The Importance of Success Criteria

How do you know when you are done? Complete? Ready to move on to the next thing/task?  Success criteria. And yet seldom do we define those criteria for the activities in our lives.

I noticed this morning that I was able to leave the house, without any guilt, for a morning walk because I was well and truly ready for my morning meetings. I knew what had to be done and I had done it the day before. I left my office last night and said these words “I have finished my work for the day.” And I really meant finished with the day’s work. Not worked until a certain time, not worked until I was too tired to work more, not worked until something else called me away. But done for the day. Complete. What a wonderful feeling!

Too often we take on so much work that the best we can do is work as much and as fast as we can until the clock runs out and the assignment/project/activity is due. And then on to the next one. There is no feeling of completion, no downtime (even an evening) between one and the next. And that, I believe, adds a tremendous amount of systemic stress to our lives.

We create to-do lists that are endless.

Back in the day, we had a finite list of activities to be accomplished. A long list perhaps, but finite. Mow the fields, milk the cows, reap the crops, wash the clothes, etc. Then in our office work, we had very defined task lists, including time. Time was sold to the company paying wages, in addition to specific output.  Now, we are almost never tied to time but always tied to output. Productivity measures have shown great improvement over the past decades due in large part to the fact that we are working more. We are never finished.

A mentor told me that “Success not Perfection” was one of his great keys to life. I thought he meant “good enough” but now I suspect he also meant something deeper (he’s that kind of guy).  We need to structure our work so that we know the measurements and criteria for success. What does this look like? On a project basis, the clearer you can be about this the better. Optimize your efforts; there is no shortage of projects to work on! On a daily basis, what 3 things must be done today? Do them, and be done.  At home, what must be done to be enough? What can be done by others? The 10,000 things of daily life will always be there. You cannot complete them all. Create clarity about your success criteria, work to complete those tasks directly related to that success, and call it complete.

Enjoy your evening.


© Karen D. Walker 2013