Wednesday 5 June 2024

Setting specific implementation intentions

Setting specific implementation intentions involves clarifying the precise actions needed to achieve goals within a specified time. The specificity is not about the outcomes but rather the detailed, step-by-step actions required.

Shallow work keeps you from getting fired. Deep work gets you promoted - Cal Newport

If you are using time blocking to manage your work, well done. It is an effective method for engaging in deep work. Setting specific implementation intentions allows you to achieve the deep work you aim to do, making your time blocks actionable.

Simply having a vague block of time on the calendar can lead to overwhelm. A time block alone does not indicate what that time is for. You might end up wasting time figuring out what you are supposed to do instead of actually doing it.

Let's take an example. If you have a meeting from 10:00 to 11:00 AM today, a time block would appear on your calendar. Setting specific implementation intentions looks something like this:

Preparation (9:30 AM - 10:00 AM)

  • Review Agenda: "At 9:30 AM, I will review the meeting agenda and prepare my notes and questions."
  • Gather Materials: "At 9:45 AM, I will collect all relevant documents and reports."
  • Clarify Roles: "At 9:50 AM, I will review my role and responsibilities for the meeting to ensure I am prepared."

During the Meeting (10:00 AM - 11:00 AM)

  • Stay Focused: "At the start of the meeting, I will close unrelated tabs and mute notifications on my devices."
  • Active Participation: "During the meeting, I will listen actively and contribute my prepared points when relevant."
  • Take Notes: "I will keep a notepad or document open to jot down key takeaways and action items."
  • Clarify Next Steps: "Before the meeting ends, I will clarify any action items and responsibilities to ensure everyone is on the same page."

Follow-Up (11:00 AM - 11:30 AM)

  • Review and Organize Notes: "Immediately after the meeting, I will review my notes and organize them into actionable items."
  • Send Follow-Up Email: "Within 30 minutes of the meeting, I will draft and send a follow-up email to all participants summarizing key points and action items."
  • Update Task List: "After sending the follow-up email, I will update my task list with any new tasks and set reminders for deadlines."

By creating a granular plan like the one above, you have the right prompts necessary to focus on what will make your contribution better rather than on what needs to happen next.

I want to highlight the importance of having the necessary items on hand. A lot of time is wasted during work when trying to assemble the supporting materials needed to complete tasks. When the items required for the work are not pre-assembled and readily accessible, we end up wasting precious mental resources on that, instead of focusing on the task at hand.

Achievement of goals requires good systems.

You do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems – James Clear

You might not want to have a very detailed implementation intention as outlined above. It can be shorter and more specific to common prompts you need to remind yourself about. The details are up to you, but practicing this helps you focus and prepare. 

Happiness, after all, is practical and intentional action. The source of unhappiness is the gap between what one intends to do and what one is unable to achieve.

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