Goal Setting 101: What I’ve Learned from Engineering

The machinery is humming in the background. I’m on my 10th email chain of the day and my eyes are drooping from the drudgery of answering the same questions I have been asked a thousand times by a thousand different people. The need for movement rises up inside me until I can take it no longer. Luckily I have a plant that needs attention in the background, so I gather my PPE, pickup my tape measure and a legal pad, and walk out of the office. Heat and the smell of rubber blasts my face as the unconditioned environment envelopes my body. I peer around and everywhere is a different problem to solve, a different project to start, a new complaint from an operator to settle. It’s a sea of endless improvement opportunity and I have to start cataloging my findings. The walk wakes up my mind and my senses and I have reset.

TL;DR – I got antsy sitting in my seat so I decided to go into the plant and find something to do.

Actual footage of me working at the plant

POINT IS, this is the beginning of my routine for designing projects and improvements, all of which involve some big brain planning which, let’s face it, I am NOT cut out for. You see, despite my decent ability to problem solve, that ability is contrasted with my appalling ability to stay organized. Goal setting to the rescue! I have developed a system to see goals through. Now I will warn, just as everything else on this page, I am very imperfect at executing on my own plans. Here’s the catch though; if I constantly keep trying methods to help a portion of my life, the habit of trying will cascade to the other methods causing positive feedback. Which segways quite nicely into my first rule:

  1. A Perfect Plan Doesn’t Exist – And if it did it wouldn’t work. In the wise words of the, admittedly insane, but, talented General George S. Patton “An imperfect plan implemented immediately and violently will always succeed better than a perfect plan.” This reads as some sort of self-help book truism, but lets use a little bit of logic to see why so many people could actually gain from the idea within. Almost everything in life has a point at which the time put in outweighs the outcome of the effort. Known colloquially as the point of diminishing returns, this phenomena is roughly described in a statistical projection known as the Pareto Distribution. You may start thinking now “Oh brother, he is just citing that book about the 80:20 rule!” Wrong my friend. I have never read that book, but what I have done is MADE HUNDREDS OF PARETO DISTRIBUTIONS AT MY JOB. The logarithmic nature of everything we do in life is eerily accurate. How can we use it to our advantage? Well, I’m not advocating to present an 80% complete project to your boss at a conference, but lets say, for the sake of argument, you go to your boss with a project plan that is 80% complete. In that case there is a great chance they look at that plan just as favorably as a 100% complete plan, or at least the risk of being declined the project was not worth the extra 20% you put into the plan before the project was even started. If you stick with this you can save crucial time you could be using to acquire resources for the project, run trials, and present findings. The fact of the matter is, the 80% project is good enough, and it allows you to maintain your momentum and build your skills by having to think on your feet about the extra 20% that wasn’t planned for. When I make Pareto charts, I tackle the largest items first, then leave the smallest items to find another project with more potential. if you eliminate 80% of 10 issues its vastly superior to eliminating 100% of 2 issues. Perfect is dumb pursuit of it is dumber. Your time demands it, aaannnnnnnnd segway 2!
Is it just me or does Patton look like a certain 2016 US president…

2. Schedule Your Time – Every hour of the day is an hour that you could be learning, earning, and churning. A schedule is the perfect way to maximize your work time and your free time. Dedication of time creates efficiency of work, allowing you to spend less time working, more time earning, and more time doing what you want. As with diets, exercise and learning, it is best to start simple and upgrade as you go. If the best you can do is just write down things you remember on the day you need to remember them then the habit is developing it just needs time. This is quite possibly the most difficult part of the goal setting process as it requires much more memory that I personally lack. Regardless as I build the habit of creating schedules, using schedules and developing more short term to do lists, I find my stress decrease. There are two pieces of advice that will help develop scheduling as a skill:

1.) Find a job or hobby that requires some level of scheduling. Admit to your superior or mentor that you are lacking in scheduling and organizational skills and that you would like to learn. Any good leader will help you through the progress and allow you to struggle without punishing the learning behavior. If this isn’t the case, you need to search for new leadership.

2.) Find your fudge ratio. Typically people underestimate the time it will take to complete a task by a margin of 1.5 – 2 at a surprisingly consistent rate. It is almost as if the old internal ticker is working correctly but someone has thrown it in a different time zone. You need to re-calibrate your internal clock and measure how long it takes to complete task while recording your predicted time and your actual time. As you continue you will see that a pattern will emerge and that it will start to correct itself as you become aware of the inherent misalignment of your own brains perception of time.

There are certain tools that will help you plan your time, more effectively and determine how your time is better suited. It’s best to start with Google Calendar and move up, but at the high end you will see scheduling tools as powerful as the Gantt chart which was dreamed up by a commie industrial engineer back a hundred years ago or so for the sole purpose of proper time management during work and projects. You know what, don’t use his charts. They’re communist propaganda. NEXT!

Mayan Calendar Background Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image.  Image 15180605.
Sometimes at work you gotta pull out you Mayan calendar just to remind people that the world could end at any moment

3. Create Actionable Items – In order to maintain your timeline and schedule properly, actions need to be taken to complete portions of the goal or project. Make sure the items you perform are MEASURABLE. A goal is useless unless it can be quantified in some fashion, so make sure the actions you have to complete for it are as well. This concept of measurable goals can be hard to master in practice, but once you start to master it you begin to see the patterns of measurement categories. But I will give one hint for when you are stuck with developing a measurement to track: Think in terms of “At what point do I need to decrease a particular habit, behavior, or process for it to significantly impact my productivity, well-being, or work output for the amount of time put in” , or “To what extent can I improve or implement a habit, behavior, or process to significantly impact my productivity, well-being, or work output for the amount of time put in.” This won’t work for every situation. Sometimes your goal can be more problem oriented rather than solution oriented. Here’s an example. Let’s say there’s an issue in my plant and we have it on good evidence that a particular setting is causing it. My goal can be to increase the amount of units discovered with the issue before they make it to the next process to form data about how, why, and what we should do if the non-conformity begins to rise. I don’t problem oriented goals are a great basis for actionable items leading to the overall goal. Sometimes your goal is to just start from square one or to start over with a previous goal, but at least you have a foundation to build your actions and your life around.

And finally…

Stand up is very hard.. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome. This Bear… | by Kevin  Maltusch | Medium

4. Adapt – I will keep this one brief, but the ability to adapt and roll with the punches really helps keep your spirits up when working toward your goals. As with step one, no plan is perfect. Part of the fun and reward of working towards a goals should be a natural resistance to the goal coming to fruition. As they say iron sharpens iron. As you sharpen your ideas, they sharpen you.

I really can go on about a topic…

Sorry this took so long everyone… I struggled to write this, but such is the name of the game. The thing that counts is that I was able to follow through and finish it. As an actual final tip I would like to say to stick with your goal even if its not met initially. The momentum of completion bleeds into your work like sharpie through a white T-shirt. Keep hammering away one chip off the block at a time and you will be surprised at how your mindset naturally inclines toward the discomfort of struggle. The discomfort feels strangely fresh when you realize how little you have been accomplishing. This article may be a work in progress as I find better ways to express my ideas, but I will try to keep you updated with my latest thoughts.


2 Comments on “Goal Setting 101: What I’ve Learned from Engineering

  1. I finally found (took?) the time to read your blog. I found it interesting, challenging, and helpful. I will continue my goal even though I fall off the wagon often. I also found it to be revealing of you. With possible regret and apologies I see very much of myself in you. Sorry🙁Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


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