Don’t Forget The Goal

We forget that we forget. People and organizations forget all the time. We trick ourselves into believing we remember more than we do.

Do you remember what you had for dinner three days ago? Or who you had a meeting with last Thursday afternoon? What is an important fact of an article you read early this week? Can’t remember? Neither can I. Neither can anyone.

People forget even the most important aspects of our life. We get distracted often. We get lost and move in the wrong direction.

We get lost in the flood of information that overwhelms us every day. It is a full-time job to keep up with even niche subjects nowadays. Endless articles, newsletters, tweets, videos, and photos are posted daily. Society expects you to be an expert in all areas of the world. It isn’t possible.

You don’t have to remember everything. Focus on remembering what matters.

Remember What Matter

I read a book recently called “The Goal.” It is a fictional story about a manufacturing manager who turns a failing plant into a successful one.

Companies are in business to make money, as much as they tell you otherwise. If a business did not make money, they would not exist. Companies often hide this fact from everyone, even their employees. They hide their goals in projects, initiatives, efficiency, measures, and more.

Over a long enough time, this can lead people to forget that the goal of the company is to make money. In the case of “The Goal,” employees believed that increasing efficiency was the way to be successful. If all the employees and equipment were working as efficiently as possible, they would have a good plant. The problem was that even though the plant was efficient, it was losing money and at risk of being shut down. It turns out working for the sake of working doesn’t pursue the goal.

Productivity is the act of bringing a company closer to its goal. Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive.

Eli Goldratt (Author of “The Goal”)

The company got back on track by refocusing on effectiveness rather than efficiency. They refocused on the goal. The goal of a company is to make money.

Many things we think of as goals such as cost-efficiency, employing good people, technology, production, and quality are means of achieving goals, not goals themselves.

Eli Goldratt

This is counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t increased efficiency lead to profits? Not always. People often do things to be busy. They do things to be efficient. Processes naturally have slack (“wasted time”). By filling up wasted time with other tasks, it distracts people from the goal. They proceed to forget the goal and focus on non-goals.

If companies struggle to focus on the goal of making money, how do you think people do? Our goals are often more abstract. There is no bottom-line figure to tell us we’re doing well. On top of that is a constant flood of information trying to distract you at every moment. If we don’t make an effort to keep goals in mind, we often forget them and move in the wrong direction.

Like companies, we often focus on the means of achieving a goal, rather than the goal itself. As a personal example, I am working on being a better writer. Writing is the input, but publishing is the output. I am writing a lot, but only publishing a small amount of what I have written. I am forcing myself to publish more. It is not about being efficient with inputs, it is about producing outputs.

The two largest traps I’ve found that cause me to forget the goal is having an unclear goal and getting distracted. Luckily, “The Goal” helps us find solutions to both problems.

How To Not Forget The Goal

First, understand what the goal is. Create a goal that you cannot forget. It should be clear to both yourself and the people around you. You cannot get somewhere if you don’t know where it is.

In “The Goal,” the company did not understand why they were losing money. Once they were forced to challenge their assumption of what their goal was (efficiency vs making money), they started to get back on track.

The challenging of basic assumptions is essential to breakthrough.

Eli Goldratt

Second, remind yourself about what the goal is. Set reminders and reflect on progress. A good way to understand the path forward is to look backwards. Reflection helps make sure you are aiming in the right direction.

Keep your goal top of mind. We often get distracted by other information. Think about your goal, not the goals of the people around you. The goal of social media is to get you to spend more time on it, does that help you with your goal? Probably not. Cut information and effort towards things that don’t matter.

Third, create outputs that pursue the goal. In “The Goal,” they first moved away from productivity as the goal and refocused making money. They then found selling more products wasn’t the only way to make more money. Wasting fewer inputs and increasing the value of the outputs were also effective ways of pursuing the goal.

Everyone has the same amount of time in the day. Time is an input, spend it in a way that pursues the goal. Be aware of your awareness. The goal does not have to be work, it just has to be something that you want.

Finally, repeat. Great achievements come from repeating things for long periods. Most successful people have taken a long time to get to where they are. Nothing happens overnight. Processes grow and improve over time. Habits are processes that move you towards the goal. Habits will prevent you from forgetting.

Sometimes, magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.

Teller

Writing this post is a reminder to myself. As I’m writing, I think about what is important to me, what my inputs and outputs are, and ask myself “am I pursuing the goal?” I hope as you read it, you did the same.

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