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Manage your writing goals with ‘Pyramid of Power’

Susan Robison
Psychologist and author Susan Robison (right in blue jacket), attracted a full group for her Roundtable Discussion expanding on her earlier session, “Time Management: Why You Don’t Need It, Can’t Do It Anyway — And What To Do Instead.”

To help her clients focus on important tasks instead of wandering from task to task, Susan Robison, a psychologist and faculty development consultant with Professor DeStressor, created the “Pyramid of Power” — a pyramid-shaped goal-setting model.

“I chose the pyramid for the design of my model because that is the most stable structure you can construct,” she said. “It has a wide base and a narrow top, with your goals at the top. The model can work top down and bottom up.”

Many people operate with their goals as a huge top, with a very narrow bottom or no bottom at all, says Robison. “The goals are floating around up in the air and they aren’t anchored to anything,” she said. “The Pyramid of Power reverses that, anchoring your goals.”

The Pyramid of Power has four elements. They are, from the bottom up, said Robison:

  1. Purpose Statement. Your purpose statement is your philosophical belief. This doesn’t change much across your whole lifetime. “You may be able to come up with your purpose statement in minutes, or it may take you over a year,” she said. “The amount of time it takes is no reflection on your intelligence, your physical attractiveness, or your mental health. It is a phenomena all by itself. So if you’re struggling with your purpose statement, it’s something that’s going to be an ongoing take-home assignment for you. One woman I worked with spent half of her time teaching at a university and the other half of her time serving as a liaison between a diversity center on campus and the urban community in which she lived. We came up with a purpose statement for her that said: ‘I am a bridge connecting ideas and people for the greater good.'”

    “The Pyramid of Power”
    Copyright 2009.
  2. Mission Statement. Your mission statement is more practical, and changes every three to five years for adults, and sooner for students. Your mission statement answers the question, “If I am here for this purpose, what shall I do about it? “To write your mission statement, you will need to know what your strengths are (three verbs), what your values are, and to whom you typically offer yourself to,” she said. “As a result, your mission statement will follow this formula: ‘My mission is to (verb, verb, verb), that are my strengths, for, to, or with (people, people, people), who want (value, value, value – your four to eight values). When you put your mission statement together, it’s really helpful to use information from the outside world, such as your students.”
  3. Vision Statement. Your vision statement is the outcome of your mission. Here’s a device to get at your vision, she said: “The phone rings five years from now. You’ve been waiting a long time for this very special call. Who is it and what do you want them to ask you? Is it the Nobel Committee asking you to come to Stockholm to accept your award? Is it yet another publisher chasing you down, offering you millions of dollars to write a book? What kind of call is it that you have hoped for and worked for your whole life and it’s finally coming together?”
  4. What things shall I do to make my vision come alive because I’m living my mission because I know what my purpose is? These things are your goals, which can be broken down into tasks. “Once your Pyramid of Power is in place, it motivates and energizes everything you do,” she said.

Ask yourself the following questions based on your Pyramid of Power to prioritize new opportunities as they come to you, said Robison:

  1. Does it fit my Pyramid of Power? (If you have trouble saying no, it’s now going to be easy because anything that’s not in your Pyramid of Power is a no.)
  2. What does the opportunity cost me in time, money, energy, and attention?
  3. What’s the loss and gain of this opportunity and the loss and gain of the other opportunities you don’t do while you do this opportunity?

In order to work with your Pyramid, said Robison, you’ve got to procrastinate: “I think we all need to procrastinate a whole lot more than we do, because what we need to do is delineate between different kinds of procrastination. Destructive procrastination is the failure to do what you value and want to do, and we need to get rid of that kind. Constructive procrastination, however, is what we need to do more of and this is doing what you value, and ignoring or putting off what you don’t value. We also need a little dose of creative procrastination, and this is when we delegate our higher for lower activities to free us up for higher-level activities. For example, if you are spending a lot of time filing and someone else could do that and you could pay them, you might think of creatively procrastinating it, which is delegating it to somebody else. When you increase your ‘no’s’, your ‘yes’s’ get stronger.”

Robison said people often use the words “I have to” rather than “I choose to”: “’I have to go to the grocery store today.’ ‘I have to teach my class.’ If you change ‘I have to’ to ‘I choose to,’ watch what happens. ‘I choose to go to the grocery store today.’ Hmm, do I? I don’t even really want to. I think I’ll choose that tomorrow. While I may not be in the mood to, I choose to teach because basically my mission is about education and I really do love to teach even though I’m not in the mood today, and if I don’t show up for a whole lot of classes, they’re going to fire me and it probably means I’m doing a job that’s not aligned with my mission, so I’m going to choose to go to class today. So, the next time you’re looking at your to-do list and you say ‘I have to do this’ and ‘I have to do that,’ think about whether you can choose to do it instead.”

“When opportunities come in, the Pyramid, like a prism, breaks up the opportunities that appear into a rainbow of things that you are willing to commit to, and lots of things that you’re going to say no to in order to have this beautiful, wonderful, colorful life,” she said.