Improved time management never just happens. Neither does improved personal productivity. Both are results of conscious, deliberate goal setting followed by planning for the achievement of goals and taking action to bring goals into reality. Goal setting begins with an awareness of the present and a desire to change the future. Since time management is largely a manner of present habits, goals for desired changes must arise from an awareness of the present.


Your mental picture of yourself, the image you would like to project to others, and what you truly are dramatically affect your productivity, because your self-image controls how you use time. You act like the kind of person you think you are. It is impossible to act otherwise for any length of time–no matter how much willpower you exercise. People who think of themselves as failures inevitably fail regardless of the amount of time they spend working. What appears to be “trying hard” to succeed may actually be unproductive busy work that reinforces a negative self-image and produces failure. In contrast, people who expect to succeed focus their attention and efforts on constructive activities that produce results.

The attitudes you have today result from a complex history of past experiences and your reactions to them. High on the list of experiences forming your self-image are the opinions and injunctions you frequently heard expressed by parents or other significant adults in childhood. The injunctions most often repeated became part of your thinking and continue to influence your actions. These early teachings were intended to impress you with the value of time and the importance of using it productively–for example, “Don`t just stand there; do something,” or “Don`t just sit there; get busy.” The subconscious influence of some early conditioning experiences may be positive, but others may lead to an emphasis on external appearances instead of genuine accomplishments or effective personal productivity.

As a responsible leader, you can choose today to discard any past conditioning that cripples effectiveness and limits productivity. Changing defeatist attitudes or negative thinking is possible because you have infinitely more talent and capability than you have ever used. To strengthen your self-image, begin to identify specific attitudes that have stifled the success you desire and deserve. Set goals to make greater use of your potential. Next, develop a stronger, positive self-image. Desired changes then become realities.

When you know who you are, you feel secure in the self-confidence that comes from accepting and appreciating your true potential. When you are no longer chained to self-defeating attitudes from the past or fears about what other people might think, you can experience the exhilarating challenge that makes every hour productive. Such confident security is one of the most valuable by-products of a program of personal goals. When you have established worthwhile goals and determined priorities for meeting them, you are free to be yourself–to work and achieve in whatever way is most effective. A positive self-image releases your potential to accomplish remarkable and rewarding results.


To gain full mastery of your attitudes, your time, and your life, immerse yourself in a total program of personal and organizational goals. Many personal goals involve items money can buy, and your career is the means for earning that money. Other personal goals focus on meeting such intangible needs as security, ego satisfaction, and self-fulfillment, which are inevitably tied to the work environment. When you recognize this relationship both intellectually and emotionally, you realize that productivity leads to the satisfaction of your personal needs and professional success.

Reaching your fire department goals requires the cooperation of everyone in the fire department. Ideally, everyone plays an appropriate part in choosing business goals, planning for their achievement, and working out the action steps. Few departments, however, are ideals. Some goals may be handed down to you with little opportunity for your input. You may find it easy to be wholeheartedly committed to the achievement of these goals, but it is possible that you might find yourself in partial disagreement with a particular goal or plan. At this point, carefully examine your priorities and values to determine exactly how you can contribute to the achievement of stated goals and grow personally by doing so–even though you might have preferred to see the organization move in another direction. Express your ideas about particular organizational goals and plans to the right person at the right time. Only in the case of a serious clash between your personal values and those of the organization will you find it impossible to contribute appropriately. With careful consideration, you can gain insights into ways that will enable you to contribute to the department`s productivity and long-term success.

One element to consider in personal and organizational goal setting is the time investment required. Most organizations develop more ideas for profit and expansion than they have resources for carrying them out. Consequently, some criteria must be established for choosing time-profitable ventures. Traditionally, these decisions are based on projected return on investment of capital. Obviously, some projects that promise high return require more time on the part of team members than others. In strategic planning, organizations not only must consider the amount of financial involvement, but they also must realistically plan for the amount of time key people will require to implement and supervise the project. Some projects that promise a high return on the investment of capital are impractical when the amount of time required by certain team members is considered.

To ensure adequate time to undertake exciting new projects, all members of the organization must practice time-proven goal-setting principles. This is one strategy that always pays big dividends.


Goal setting is the most powerful process available to improve your personal productivity. Without planning and goal setting, all the desire that can be aroused in the limitless potential of the human spirit is wasted like the random lightning of a summer storm. It squanders its force in one flash across the heavens and is lost in the void of space without utility, purpose, or direction. It goes unharnessed and unused, its potential power wasted. Ironically, the contrast resulting from its sudden brilliance seems to leave behind an even darker future once the momentary glare fades.

In striking contrast, goal setting supported by careful planning provides a sense of direction to keep you focused on the most important activities. Goals serve as a filter to eliminate extraneous demands. Goals bring life to order, meaning, and purpose that sustain interest and motivation over a long period of time. Goals evoke your noblest qualities; they express your desire to achieve or improve your life and to be more effective, more productive, and more successful tomorrow than you are today.

