A Surefire Way To Never Achieve A Goal

I recently heard someone report on a project they were working on.

“Today, I’m working on this,” they said. “I’m getting there.”

This is the kiss of death in the Agile framework.

It’s not specific, it doesn’t give you any new information, and it doesn’t tell you when it will be done.

It’s easy to see that it’s a pretty useless sentence.

So why do so many managers accept this from their teams?

There are probably a lot of reasons. There’s a lot going on, it’s a long process and takes time, there are many variables in the way, it’s not something tangible we can just measure or chart.

The truth is that these are all excuses for lazy project management.

The truth is that this is usually the cause of one of two things:

  1. A conscious or non-conscious desire to avoid accountability. OR
  2. A vaguely defined goal or objective.

Let’s break this down for a second.

A vague goal would sound like “losing weight” or “speaking better Spanish.”

A clearly defined goal would sound like “losing 10 pounds by March” or “having a 30-minute conversation with a native speaker.”

So where’s the breakdown?

The secret is in the “-ing.”

It’s the tell-tale symptom.

There’s no clear beginning or end. You can’t check off the box.

You’re not sure where it starts or stops.

It’s the trouble with all gerunds.

They used to be verbs, but now they’re nouns.

They used to be actionable, but now they’re just there.

This means that goals, progress reports, and project plans should all paranoically scan for “-ing” before finalizing.

If you have one, it will likely end in an uncomfortable or unhappy failure.

2 Minute Action:

Here are the 3 questions I ask my team every, single day.

Take 2 minutes and ask yourself:

What did you accomplish yesterday?

What will you accomplish today?

Do you have any dependencies (things you’re waiting on) to get these done?

What are the impediments that will stop you from checking off these boxes?

By focusing on what boxes are checked and which ones aren’t you can avoid falling into the trap of eternally “working toward” something that may never have a finish line.

Pro-tip: if your impediments are “not enough hours in the day” or “not enough coffee,” you need to step back and look at your process/goals/expectations/standards. You might have a disaster right in front of you. 

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