Succeeding at Far Off Goals – Last in a series

Today in the last of a series on reaching long-term goals, I offer age-old wisdom from Stephen Covey along with a simple, specific tactic.

First, the tactic: create two-week goals.  Take the big long-term goal that you have, and ask yourself this simple question: “What can I accomplish in two weeks that will lead me toward achievement of this big goal?”  I have found that two weeks is a long enough period that you can make real progress on a large project.  In a busy life, a week just may not be enough.  On the other hand, two weeks is a short enough period of time that you have to move; you can’t delay getting going if you want something to show for yourself.

The age-old wisdom comes from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which Stephen Covey drew for us his famous four quadrant box (if your browser works, you’ll see it below) or you can see it here.  Covey’s four boxes put important things on top and unimportant on the bottom. And they put urgent matters on the left and not urgent matters on the right.  So Covey, along with other management experts, recommends that you minimize the time you spend on “not urgent and not important” (quadrant 4) activities.  Of course, most of us will naturally take care of the urgent and important (quadrant 1).

Where Covey’s quadrants are particularly helpful though is in helping us move to spending precious time and energy on “not urgent but important” (quadrant 2) activities, rather than on “urgent but not important” (quadrant 3) activities.  Often, due to a felt lack of urgency, our big long-term goals languish in quadrant two.  Going back to school, trying a new career, shifting into a new business market, or working on our marriage can all be things which we long to take on, but which simply are not urgent in the habits of our days.  Losing weight can stay in quadrant 3 “important but not urgent” for years, until a heart attack or stroke yank it into quadrant one – urgent and important.

If there’s a goal that’s important to you, yet not urgent on this Monday morning, I encourage you to bump it up on your list.  Ask where you want to be on that goal in 2 weeks, tell a friend you’ve set the goal, and go on ahead and

Lead with your best (most important) self,



  • Dan,

    Thanks for the great suggestion, as well as the reminder from Covey. It’s been several years since I read “7 Habits,” and I think it would be a good book for me to revisit now. I still think about Covey’s suggestions, if not every day, at least every 2-3 days. But I had forgotten about the two-week suggestion. I agree that two weeks is a good balance between forcing true action and allowing time for planning actions within the big picture.

  • More than ten years ago I went to a discussion by Gwen Frostic, a poet. She started by saying that she had nothing original to say, but that perhaps she might in her own way of speaking reach the listener who had heard these messages before, but had not understood or taken them to heart.

    In offering this series, and all your leadership emails, I think that is what you also are doing. We need many voices telling us about the principals of leadership; including here how to lead yourself – time management, triage, prioritization, or whatever term hits you.

    Sometimes it is like bannging your head against a wall, but those who teach these principals are of considerable value. It only takes one success at teaching a leader to start a revolution, cure disease, save lives, creat jobs, et cetera, and then potentially millions of persons benefit.

  • Dan,

    Thanks for bringing out the matrix. Back when I had a job, I used this system, but with a difference: each quadrant had a color and each color corresponded to a folder for items that could not be handled immediately.

    Quadrant 1 was Red. To help keep my desk organized, urgent and important items were in red folders. If someone put a red folder on my desk, it meant: Look at this now, it is a priority!

    Quadrant 2 was Green: One needed to move on these items, but it was not urgent.

    Quadrant 3 was Blue: This was often the thickest folder.

    Quadrant 4 was Yellow: Usually, this folder had very little in it — most items in this category were filed in the round file after first cursory review.

    I can’t say I was religious about maintaining the system, but failure to follow these rules usually meant long hours trying to meet a deadline that “somehow” escaped notice while buried in trivia.

    One final note: I have found that this system is much more difficult to maintain when working at home.

    • Mick,

      Good idea on the color coding. Color coding helps a lot of people to better visualize the big picture. I now use color coding on my Outlook calendar to help me better visualize whether a block of time is set up for a project, team meeting, personal/vacation time, etc.

  • Mick,
    Love the color-coding idea!
    I think you’re coaching yourself on working at home – most of the experts say that it’s important to create a work-type environment at home – whether you are between jobs or creating a home business. In a prior RFL (and radio show) an expert called them “interim structures.”

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