Tips: Goal Setting, Productivity & Effectiveness for Creative Minds

Brian O’ Regan – Arts Leaders Associates


1. Define and articulate your goals
Goals can be short, medium or long-term, but they are not the same as tasks. Short-term goals should be rooted in your daily/weekly habits, while long-term goals should take you a little bit out of your comfort zone. They should make you feel excited, motivated and the best ones can often feel a bit scary at the beginning. Remember, true confidence comes from competence.

2. Use the principles of strategic planning to help with goal setting
In strategic planning, we try to answer these 3 questions: “Where are we now?”, “Where do we want to be?”, “How are we going to get there?”. We can apply these questions to our goal setting, and activities such as doing a personal SWOT Analysis or a personal Resource Audit can be very effective in building a more detailed picture of where we’re starting out from.

3. Prioritise your goals and tasks – focus on the “vital few”
You can do anything, but you can’t do everything! Prioritising goals and focusing on the “vital few” will enable you to use your time and energy more effectively. Concepts like the Pareto Principle (or the 80/20 rule) and tools such as the well-known Eisenhower Matrix can really help you to prioritise, and de-prioritise your goals, as well as your to-do list.

4. Stop multitasking!
Research has shown that multitasking is less productive than single-tasking. When we think we’re multitasking, we’re really only jumping from one task to another. Every time we move between different tasks, we leave an “attention residue” behind us, which makes it more difficult to focus. Multitasking kills our productivity, and it can also be the cause of constant distraction, procrastination and negative stress.

5. Bring a sense of awareness and curiosity to everything you do
Awareness is the first step in making sustainable positive change. Without a sense of awareness, it’s hard to know what’s wrong and how to fix it. If you find that something isn’t working for you, don’t get frustrated – get curious! “Why isn’t it working?”, “What else can I try?”, “Why do I feel like this?”, “What can I do to feel different?”. Asking these questions with curiosity rather than frustration will help to open doors to solutions.

6. Think of motivation as the reward, not the stimulus
We often think that we need to be motivated in order to start something, but motivation is actually more likely to show up after you’ve started – not before! Think of motivation as being something that needs to be earned, and think of self-discipline as being the way to earn it. Self-discipline is like a muscle – it gets tired when you use it, but it also gets stronger when you exercise it.

7. Manage your energy and your focus – not your time
Knowing how to manage our time effectively is important, but what’s more important is knowing how to manage our energy and our focus. Time is constant, but our energy and focus are not. Having an awareness of what affects our energy and focus allows us to plan and execute our tasks more effectively, and with better results. Remember, there’s a big difference between being efficient, and being effective!

8. Work interdependently with those around you
We can achieve far greater things when we work interdependently, rather than dependently or even independently. When working with others, make sure you are listening with the intention to understand and not just to reply. In dealing with conflict or negotiation, respect other people’s perspectives and be curious about differences in opinion. Once you fully understand, try to figure out a “win/win” solution, or even better – synergise!

9. Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden eggs!
There’s a well-known fable about a farmer and his family who had a goose that laid a golden egg every day. After some time, the farmer and his family thought that instead of waiting for the goose to lay a new egg each day, they could kill the goose and get all the eggs at once. Needless to say, it didn’t work! When we’re working on a project, we sometimes turn into the farmer from this story. Sometimes we’re the goose, and sometimes we’re both. How many of us are guilty of breaking ourselves open to try and get all the golden eggs at once? Are we guilty of doing it to others?

10. Redefine what work/life balance means for you
Work/life balance is a false dichotomy, and trying to achieve any kind of balance based on these two components alone can be very difficult. Think about “life admin” for example, where does that sit on the work/life spectrum? Considering the other factors which play a role on the sliding scale of “work”, “life” and everything in between can help to get a more helpful perspective. Like riding a bicycle, balance sometimes requires momentum, and a lack of momentum in our lives can sometimes cause us to lose our balance. Developing a better awareness of where you spend your energy and how you replenish your energy will help you to rethink this idea, and what it means for you.