Sunrise over New London

The temptation to leap in with guns blazing is never higher than right after the new year. You’re pumped, you’re excited, you’re ready to go. You’re like the little kid staring at the lawn full of fresh snow just after the morning radio announced a snow day for school. You can’t run fast enough towards everything you want to accomplish in 2011.

You’re about to leap off a cliff and hope you learned how to fly between 2010 and 2011.

Before you open your inbox and set up your calendar, before you start to do, I want you to take a few moments to answer three questions:

1. What must I win today?

2. What must I accomplish today?

3. What must I learn today?

Start your day with these three questions. Write down your answers. If the answer to any of them is “I don’t know”, then you’re not ready to go. What’s worse, the things you hated about 2010 will continue to dog you in the new year unless you can develop these answers each and every day.

A short while ago, we talked about how motivation wasn’t enough. Never is this more true than now. You’re motivated, more motivated than you have been in days or weeks. The three questions above refer back to the idea that in order to achieve success, we need to have the means to do so, the motivation to do so, and the opportunity to do so.

When you ask, “what must I win today?”, you are asking what condition of the day will provide you with ongoing motivation. Of everything you want to accomplish, what will be a victory for the day? Maybe it’s getting that workout done first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s having a great call or meeting. You have to know what defines victory for you for today and be ready to celebrate a little when you achieve it. That’s how you power motivation.

When you ask, “what must I accomplish today?”, you are asking for far more than a list of chores. A to-do list is filled with stuff. 90% of the stuff doesn’t move the ball forward at all. It’s busy work, activity that doesn’t bring results. Responding to emails, chatting on IM, hanging out on Twitter, building documents – all of these are activities that may or may not contribute to progress. Figure out what stuff on your to-do list constitutes accomplishment or progress, and make sure that stuff gets done today no matter what. It may not be completed in whole today, but if you are writing a novel, adding 1,000 words to it moves the ball forward, while replying to Tweets does not. This is how you reap opportunity, by doing stuff that matters.

When you ask, “what must I learn today?”, you are asking what tools, ideas, and methods you need to grow your capabilities, to power your goals. If there’s one gap I saw in nearly everyone in 2010 that I interact with personally and professionally, it was a stagnation in your capabilities. You didn’t learn nearly enough, add nearly enough to your toolkits to get the results you wanted. Every day, commit to asking what you need to learn today that will make you more effective, then seek out the knowledge. Google is but a click away. Friends with expertise are but a click away. Teachers who have walked the path before you and know the hazards are but a click away.

Asking these three questions every day will not only help to perpetuate the excitement you feel now over a fresh start, but will also help you leave behind old habits, old customs, old motivations, old ideas, and old practices that might or might not have been working for you.

Right now, opportunity is waiting. Right now, motivation is higher than ever. Right now, the means are within reach of your mouse button or touch screen. Take advantage of now, of today, to ask yourself these three questions before you start the new year, especially the new work year, and set yourself up for success.

May your new year be full of great answers to tough questions!


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