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  • Tracy Costello, PhD

Being intentional will accelerate your career

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. (Mark Twain)

I was recently talking with a colleague who expressed their concern about getting it all done versus enjoying the end of the summer. They were struggling with so many demands on their time and talents, and they shared that they weren’t even sure where to get started. I relayed my experience of sitting in a David Allen “Getting Things Done” workshop many years ago. Near the beginning of that workshop, one of our exercises was to take out a blank sheet of paper and write down everything that we could think of that needed to get done. The point of this exercise was that by putting our to-do list on paper, we can free our mind to think, because we weren’t constantly rehashing it in our heads.

So, what do you do with that list? It’s a mixture of professional and personal items of varying importance. Some items have firm deadlines. Some items may never actually get done. The list represents an opportunity to stop worrying about forgetting things and an opportunity to set priorities, break down tasks into manageable bites, and decide timelines. It represents an opportunity to decide the one big thing that you can get done immediately.

It always seems impossible until it’s done. (Nelson Mandela)


We are all busy. Being intentional about how we spend our time, what goals we set, what projects we take on is critical, now more than ever. As you set goals for what is most important and necessary to achieve, take time to create so called "SMART" goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timebound (SMART). This time investment will inject intentionality into these goals that will improve the odds you will achieve the goal. Investing a little additional time to break down the goal into steps and to think through how each step might face challenges (and how to overcome them) further improves the odds you will achieve the goal.


With these two steps, we now have a prioritized list of tasks and projects and we have an overarching goal or two that will challenge us. The assumption is that there are no unexpected (emergency!) projects or issues that we must deal with. And this leads into the second anecdote that I wanted to share: A colleague recently sent me an email titled “another plate to spin.” I wanted to help solve their problem, to be a team player, and to be agreeable and accommodating. I value their opinion and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint them.

“Yes” is an easy word to say, but one that has the potential to lead to an overfull plate, with projects and tasks falling off, only to be tossed back on top (meaning something else comes sliding off). It’s a dark path that leads to unmet deadlines and individuals who are then disappointed. And that’s one of the very things in the beginning that we didn’t want to do!

“No,” by comparison, is a very powerful word and one that is often difficult to say, for all the reasons above (and more). “No” is indeed a word that we need to use judiciously and with intentionality. There are things we absolutely can’t say no to. But there are some things that we can strategically decline. Be intentional about the projects and tasks that are added to your list and set aside regular time to review the list for things that you can delegate or things that you can say no to.


All of the above represents proactive effort about the future and this effort must be balanced with a retrospective assessment. In addition, it is important to make a renewed promise to be good to yourself: your health and your time are among your most important assets. As we handle all the projects on our lists, we need to ensure that there is time to take care of ourselves, to reward ourselves for our accomplishments, and time to create new memories. We need to ensure that we remember to be kind to ourselves, even as we are generous with our time and talents to benefit others.

One of the biggest lessons of my recent past, as busy as it has been, is that you can accomplish a lot and yet there will always be something undone. It may be something that’s important. Using intentionality to set priorities important to you, you’ll move forward in the direction of your dreams. I wish you the best in all that you do.

Please reach out to book a coaching appointment if a one on one discussion of your situation and needs will help accelerate your career search.

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