Failure is a constant presence in our lives. Each day, you fail at something, whether it's completing all of the day's pertinent tasks, having a productive meeting, or making it to your kid's ballgame.
The inevitability of failure sounds bleak, but it also means that failing isn't something that you have to obsess over. You need to accept it and learn how to deal with it. Art Markman, a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, writes in Harvard Business Review about how unsystematic failures, like not getting to everything on your to-do list, aren't things you need to worry about. You should strive to succeed more than you fail, but that just requires being aware of what's important and not stacking too many things on your plate each day.
It is systematic failure, Markman says--which occurs "when there's a particular goal you want to achieve, but never get to"-- that is more problematic. No matter your goal, he says, systematic failure can be attributed to three major factors. Find out what's tripping you up and how to start succeeding.
1. The battle between short-term and long-term goals
The day-to-day grind is the biggest hurdle in achieving substantial, long-term goals. "Lots of research suggests that our brains are wired to prefer tasks that pay off in the short-term rather than those whose benefit is long-term," Markman writes. People who accomplish their long-term goals do so through regular and habitual focus on those goals. So whatever your objective might be, you need to devote blocks of time to it each week. Eventually, you'll get it done.
2. The allure of easy tasks
Taking care of simple things will whittle away the time you have to focus on important tasks. Markman uses email as a prime example."If you are like most people, you keep your email program open at work all day. Consequently, each new message is an invitation to drop what you are working on to check it," he says. While it feels like work, responding to emails is much easier than tasks like research, writing, or finishing your presentation. You need to block the distractions and the easy assignments. Set timers to indicate when you need to stop emailing and start real work. It sounds silly, but research has found that simple reminders "trigger action," Markman says.
3. Marathon workdays
You might feel the pressure to work as long and as hard as you can every day. As the leader you need to set an example, but brutal hours will actually hurt your chances of accomplishing your goals. "Work is not an Ironman competition where the last person there wins," Markman writes. "Get to know your own capacity for work. Then, strive to work while you are at work and not work when you are not. In that way, you can save time and energy for other non-work goals in your life."