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Do You Walk the Critical Path?

Do you find yourself often looking for more time in the day to do the things you need to get done? With competing interests and a growing plate of responsibilities, it has become rather difficult to effectively “juggle” your responsibilities. Family, work, honey-do’s, fun stuff, not-so fun stuff that you have to do – it all adds up and begins subtracting your time, your focus, and your energy reserve.

A simple question I have begun to ask myself, “Am I walking my critical path?”

The critical path is not a bad thing; the critical path, or Critical Path Method (CPM), is a project management tool used to define the total time it will take to complete all tasks in a project, as well as whether this project is on target, in jeopardy, or behind schedule. If the project is on-schedule to be completed in the desired time, it is considered to be on the critical path.

CPM has been taught to me time and again in both project management and personnel management. However, applying this to your life can be a real eye opener – IF you allow it to open your eyes.

Let’s say your life is the project. Generally speaking, none of us really know when we are going to die. However, many of us expect to live some period of time before we do, so this is where the Critical Path becomes important.

The key to this exercise is remembering your time is finite.

First, we must choose to do those things that are most important to us first and foremost. For instance, I do have to go to work everyday, but my top priority is to come home and be with my daughter at least 2 nights a week, have a date night with my wife 1 night a week, spend all day on Saturday with my daughter, and spend all day Sunday with my whole family. These are not flexible. If one has to be taken by some work priority, then it is replaced immediately with time from another of “my other days”.

When I ended my tour of duty with the USMC, they offered exit training. This was geared to help Marines, young and old, make the transition into the civilian sector more prepared. I must say, this was some of the best career advice I ever got.

First thing I was asked was to evaluate what was important to me. I thought it was money. So the trainer asked me how far would I ethically go for money? Would I move to the Middle East? Would I live on a submarine for 6 months at a time? Would I leave my family for a year at a time to follow the almighty dollar?

“Well, of course not.” was my reply. He then leaned in a little close so I could smell the coffee on his breath, and whispered, “So money is not what is most important to you then.”

This created the first, recurring task on my critical path – my faith and my family. Next, came my career goals , followed by my other goals such as education and fun.

My critical path became filled with goals that I “backed into”. I knew I wanted to make a certain salary figure before 10 years, I knew I wanted to finish my BS degree in 6 years, I knew I wanted to take a beach trip in 2 years. Those became goals I then turned into sub-projects and established milestones to accomplish – all keeping these in relation to my primary goal.

As I have reached the end of my 10 year goal setting exercise, I have found myself meandering a bit. I have allowed the noise and static to fill my head on more occasions than one, and have now began to reassess my critical path.

Here are some tips I have learned that I wanted to share:

1. Know yourself: Do you know what you want in life and how you are going to get it? Are you a student of life?

2. Know your goals: Which are set in stone and which are flexible?

3. Know how to achieve your goals: This requires integrity, resolution, patience, and empathy for others.

4. At the beginning of your day, write a list of what you have to get accomplished and what can wait if need be.

5. Allot time to put out fires if you know fires will come up. Do not begrudge the fires as they are another method of defining your critical path.

6. Seek out mentors and try to learn as much as you can from their wisdom (remember: mentors can even offer painful lessons of what not to do as well).

7. Seek out colleagues to share ideas and bounce ideas off of.

8. Set aside some self-reflection or meditation time in your daily routine. This will help you stay centered.

9. Find something that you can be the best and and be the best at it, but do not let it consume you.

10. Do not stress about the things you cannot control. Either focus your energy on the things you can affect, or create a resolution to put yourself in a position to affect the situation.

So, the critical path you must find is within you. It does not come in a wave, but in fits and starts at first. Then, like the rising of the tide, your critical path brings you a quiet power that cannot be stopped and a fulfillment no person can take away.