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Decision-Making: The 'Right' Way! By Kathryn Marion

Why do some people end up with boring jobs living paycheck-to-paycheck while others are sitting on top of the world? Did some simply make 'bad' decisions while others got ‘lucky’? No—the difference here is goal setting and decision making.

You want to make all the 'right' decisions in your life—not only in your career, but in your personal life and in your finances as well. You can do that, but you can't wait until you're faced with a decision to begin preparing for it.

In a nutshell, the secret is this: set short- and long-term goals for your career, your money, and your personal life, then when faced with a decision, determine if it will help you fulfill or make progress toward one of those goals. If it will, do it; if it won't, don't. A well-thought-out set of career and life goals can make decision making easy for you.

To begin defining your goals, set aside several hours of quiet time (possibly over several days, if necessary) and write these headings on separate sheets of paper: Career, Money, Life (or Lifestyle). Many people's main focus is their career, so we’ll start with that.

Think of where you want your career to take you. Write it down. You may have more than one idea; write them down as well. Allow your thoughts to be ambitious, but remain realistic (for instance, if you know you can't endure a decade or more of additional education, don't plan on being a surgeon). These are your long-term goals.

The next exercise is to determine what intermediate steps must be accomplished to reach your long-term goals. If you want to be, say, president of a corporation, determine what skills a president needs—experience in finance, marketing, and operations, perhaps. There are some goals for you.

Continue working backward chronologically (from president to senior management to junior management to supervisor to team leader, for instance), listing the skills, education, and professional contacts needed to hold the positions you have listed until you find yourself listing skills, education, and contacts you currently have. Don't get bogged down in details—you should be outlining the major milestones which must be accomplished. These are your mid-term goals.

After outlining the major milestones, the final step is determining the specific actions needed to accomplish them. Write down those things which can be done in the next six months—these are your immediate goals. They might include joining a professional association or researching graduate programs. These goals develop into your daily or weekly To Do list.

Next, list those things which you intend to accomplish within the year—your short-term goals. Again, talk to counselors, network contacts, and librarians if you don't know exactly what might be involved in accomplishing a goal.

Although the example here was career goals, the same exercise should be done for your financial and lifestyle goals as well. Immediate financial goals may be to open a money market savings account and conduct research on stock mutual funds. Short-term goals may be to commit to putting $25 per month into your savings account and to join the 401(k) retirement plan with your employer.

Lifestyle goals can be trickier to define. Do you want to have a wide circle of friends who are involved in cultural activities? learn to cook like a gourmet? vacation in the Caribbean each year? marry an intelligent, active, funny person and have three children? Some of your lifestyle goals will be tied into financial goals, such as the annual vacation. Others will have mid-term and short-term goals which may include such tasks as participating in community activities, joining social clubs, or committing to an exercise plan.

You may find that you need several sessions to complete this exercise. Make the time and do it now. It is vital to your success and worth the time and effort expended. Guaranteed. To stay active in the pursuit of your goals, mark off immediate goals as you accomplish them, and develop new ones which relate to your short-term goals. As you accomplish your short-term goals, develop new ones based on your mid-term goals, and so on. Continue this process of gradually moving goals up on your lists so you are always working on a piece of a task which will propel you toward your ultimate goals.

You will find these lists invaluable as you are faced daily with decisions about your career, your money, your life. When faced with a job offer, review your career goals. Will this position help you reach one of your goals by providing requisite experience? will they pay for the education you need? does the company have opportunities for moving to another department in the future which is in line with your goals? If a job will not move you toward one or more of your goals, don't take it—even if you feel desperate for cash. If that's the case, sign up with a temporary agency instead or find a part-time job while continuing the search for the right job. You can gain experience as well as money in the process without compromising your priorities.

Has a tempting financial opportunity come your way? Analyze those financial goals. Does this 'opportunity' fit your needs or will it, instead, prevent you from realizing your goals? This is where your written goals really do their job. A lot of thought was put into defining them and you have committed yourself to accomplishing them. So you should never regret nor feel guilty about passing up an 'opportunity' that does not fit into your plan.

Car purchases often take people off the proper financial track. It sure would feel good to drive that sporty red model, wouldn't it? Not if it meant that your financial goals wouldn't be met--no vacation this year, no down payment for a house in five years. Avoid the temptation and stay on track.

Even personal relationships can benefit from your goal lists. Think about them if you find yourself getting involved with a handsome fellow whose only interest is watching sports on TV. If your true desire is to attend cultural events on a regular basis, who will attend with you? Not this fellow. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't date him, but a serious relationship with someone whose goals are far different than your own could be catastrophic in the long run.

Okay! You have your goals written and assigned to a timetable, and you use them in making decisions. You're set, right? Not so fast. What will you do if one of the planned events doesn't happen--you don't get promoted to supervisor or an unexpected car repair costs several hundred dollars? These events can prevent you from reaching your goals. Now what?

Don't wait until a roadblock is thrown in your path before planning on how to get around it. Devise a contingency plan, a Plan B. For each of your major milestones, develop an alternate set of goals which you will implement if the milestone cannot be met. This is not to say that you should devise an entirely different scenario for yourself. "If I can't move into the manufacturing department, I will never be president, so I'll open a daycare center instead" is going a bit far.

If you miss a promotion, or an opportunity you were hoping for doesn't materialize, perhaps the answer is to move to another company. Another very real possibility in today's business climate is being laid off. Your Plan B will be a guiding light for you in this situation. In searching for a new position, review your plan to determine the right place to pick up the path toward your final destination. You won't make panic-induced decisions if you have a contingency in place--keep your cool and continue to move ahead.

By always keeping your ultimate, long-term goals in mind--by using the lists and timetables you've created--you can make important decisions with confidence, knowing they are the 'right' decisions for you.

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