Managing Activities, Not Results

I posted yesterday about my new schedule, which is a pretty rigorous schedule designed to help me get the most out of each day, and also help me accomplish some personal goals in a way that I hope will be more sustainable than previous efforts.

There are a few of the times in that schedule that are designed around specific activities, particularly exercise, reading and writing time. What’s interesting about how this schedule is designed is that it’s not goal-oriented, it’s activity-oriented. The idea here is that if you manage the activities, you’ll get the right results, not the other way around.

This brings up a philosophy to work and life that might be a bit counter-intuitive: instead of managing results (“I want to lose 5 pounds”, “I want to read a book a month”), I’m managing the activities that I know will eventually get those results. Instead of those goals, I’ve set up the schedule to make sure I’m engaging in daily activities that contribute toward those areas in my life.

I’ll admit, I first heard of this idea from Dave Ramsey and I was put off. It sounded a lot like micro-management: “Manage activities, not results!” In a team setting, it just seemed to me that it would be a very overbearing approach that didn’t permit freedom in how goals are accomplished. However, since I first heard it, I’ve completely come 180 degrees - managing activities is absolutely a key to productivity, and ends up helping you accomplish goals better than simply defining a goal and hoping you stumble your way there.

So, on your next project - or in your life in general - identify the activities that you should be engaging in, the activities that lead to success. Then, manage your involvement in those activities on a daily basis. If you do that, results will naturally come. After all, any action is better than none, and managing activities is a way to ensure you get that daily action toward the goal.

Some ideas for ways you can manage activities:

  • Exercise for 30 minutes a day, instead of trying to simply lose X pounds
  • Read for 30 minutes a day, instead of trying to finish X books per month
  • Balance your budget every Friday afternoon
  • Send a recap email to your clients every Friday morning
  • Spend 30 minutes a day on business development, prospecting
  • Spend 10 minutes every evening planning for the next day
  • Email 5 prospects a day asking for business

Note that none of these mention a larger goal explicitly - they’re simply activities that, when engaged in regularly, will cause success related to a larger goal. That change in mindset is incredibly powerful, and I think the key to ensuring you continue engaging in the right behaviors daily that drive toward success, both personally and professionally.

A quick footnote: don’t construe this to mean that I don’t value goals. Goals are incredibly important, and should inform the activities. However, goals aren’t your method for managing your day-to-day progress toward them, those are the activities. Don’t get the two confused.

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