Meeting Your Long-Term Goals

I used to think that some of the methods put forth by so-called time-management experts were contrived and even a bit silly, but over the years, I’ve found them increasingly useful. For example, at one point, I regularly used Stephen Covey’s time management grid to order my daily “to do” list, and I found it a beneficial tool.  Even though I no longer formally use his grid, I still use the basic concepts to think about how to organize my work on a daily basis. I also sometimes use Covey’s strategies for dealing with email. So I’m always on the lookout for a new and simple strategy for getting things done.

If you’re like me, one of your biggest challenges is finding the time to work on your long-term goals even as you juggle the tasks that come your way on any given day. A few months ago, I listened to a podcast interview with Mark Goulston, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of the book Get Out of Your Own Way.  He offered a simple method to develop and organize your action steps toward the long-term goal. He called it the ICU method.  I’ve seen a couple of other long-term planning methods since I heard about ICU, but I still find Goulston’s method the simplest and easiest to use.

Goulston said that as we evaluate our long-term goals, we should identify the steps needed to reach those goals and then categorize the steps and use them as tools for planning.  Important tasks are things that we must give our attention to, but they are on a long-term timeline, perhaps even a year or two out.  Critical tasks are things that need to be completed in the next six to twelve months, and urgent tasks should be finished quickly, perhaps in the next three to six months. 

I’ve used the ICU method in working with clients.  For example, one client wanted to complete a book project. Given the demands of her job and her family responsibilities, she was becoming discouraged at the prospect of ever finishing her important task—writing the book.  So we stepped back to look at the critical and urgent steps that would move her along toward the important goal. It was easy to identify the urgent tasks. My client had a grant that would allow her to travel to the archives to conduct research for her book.  So our urgent task was to develop a plan to get the most out of her time in the archives.  It was also easy to identify the critical step. My client had about six months left on her sabbatical leave, so clearly, we needed to develop a plan of action for maximizing her time away from teaching. She developed a strategy that included time to flesh out an outline and draft a chapter. After that, she was able to map out a rough schedule for finishing the book over the next several years.

Of course, we all know what they say about the best-laid plans. My client returned from her research trip to find that she would have several new and demanding responsibilities when she returned to work in the fall.  So we had to back up and revise the plan. 

Working through the ICU planning process with my client reminded me that the most important part of any plan to meet long-term goals is to engage in constant assessment of where you are on the way to reaching your goals and revising the plan as needed.

The ICU has proven to be a useful way for me to think about meeting my long-term goals.  Are there strategies that have been useful for you?