shared with the employee, either by a salary/wage bump, or in reduced hours if possible)

    1. Justin

      Depends on the job I suppose. When I find ways to do things faster and more efficiently, my stress level reduces and I look better to those who hold the purse strings so it can lead to pay increases down the road. And less stress and more time means I don’t have to be grinding hard on everything that I do.

      1. sstabeler

        not quite- note I said efficiency isn’t inherently a bad thing. Your example is one where it is done well- by being efficient, you are able to be more relaxed most of the time. The problem is where efficiency is used to force people to work in full panic mode all the time at work. (which is in some ways the fundamental problem- companies forcing workers to operate in panic mode 24/7 in the name of getting every scrap out of them.

  7. Chomps

    Thanks for talking about time management. I find the concepts of time management, personal efficiency, and life hacking tiresome. I mean, it’s good to some extent, but it just leads to this never-ending search to become more efficient and that’s not how I want to live my life.

  8. learningToCode

    RE: #1: Setting Meaningful Goals

    What’s the protocol for coming up with goals to be used in yearly performance evals?

    The paperwork needs me to come up with goals for each year (preferably quantifiable), but I’m entry level. It’s not like I can say I want to revamp an entire code directory, institute a bunch of successful policies on the team, whathaveyou. I’ve taken to just updating my goals *after* I’ve done something impressive to say I should do the impressive thing, but the initial “what do you want to accomplish this year?” tends to only be “still be employed next year.”

    1. Beer Thirty

      Good question about the performance review goals. My issue with them is that they’re set for me. Thus, they have no meaning to me and I’m not motivated to achieve them. They’re just things I have to check off my “to-do” list.

      I’m much more motivated to achieve the goals I set in my personal life (like exercising x number of times per week, saving x number of dollars, lowering my golf handicap). These are things I actually care about. The only real goal I have at work is to retire as soon as possible ;).

    2. smokey

      I only get to write one goal (the rest are written for me). I usually make it a goal to learn something new. Learn to operate some new software that would/could be helpful, or to start learning a new language (always helpful to any employer, even if not immediately applicable to your position).

      I don’t like the goals written for me. They are usually some sort of participation in otherwise optional things, though, if that helps. Like attending a certain number of optional training sessions. Or they are safety-related, which I think most employers are big on now. Do a certain number of safety observations, or something like that.

      Although some are goals for things that I literally can’t affect in any way- those are the worst.

  9. Mookie

    I wonder how systemic roadblocks that help create and perpetuate common time management problems butts up against or intersects with the observation that performative, largely counterproductive gestures of busy-ness* — the puritanical tendency to make a virtue out of burning both ends of the candle and cultivating an infinite array of side hustles — is growing. It feels very neo-Victorian that even while the average working week in some industrialized countries expands, leisure time afforded to the middle classes must be self-consciously spent on edifying, hobby-versions of what used to be working-class and domestic drudgeries (manual labor, cookery, applied arts, edible gardening and homesteading). Fear of appearing the wrong kind of lazy, the kind evinced by people killing themselves for very little pay who need genuine rest and comfort, is a powerful, classist motivator.

    *the less able we are at balancing work projects, the more chaotic our social lives, the more we appear desirable and interesting, even while we are demonstrating how unhealthy and unproductive this is

    1. sstabeler

      generally, the gestures of busyness help to contribute to the problem- because people are doing those gestures in time when they could be working.

      It IS true, though, that some of those hobby-versions of working class drudgeries aren’t inherently bad- however, it’s true that you should do them because you enjoy them, not because you feel you have to. Growing your own food can be good- IF you enjoy it.

      1. Mookie

        Homesteading is now a rich person’s game, because land is more expensive than ever, drought is widespread, and you’ve got NIMBYs complaining about the collard “weeds” in your small front garden or in pots on your porch.

  10. Vicki

    Speaking of goals, we’re not all “goal-centered” people! I’ll take this opportunity to recommend one of my favorite business books (and ideas):

    “Stop Setting Goals If You Would Rather Solve Problems”, by Bobb Biehl (1995)

    Bobb Biehl, president of the consulting firm Masterplanning Group International, believes that decades of emphasis on setting goals has left many in the workplace feeling like second-class citizens. Most people find goal setting to be a major source of anxiety and frustration.

    Here he sets out to expose the myth that goal setting is required for success in your business, career, and personal development. Instead, he argues, we can be very successful by simply identifying and solving strategic problems. You may never have to set another goal as long as you live.

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