We write them on a blackboard, in a journal, or on a napkin. Sometimes we memorize them, but mostly, we wonder how long it will take until they’re accomplished.
They come in all shapes and sizes, and in varying degrees of required effort and importance. For most of us, defining our goals isn’t the hard part — we usually have some idea of what we want to do or achieve.
But it’s not always easy to know which ones have the highest priority, because when the mood strikes, everything can seem important.
Here’s an example: At one time, my list of objectives was brimming over. I wanted to learn a new language, travel to 40 countries, lose weight before summer, become a successful podcaster, call my mom twice a week, get a cat, buy a house, and try a new hairstyle. All worthy intentions, yet with this many goals, establishing priorities turned out to be difficult — and my efforts became a bit scattered.
The end result? I made very little progress on any of the things I wanted to accomplish.
That’s when I realized a little planning and time management was in order.
I’m not suggesting a PowerPoint presentation or Excel sheet (although I have a friend who lives for the charts). Instead, I’ve had great results by considering the process of goal-setting as more of a “big picture” concept rather than a structured linear process.
Obviously, some intentions will carry more weight and importance than others. For example, maintaining good health and fitness so we can enjoy that finally-perfect future should no doubt be near the top of the list. Typically, the remaining goals will fall into a logical order of priority, depending on how realistic they are for you — and how often they change.
So how do we establish a reasonable hierarchy for those goals that make the final cut? Here are a few ideas to get started:
1. Plan backward from the result you seek:
Instead of making a list of action steps toward completion, try working backward from the goal. This may help to eliminate unnecessary steps and find a faster or more effective way to accomplish the objective. Want to learn a new language? Picture yourself in another country conversing with a new friend, casually talking about the best restaurant for local food.
By keeping the goal’s final result in your mind, you can focus on the most important actions necessary to reach the desired level of expertise. In this case, you could begin by researching language learning options, then commit to the time requirements and get started.
“Begin with the end in mind.” Steven Covey
2. What happens when your goals are met ahead of schedule?
Great news! The ability to easily accomplish your goals could be an indication of your commitment to changing your life — for the better. And as those goals are met, you’ll have a clearer picture of your destination, and gain momentum to continue your efforts.
3. Having small goals is vital to your overall success.
As you continue to move forward with all your goals, you’ll accomplish some of them much sooner than others. For me, it was easier to change my hairstyle and call my mom more often than to get a better job or start a new business. Those small victories helped me stay motivated to pursue the larger, more challenging ones.
Always be looking ahead. Periodically review and, if necessary, tweak your goals based on the feedback you receive. When you realize you have the power to perform, your life and future will begin moving in a more positive direction.
4. What if you never reach an important goal?
If your roadmap seems to have too many twists and turns or runs off the page, does it mean you’ve set yourself up for failure by reaching for the impossible?
Not really. The difficulty is often due to changes in your personal priorities, interests, and desires. While you’ve told yourself the goal is important, you may be subconsciously questioning your choices, preventing you from making a full commitment of time and resources. A year or two from now, you may decide that, instead of getting that software start-up going, you’d rather pursue success in a different business or industry, or join an existing project or company.
Changing your desired outcome or destination doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In many cases, the change comes as a result of discovering a better path to a more realistic or appropriate goal. This can be especially enlightening if you’re replacing a goal that wasn’t fully formed or defined at the time you began your journey. Lack of interest or activity toward attaining the desired result are good indications the goal should be re-evaluated. If it no longer works for you, remove or revise it.
“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” — Jimmy Dean
5. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough:
Sometimes we blame ourselves for not trying hard enough, believing if we had stayed with it another six months, we would have been successful. However, there are factors in achieving our goals that are outside our control. One of those is timing. We can’t always count on the economy to cooperate or the promise of help from a business colleague to be forthcoming when we need it the most.
If the goal is still important to you, set it aside for a month or two, then review its probability of completion based on any new circumstances or information you’ve gathered. If the situation is unchanged, repeat the process in another three months.
Goals that seem extremely difficult or even impossible now may become much more feasible as technology and innovation open new doors and possibilities. For example, fifteen years ago, the idea of writing and publishing a book meant submitting the work to an agent, negotiating with a publisher, and relying on bookstores to put your book in front of customers. Today, self-publishing platforms have removed the gatekeepers, and virtually anyone can publish their work to an international audience.
Managing your time and resources to achieve the things that are important to you is dependent upon the quality of your plan. And the best plans are those that are constantly evolving and being revised to reflect your changing interests, circumstances, and external situations influencing your progress. By keeping your plan flexible, you’ll increase your probability of achieving as many of your goals as possible.
Lives are lived a day at a time. Goals are met the same way.
Jill Reid is a writer and founder of Pathway to Personal Growth, featuring articles on self-improvement, personal success strategies, and tips for living longer and stronger through positive lifestyle choices, and Kitchen Spirit, a health, food, and fitness website. Follow Jill on Medium, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.