I remember the time I asked my boss whether he was busy and he said, “Everyone knows there’s only one right answer to that question: of course I am!”

Life can be hectic when you’re an achiever. It’s as if staying busy and striving is in our DNA. And to make things worse, it’s ingrained in our environment.

But busy doesn’t equal productive. Just like splashing around in the pool doesn’t mean you’ll get to the other side.

When “busy” doesn’t work

Where the busy achiever approach runs into problems is when you look back one day and realize you didn’t do the things you wanted to do, and you aren’t where you wanted to be.

That’s what leads to regret. But regret is preventable.

You see, I’m a big believer in living a “no regrets” life. It takes being deliberate about how you spend your time, what you say yes to, what you turn down. It means making conscious decisions, and staying “in the moment” whatever you’ve chosen to do.

That doesn’t mean I do it perfectly, or even well. While I have a huge capacity for staying focused on a task, I’m not a natural at staying focused on the right tasks.

For example, I might stick with doing something to perfection when good enough is good enough. And I love taking on new challenges, but they may not be aligned with my goals.

For me, being conscious and staying present is a learned behavior. I need to work hard at it. But it’s worth working on if you want to fulfill your potential and lead the life of your dreams.

So why do we let ourselves get so busy that we hardly look ahead?

Why do we have trouble staying focused on those longer-term goals once we’ve set them?

And why do we put ourselves on a collision course with a life that’s filled with regret?

Neglecting to focus on what matters most

Most of the time it’s because we neglect to focus on what matters most. And it’s an easy thing to do.

This year I said yes to pretty much everything that was put in front of me. And many of those were about helping others achieve their big goals.

I’m a longstanding FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) sufferer. If you are too, then find out how to cope with FOMO.

Once I said yes, it was my reputation at stake. So, to compound matters, I felt compelled to spend a lot of time and energy getting it all done to a high standard.

I’m finally getting to the tail end of all those commitments, and I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Or more accurately, there are some clear days on my calendar now and even more starting next month. What a relief.

Of course, it’s my own fault that I’ve had to go at breakneck speed. Basically, I overcommitted. But now I’ve come up for air, the fact that I’ve neglected to look ahead is hitting me like a ton of bricks.

Last week, I finally looked at my game plan from two months ago and realized that I haven’t done what I set out to do this quarter. This means I’m not on track for the year. Yikes!

But the good news is there’s still time. I’ve got the rest of the year to make it happen. But I need to focus right now.

How about you? Have you taken some time to look ahead, plan ahead and check in with your longer-term goals?

5 smart questions to ask yourself

Since I don’t want you to be in the same position I’ve found myself in, here are 5 questions to ask yourself. Do this right now while there’s still time to take action for the year.

1. Looking ahead

What’s coming up in 12-18 months’ time, and what does that mean you (and your team) need to do in the next 90 days?

Asking this gives you a chance to figure out what groundwork you need to lay in the next six months.

For example, if you’re looking to get a promotion then you’ll have time to figure out the criteria, the decision-makers, and find opportunities to shine. Having time to plan out your strategy can make a big difference. If you wait until a month or two before the promotion process, it’s probably too late.

In my case, now that I’m no longer part of a corporate budgeting process, there’s no external influence making me do the look ahead and planning. So my team and I have been much more “seat of the pants” than is good for the business.

But just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to see the beauty of planning ahead. It allows us to innovate because the whole team can see what’s coming, and contribute creative ideas on how to make the most of each item.

If everything goes according to plan (yes, it’s now a beautiful word!) then you’ll start to see some innovation in the content we provide, so stay tuned.

2. Looking back

What did you say you wanted to do this year, do you still want to do those things, and are you taking the right steps?

Whether or not you make them formal goals, you have things that you want to accomplish for the year. Maybe it’s to invest in growing your skills, spend more time with family, build your business or something else altogether.

Whatever goals you’ve set, it pays to check that they still make sense six months into the year. After all, situations can change.

And if they’re still things you want to do, the best way to stay on track is to keep those goals firmly in mind as you go through each day.

In my case, I strayed from my original intent to focus on serving more people. Instead, I couldn’t resist taking on a new project that took a huge amount of time and energy for a full six months.

It was a big success, but it came at the cost of sticking to the plan. We’re still going to execute on the plan, but everything has been pushed back by half a year.

As they say, time is the only thing you can’t get back or make more of.

How about you? Have you been true to your plan for the year?

3. Relationships

Who haven’t you spoken to or met with lately but need to?

This is a big one, because one of the three things you can’t cram in life is relationship building. And your network of relationships is key to your success.

There’s no such thing as a self-made woman or man. We all need a community of people to support us, bounce ideas around with, and challenge us to be our very best.

The thing is, it doesn’t take that much time if you do a little bit each day. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that’s super easy to put off, but will come back to haunt you in the form of shame and regret.

For example, there’s one client that I hadn’t spoken to for six months. I got busy, and I thought they would call me (I know, I should know better!). Then by the time I realized we hadn’t spoken for a while, it was already three months later.

I felt embarrassed that so much time had passed so I procrastinated some more. And now, it’s even later and more embarrassing. But I just sent them an email to reconnect and we’ll see what happens.

Who’s on your list? What part of your network do you need to connect or reconnect with? Maybe it’s your sponsor, mentors, clients, business partners, family or friends. Could you reach out to one of them today?

4. The bigger picture

What’s your focus for the longer term, what matters most to you, and are your actions reflecting that?

It could be to get a new degree, write a book, prepare for promotion, start a family, or explore your next opportunity.

Think of it as your equivalent of the Olympics – that bigger picture goal you’re working toward, and need to incorporate into your daily life.

For me, it’s doing a TEDxTalk, speaking on more stages and having my own “TV show” where I interview people and share actionable ideas that help my audience be better leaders and more successful.

What is that bigger goal you’re striving for?

5. The here and now

What have you been putting off until later, and which of those items need attention now?

There’s a difference between the things you decide to do at a future date and the things you put off until later.

The first category is a conscious choice based on sound decision-making. For example, sometimes you have to wait until others have done their work before you can begin yours.

The latter is procrastination, and it’s all too easy to do. Judging from the volume of books and articles on the topic, we procrastinators are not alone. But ultimately, it’s a drag on your energy and stops you from achieving your goals.

I’ve been procrastinating on some important things. Like reaching out to “rock stars” in my industry to build relationships and invite to some cool new projects I’ve got in the works. Plus, writing articles for some major publications.

My solution to stop procrastination and get more done is getting my team involved in helping me identify some key steps that each of us can take. This has generated the momentum to get these things pulled into the present so we can get them done.

What’s on your list? How do your answers to questions 1-4 inform what you need to do right here and right now? And who do you need to involve to help make things happen?

Conclusion

If you and I were professional athletes, we would already know the competitions we were training for in the next 12-18 months. And if we planned to compete in the Olympics, we’d be looking 3-4 years ahead and training accordingly.

So let’s take a leaf from the athletes’ book to look ahead, make a plan, and gather a team around us to help us stick to it.

Start by asking yourself these 5 questions:

  • What’s coming up in 12-18 months’ time, and what does that mean you (and your team) need to do in the next 90 days?
  • What did you say you wanted to do this year, do you still want to do those things, and are you taking the right steps?
  • Who haven’t you spoken to or met with lately but need to?
  • What’s your focus for the longer term, what matters most to you, and are your actions reflecting that?
  • What have you been putting off until later, and which items need attention now?

What’s at stake here is your life of no regrets.

What do you need to do now to have the kind of year you want next year, and a life of no regrets?

Leave a comment and let me know.