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September Is Good Time to Redefine Goals to Evaluate Life's Direction

September 11, 1986|BONNIE McCULLOUGH | McCullough, based in Colorado, is the author of five books on home management.

September is a natural time to redefine goals and to look at the direction life is taking. It is a time to evaluate how you are spending time and whether that is truly what you want. Sometimes we drift with the tide or stay with a course that no longer suits our needs.

In some ways, life is like going through a buffet line. The food looks good and you would like to eat it all, but it won't fit on your plate. So you have to decide whether you will indulge in a large serving of one entree, or sample many. With engineering, more can be put on the plate, but still you must leave some of it behind.

The same is true with time. We cannot do everything, and so we have to decide whether to become specialized in one area or diversify. Earning a living and family responsibilities take up most of life. We all have other things we want to do also. With organization, you can get more into life, but still you must make some choices.

In fact, a common mental cycle this time of year is the battle between "oughts, shoulds, needs and wants." We each fight our own war, and the outcomes vary. However, there are some physical exercises you can follow to help be more satisfied with choices.

Keep a Time-Log

For example, if you suspect you are wasting part of your time, or you cannot account for time, try keeping a time-log for several days. Tuck a pad and pencil in a pocket, set a watch alarm for 30-minute intervals, and each time it goes off, write down what you have been doing. This exercise will reveal miscalculations and time leaks.

A second technique is to calculate how much discretionary time you have. Suppose you allow yourself seven hours of sleep, and begin the day with 17 hours. For most of us, that time is not totally ours to do whatever we want. If we work an eight-hour job, that leaves nine hours. But then we have to subtract dressing time, lunch and travel. Now we are down to four or five discretionary hours. That isn't much considering we still have to do the household chores, shopping and child care for those with children. On the weekend, discretionary hours will increase. You can see how easily a few hours can slip away, especially when you are tired and you are tempted to sit down in front of the television after work. To calculate available time in this way will help you to realize the value of free time.

All sorts of amazing things can be accomplished with little bits of time when a target has been defined. I wrote my first book while my little children watched "Sesame Street," even though it took three years.

Set Priorities

Whenever organizers speak of time management they tell you to set priorities. To set priorities means to determine, choose, write out or identify. Each season of life will find you using time differently. September is a good time to think through and determine how you allocate time and which responsibilities and activities get what percentage of your life.

A third type of mechanical help for setting priorities is to write out wants. What would you like to accomplish? Divide paper into sections and title them for the various categories of life: personal, career, house, hobby, physical and spiritual. Brainstorm ideas of things you would like to do in each area and write them down. This physical experience of writing out goals brings them from the realm of vague possibilities to concrete choices.

With the written list in front of you, decide which goals to work on in each area. Remember, you can't do them all at once. You are prioritizing; choosing which you will work on and selecting those you will neglect . . . selected neglect.

Decide how the goals will be accomplished. For example, if one goal is to help your second-grade child read better, think of specific ways you could move toward that goal: read together, go to the library more often, let the child buy one book a month at school, etc. If one of your career goals is to earn more money, what can you do to accomplish it? Take a class, learn more about marketing, improve your image, join a professional group, change jobs?

Start at the beginning. For example, if the goal is to get control at home, start by setting up a simple daily routine to maintain necessities. Make chore assignments for children or organize an efficient laundry system. When you have the basics conquered, you can move onto refinement.

Evaluate Progress

Review goals at least once a month. Evaluate progress. If you aren't moving toward that goal, why aren't you? Maybe it is time for new strategy or a change of a goal. It is all right to change your mind or alter a direction. Goal setting can give you more of what you truly want and help discard the trivial.

Another word that goes along with priorities is sacrifice. To set a course on a goal means you must put aside other desires, you choose one over the other. Some people don't make choices, they just let things happen. They are not achievers. Take control of life, be actively accountable for decisions and how you use your time.

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