Although success has different meaning to different people, there is a definition that fits your dreams as well as those of all others: Success is the progressive realization of worthwhile predetermined personal goals.

Success does not come by accident; you cannot buy it, inherit it, or even marry into it. Success depends on following lifelong proactive goal setting and continuous growth–the process of “progressive realization.” Success also depends on seeking predetermined goals. Although many worthwhile achievements come as side effects of some other activity or purpose, they are, nevertheless, a direct consequence of the pursuit of predetermined goals. The full, ultimate effect of reaching a specific goal is not always clearly visible immediately, but the important point to recognize is that achievement and increased personal productivity invariably arise as a direct consequence of striving toward predetermined goals.

The sole purpose of the goal-setting process is to guide you on the entire journey from wish to fulfillment. The steps in the process are simple but not simplistic, comprehensive but not complex. Be patient, and keep an open mind until the overall pattern of activity begins to unfold. Just remember that you are what you are today because of events that unfolded over time and the choices you made in response to those events. When you wish to change–to alter attitudes or habits or develop new personality traits that will increase your effectiveness–that, too, takes time. Individual pace may vary, but the sequential process of goal setting does not; so follow the plan as outlined. When you internalize the goal-setting process, your goals create a magnetic attraction that draws you toward their achievement.

Success is the progressive achievement of worthwhile goals. But before you forge ahead into a complete goal-setting system for your life, you first need to understand and formulate a mission statement for your personal life and your fire department life, because goals grow out of your mission. Mission statements are extremely valuable, because what you say you are greatly affects what you actually become. You tend to fulfill your own self-definition; you behave in a manner consistent with the purpose to which you have committed yourself. Possessing a clear purpose and knowing where you are going exert a powerful influence on productivity.


A written goals program ensures that you identify achievements that will ultimately prove most meaningful to you. Writing your goals forces you to clarify and crystallize your thinking. A written goals program is also the basis for measuring progress. So commit your plan for personal growth and achievement to writing. Definite plans produce definite results. Indefinite plans, in contrast, produce little or no results. Developing a written plan for achieving your goals provides a number of significant benefits:

1. Written goals save time. You are continuously bombarded by demands on your time. Write down your goals to keep yourself on course, to minimize interruptions, and to focus your attention. You always know what to do next when your goals are committed to writing.

2. Written goals help measure progress. Motivation is greatest when there are objectives by which you can measure and monitor accomplishments.

3. Written goals produce motivation. Goals on paper lend clarity to your purpose and strengthen dedication to their achievement. Written goals remind you of your mission and objectives. Each time you review your goals, you become more excited about working toward them.

4. Written goals reduce conflict. Conflicts between your values and use of time become obvious when your plans are written out. Written plans help you to identify conflicts between various priorities and eliminate damaging frustration.

5. Written goals form a basis for action. Written goals are just words on pieces of paper until you take action. List specific action steps for moving from the daydream stage to the reality of solid accomplishments. Be sure action steps are logical and practical tasks you are willing and able to undertake. Written plans are the foundation of success, but action is the springboard to actual success and increased productivity.

6. Written goals stimulate visualization. With your plans written out, you can visualize future results more easily and clearly. You believe more strongly in the possibility of success and become more motivated to reach your goals when you practice the habit of visualization.


Powerful time-savers in any undertaking are planning and goal setting. Without them, no amount of activity or hard work will ever produce meaningful results or increase your personal productivity. But with them, your efforts propel you toward the progressive realization of your worthwhile, predetermined goals.

The basic challenge in planning and goal setting is finding blocks of uninterrupted time. Interruptions–like meetings, day-to-day routines, and the necessity of dealing with all sorts of major and minor crises–take up time or break it into such small segments that it is difficult or even impossible to achieve the connected thought essential for effective planning. Remember, most time is wasted not in hours but in minutes. A bucket with a small hole in the bottom gets just as empty as a bucket that is deliberately kicked over. So, consider all blocks of time–small and large.

With determination, you can find the time you need for planning. Improving your personal productivity depends on it. At the beginning of each week, block out specific times that will be reserved for planning. Mark them on your calendar. Give instructions about how callers are to be handled and what constitutes an emergency worth an interruption. Then follow your plan. An occasional true emergency or unanticipated meeting may alter your schedule. But unless you reserve it and protect it, the time you need for planning will never automatically become available. You do not find time; you schedule it.

As difficult as it may sometimes appear to schedule time for planning, a more serious, underlying problem is overcoming the attitudes that frequently stand in the way of reserving time for planning. We are prone to feel uncomfortable unless we are physically “doing” something. We may fear that we are somehow lazy or ineffective unless we are shuffling papers, manipulating objects, or talking about work with other people. We are concerned that someone will catch us sitting apparently idle and conclude that we are “not getting anything done” and have nothing productive to offer the organization. These attitudes are difficult to overcome, because they are ingrained by many years of conditioning. But attitudes are merely habits resulting from making repeated choices. You can establish new attitudes and acquire new habits of thought and action by deliberately making new choices, developing a plan for acting on those choices, and taking action on that plan enthusiastically and persistently.


