Every few years, I write about my annual goal and priority setting process, incorporating new learnings as appropriate and adapting to the ever-changing path of my own work-job-career and life. For 2022, I’m coming to my goals and priorities from a new perspective, and with a pivot in my work-job-career that has led to a pivot in my priorities. I’m taking a similar approach as before, but now with a whole new direction, and so a new list of priorities.
As I described back in 2016, I’ve adapted an approach known as The Wheel of Life to fit my own more linear or list-oriented way of looking at the world. The process has evolved and settled into three-step approach I now call Robyn’s priority process:
I refer to alignment rather than balance because everyone’s work-job-career and life are constantly in motion, constantly changing. When things are balanced, they are static; one additional element or change and the balance is lost. With alignment, like in a well-tuned vehicle, things run smoothly and feel even and in control; the road ahead may be dark or windy or bumpy, but the car is running well and can take on that changing terrain.
I’ve been doing this process annually since 2014. In that year, I was looking ahead to a potential new role, a bit daunted by the process to get there and the even scarier possibility of being successful. I wanted the new role, but still – it was big and new and scary. Fortunately for me, that was also the year I started working with a coach, and he introduced The Wheel of Life early in the year as a way to set goals. I eventually established my own 3-step approach outlined above, which resulted in a list of priorities that became the basis for my annual goal-setting ever since.
Since I was looking ahead to a big new role, and my work-job-career was a dominant feature of my life, it’s no surprise that the priorities were very job-centric. Here’s what I had as priorities and rankings in 2014:
As I grew in my work and advanced in my career, and I learned from my experiences, my priorities changed along with me. In 2016, I added “Medium- to long-term job security” as a ninth priority, with a high ranking. Number 3 (ongoing recognition) went down to “low” as number 4 (development of others) moved from medium and eventually to high. A few years, later, number 1 (contribution to a greater good) expanded to include “an organization that I respect”. While number 5 (compensation) maintained a high ranking over time, it evolved to include more intrinsic benefits like flexible time, minimal and pedestrian commute, and consideration of my own compensation relative to others.
Several of these principles and priorities are interrelated. Recognition and appreciation – a true sense from other leaders and my team members that what I’m doing is helpful and valued – can sometimes supplement the compensation element, and it is related to the sense of contribution and team. The autonomy over work and time directly enables the opportunity to contribute to the development of others, especially through enable the time and freedom to focus on those things. Those interrelations, combined with the balancing possible with the rankings, make these principles and priorities a flexible and ongoing process. Certainly, I used this as an annual checklist of sorts, but by reviewing and considering it more regularly, especially when something felt a bit off, I could refocus and adjust as needed.
With any approach like this, when the balance is way off, you can ask yourself the big scary questions: is this work-job-career no longer a fit for me? Is it the role, or the organization, or the boss, or some blend of all three? These questions can arise just when you’ve had a bad day, or perhaps emerge after a difficult few weeks or months. You might also consider if it’s you that has changed: is it me? Have my priorities and principles changed so that they no longer align with the job? Is the work-job-career the same, but now I’m different? That can also happen; we all grow and evolve and experience big non-work things that then affect our perspectives on our work-job-career. Maybe you’ve had a significant loss or change in your life that has shifted your values and principles such that your priorities have also shifted.
There are lots of articles you can read and quizzes that you can take to assess whether to look for a new job (or just leave your current one). The benefit of the 3-step approach is that you’re not relying on someone else’s priorities and requirements – the priorities are yours. If you’re reviewing and ranking and evaluating regularly, you can truly consider if the current state is anomalous and temporary or a new-normal and permanent, and how that aligns (or not) for you. And then you have a firmer basis on which to make decisions and plans that will realign your work-job-career and your own priorities and principles.
With the exception of 2017 (a highly disrupted year), I kept essentially the same priorities list through 2021. Through 2020 and most of 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many things shifted for everyone. I was in a very difficult but also very rewarding role, and I was performing well, even described as “thriving” by a colleague. At the start of 2021, all of my priorities were being met or even exceeded in my work-job-career, especially with opportunities to contribute to a greater good, to the development of others, and to the leadership and care for a team. It was the crest of a career wave where everything is working well and alignment is perfect.
We all know what happens with waves. By mid-November 2021, after more than 18 years, I was abruptly out of my work-job-career. But that’s a story for another time.
By January 2022, it was time to revisit and refresh my priorities, this time with a new work-job-career to focus on - my own company, Lyric Management. I took some time to consider how best to pivot and move forward, and a new set of priorities emerged.
While reflecting many of the same principles as before, with similar emphases on respect, contribution, fairness, and growth, these have pivoted to focus on me as the boss and the organization. There are also more direct elements of non-work priorities, especially in numbers 7 and 9:
Some people have called this pivot in my work-job-career my “semi-retirement”, but that belies the precipitous unemployment that necessitated this new phase. While I agree that this greater emphasis and effort on my own business was always a part of my developing retirement plans, starting it on the back foot of a sudden dismissal was not part of that plan. However, holding true to the stoic principle of seeing the obstacle as the way, I believe I will successfully pivot and go in that other direction with clarity and confidence, principle and purpose. Indeed, I think I already am.
Will these new priorities and principles align with my new work-job-career and life? I’ll be following-up on them throughout the coming year, and so I’ll let you know, but so far, so good.
* The inspiration for "just so much and no more", from A Fish Out of Water, by Helen Palmer Geisel, published in 1961, and read and loved by me in the early 1970s.
What approaches do you find effective for goal and priority setting? Do your priorities change over time? Has an approach like this helped you to make a change or get through a big transition? Please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions and feedback.
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Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.