Choose Your Path
August marks the month when students begin the migration back to school. Some return to school having just completed several months of working as a summer intern or summer associate. Still others are about to set foot In the hallowed hallways of a law school, business school or other institution of higher learning for the very first time. Before they arrive on campus, students should invest some time identifying their priorities.
Steve Jobs understood the value of knowing where you want to go and priortizing tasks that would get him there.
When he returned to Apple in 1997, the company he had cofounded nearly two decades earlier teetered on the brink of financial failure. During the final quarter of 1996, Apple’s sales had fallen off by 30 percent. The head of tech for the small company where I then worked announced, “Apple is dead.”
Jobs quickly discovered that Apple was selling dozens of versions of the same computer. “Which ones do I tell my friends to buy,” Jobs reported asked a top manager. When he didn’t receive a simple answer, the tech genius immediately started slashing Apple’s product line. Within two years, he transformed a company attempting to market 350 products to a successful selling machine boasting 10 products.
He also returned the company to profitability.
On any given day, you won’t be able to do everything. Accurately identifying your top priorities and tackling those goals will help ensure your success.
Learn to love lists
Successful people set goals and they pursue those goals with a single-minded focus. Your goals should drive how you manage your time. If an activity doesn’t draw you one step closer to accomplishing a particular goal, why in the world do it?
I recommend that you start at least five separate lists of goals that encompass the following categories:
- Personal relationships/Family/Home
- Physical fitness/health
- Mental/Educational/CulturalLooking at each list, establish S.M.A.R.T. goals.
These are goals that are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Targeted. With each goal that you establish, make sure they are actionable and provide as much detail as possible.
So, for example, as a student one of your “Work” goals might include: participate in OCI and receive an offer for a 2015 summer position. To convert this into a S.M.A.R.T. goal, a student should:
- Identify specific companies, law firms, government entities, or non-profits with whom they wish to establish contact;
- Articulate specific positions with an identified employer;
- Determine the best means of reaching out to specific individuals at the employer (on-campus interviews, job fairs, speaking engagements, calls)
- Identify a specific date by which he or she will have made an initial contact as well as appropriate follow-up.
Make sure your goals challenge you. And I’ll emphasize this one more time: write your goals down. The act of recording your goals and reviewing them frequently makes you more likely to accomplish them.
Once you’ve established your goals, every time before you make a key decision regarding how you will use your time, ask yourself the following question: Does this move me closer to accomplishing one of my goals? If the answer is “yes,” then full steam ahead. If the answer is “no,” it’s not a priority.
Set and review your goals regularly
I’m a huge believer in goal setting. In fact, I look forward to the days between Christmas and New Years and use a portion of my winter breaks to review what I’ve accomplished during the year about to end and to plan for the future. I find that if I dedicate a few hours each day to this process, I start the New Year with a pretty clear roadmap of what I want to accomplish.
Some colleagues have told me that they find the end of the year too jam-packed with family and business activities to carefully focus on goal setting. At least one delays her goal setting process until after the winter holidays end with the intent of starting work on her new goals each February.
If you find the prospect of setting goals for the entire school year a little too daunting, Tom Mendoza, Chairman of NetApp, Inc. recommends a 90-day goal system. Mendoza reports that he once set six-month goals but consistently found that he would procrastinate until he had about 90 days left. Since procrastination is the enemy of goal setting, he began setting 90-day goals because that period of time gave him “enough time to accomplish something but not so much time that I wouldn’t.”
Mendoza urges people to set three professional and three personal goals. In each case, the goals must be specific (with outcomes), include a deadline and be written down.
Whatever system you adopt, keep your goals handy . . . someplace where you will see them regularly. Set aside some time each week to review the progress you’ve made in accomplishing your goals and to identify areas where you need to redouble your effort.
What You Need To Know
Before school starts, set SMART goals that will help you land the job you want.
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