High-performance leaders are characterized by continuous improvement. Peak performers are also characterized by continuous improvement. Common denominators of continuous improvement of individuals are tracking and feedback. Individual peak performers always use tracking and feedback to improve productivity.

Tracking progress toward the achievement of a predetermined goal provides valuable feedback that enables you to evaluate progress and make any changes required to reach your goals. Precise, systematic measurement of progress helps you to achieve yet more progress.

Devising a measuring system also forces you to clarify your goals. Measuring progress may reveal that you need to modify your goals or even that you are working on the wrong goals. Remember, if a goal is worthwhile and is also the right one for you, then there are appropriate ways to measure progress toward it.

Tracking progress is the only way to know when you need to take steps to get back on course. Tracking is also the only way to know when you have reached your goal.



Affirmation and visualization are two tools for improving personal productivity. They transform your thinking; your attitudes; and, finally, your behavior. Their impact on attitudes and behavior helps to produce the results you desire.

Affirmation has been given many names–self-motivation, self-command, autosuggestion, and self-talk. An affirmation is simply a positive declaration of something you believe to be true or to become true and desire to live by. The most effective affirmations are those you compose yourself; they are based on your goals and describe the person you want to be, the things you want to do, and the things you want to possess. When you repeat such affirmations, you build the needed internal confidence and determination to overcome obstacles, accomplish goals, and improve productivity.

Use affirmations as positive material for your mind to act on in building constructive attitudes. For example, if you want to gain greater control over your emotions, remind yourself daily, “I control my emotions and reactions at all times. No matter what other people say, think, or do, and no matter what circumstances arise, I remain calm and in control.” Another example, dealing with communications, could be this: “I enjoy knowing the people in my fire department as individuals. I listen when they talk and understand both their words and their feelings. I respect them and their right to be themselves.”

The mind is like a highly efficient computer. It controls emotions, attitudes, and actions according to the information with which it has been given to work. If you feed your mind negative ideas, it can only respond negatively. But when you give it constructive, confident directives, it responds with positive motivation for productive action.

A second useful technique for focusing your creative power on your goals is visualization–the force that transforms your dreams into reality. Visualization is the act of mentally picturing ideas, events, circumstances, and concrete objects. The importance of visualization in goal setting is its effectiveness in enhancing your ability to achieve.

Visualization is exercised by successful, high achievers in every profession. The visualizer clearly and distinctly “sees” the results that will come from the persistent pursuit of goals. When you see a vivid picture of yourself in possession of your goals, the picture stimulates desire, sparks creativity in planning action steps, and fuels motivation to take action. In the majority of the situations, vision gives more accurate knowledge than any other sense. This truth is reflected in the fact that we customarily think in pictures–in other words, we visualize.

You can by conscious practice refine your skill in visualization and turn it into a powerful forceful habit that improves your personal productivity. Practice the creative ability to visualize, and support your visualization regularly and according to a plan. You will find it to be one of the most helpful tools you have ever used for harnessing the power of your imagination. Visualization affects every part of the goal-setting process:

It focuses your attention on your goals. You achieve a goal only when you know exactly what it is you want. Visualization is the tool that brings a goal into sharp focus so you take only actions that move you in the right direction.

It increases desire. When you experience through visualization how it feels to be in possession of your goals, desire grows by leaps and bounds. Without desire, there is no life or excitement in your goals program. Enthusiastic desire sustains motivation throughout the entire process of setting and achieving goals.

It intensifies beliefs and commitment. The saying “seeing is believing” has more than just a grain of truth. When you visualize yourself in possession of a goal, you believe in your ability to achieve it. You know what it looks like, how it feels, and what you must gain in the way of knowledge and skill to possess it.

It sharpens concentration. Because visualization shows you the exact path to your destination, you are not distracted by outside circumstances or the urging of others to leave the path you have selected. You move directly to the chosen goal.

It relieves stress. Anxiety and stress creep in when doubt, uncertainty, and fear are associated with the future. Visualization prevents and relieves stress by providing believable information about the future.

It fuels motivation. Visualization generates intense interest and a sense of urgency that keep motivation at a white-hot heat. Inertia and indecision disappear. You are energized and eager to keep moving toward the accomplishment of your goals.

“Take charge of your life. You can do with it what you will,” said the Greek philosopher Plato. These words are still true today. You can do with your life whatever you will when you make the most of every minute. Take responsibility for your productivity by managing your time more effectively. You will be astonished at the results.

Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act on must inevitably come to pass. n

JOHN M. BUCKMAN, a 25-year veteran of the fire service, has been chief of the German Township (IN) Volunteer Fire Department since 1977. He is chairperson of the International Association of Fire Chiefs Volunteer Section, a member of the National Fire Protection Association Volunteers Advisory Task Force, the president of the Southwestern Indiana Survive Alive Inc. public fire safety education facility, and an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering.

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