“The Zorro circle”: Managing big things by setting small goals

In the movie, “The Mask of Zorro”, Zorro in his younger days tried to take on every criminal he came across but was quickly out of his depth and ended up badly beaten and results in him turning to drink and losing his direction.

A sword-master later discovers Zorro’s potential and agrees to train him. He quickly realises that Zorro does not have focus and gets distracted by many things going on around him. He draws a circle in the sand around Zorro and tells him, “This circle will be your world…until I tell you otherwise, there is nothing outside of it”. Slowly Zorro masters his sword technique by first focussing on his arm movements, then his leg movements, then acrobatics, each time his sword-master drawing slightly larger circles around him. By slowly mastering his environment in ever-increasing circles Zorro becomes the greatest sword-fighter of his time!

When you feel overwhelmed by multiple expectations and pressures on you ‘draw’ a Zorro circle around your tasks. Deal with the things you can deal with easily and quickly first then slowly expand the circle to address things that require more energy. Each time you expand your Zorro circle put aside those things outside of it until later. Slowly and methodically deal with each task. Make sure you focus on each task and don’t get distracted by other things. Often you will find that huge mountains of work efficiently crumble and fall away.

Practical tips:
1. Check email and social media (Facebook, Twitter) only twice per day. In the morning and in the afternoon.
2. Allocate a limited frequency and specific time to ‘checking up’ and monitoring activities..and stick to them, e.g. News headlines, Journal articles etc.
3. Make sure your Zorro circles are SMART! (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-wise).
4. Start with the easy things first
5. Refuse to do things outside of your work boundary until you are on top of things
6. Make some other ‘rules’ when you start out to save you having to make decisions over and over. Once things are manageable relax the rules a little.

This tip is one of many that we use in Careerology resilience training. Psychological resilience comes from understanding the way we work and using techniques to armor ourselves against hardship.

Adapted from “The Happiness Advantage” by S Achor

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