Stop Cheating Yourself Out of Worthy Rewards

Set mini-milestones to stay motivated

Pamela Hazelton
Nov 17, 2020 · 4 min read
Hand holding up an ice cream cone. The background is a brilliant blue sky.
Hand holding up an ice cream cone. The background is a brilliant blue sky.
Photo by aleksandr_gavrilychev — premium license via Freepik

The traditional method of reaching a goal is to set up a timeline of tasks that lead up to the grand finale. But what if the process is destined to take months or longer? The lengthier the process, the higher the risk of failure.

According to Ashira Prossack of ForbesWomen, people often underestimate the time it takes to complete tasks. This often leads to goal abandonment.

“It’s easy to get frustrated if you think something will take three months, but at the end of that time period you haven’t accomplished what you set out to do. Too often this is where people give up.”

While money is a core reason businesses fail, time mismanagement, lack of knowledge, and lack of motivation contribute to delayed or canceled launches. It’s not uncommon for projects — including large events, startups, and product designs — to take well over a year. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has an 18-month production schedule. That leaves plenty of opportunity for procrastination.

There has to be a better way to retain initial enthusiasm before it has the chance to fade out.

Plot by small milestones

The idea is to plan everything based on hitting smaller milestones and celebrating along the way. Obtaining a graduate degree is a significant milestone. Completing each semester with passing grades? It’s deserving of that weekend trip or a spa visit.

Break long-term goals down to several short-term ones

We’re so used to getting everything in a flash. Amazon Prime shipping, streaming content, and digital book deliveries make it easy to understand why long-term goals are so daunting. We get stuck on the big picture as a massive responsibility, rather than several small tasks that are more manageable.

Over the years, I’ve worked with planning and executing large events, most recently, a Pride weekend that catered to more than 10,000 people. I could put things off until I’m motivated by last-minute syndrome — it should be a legit medical diagnosis, right? — but I’d risk making embarrassing and costly mistakes. There are so many moving parts in large events; you learn very quickly that failing to obtain a water connection means people using the portable restrooms can’t flush toilets or wash their hands. Thankfully, a nearby retailer let us run a 150-foot hose to their spigot, but you get my point.

Projects are typically broken down by tasks, with some taking longer than others. By segmenting tasks into short-term goals, each one becomes easier to accomplish.

Let’s say you want to write a novel. The first step in writing a book is establishing your main characters — how they look and act, what they like and don’t like, how other characters receive them. Daily tasks might center around working on specific characters, while the short-term goal is to complete a set of characters. Next up is devising the outline. It is a necessary part of the process to ensure you stay on the right track and don’t forget essential plot points. Here, daily tasks would be to work on particular portions of the outline; the short-term goal is completing the first outline draft. Another would be finalizing the strategy.

The rewards — a published book or seeing the crowds enjoying an experience — is incredible. Still, the idea you have to wait so long to reap the benefits leads to procrastination. Doubling your project planning tool as a milestone tracker can help.

Reward yourself at each small milestone

Reaching mini-milestones should result in reaping mini-rewards. Starting small and building up as you go is a great way to stay motivated.

Maybe you want to build your savings account up to $50,000. For most, this would take years of budgeting and intense saving. The big reward doesn’t come until way down the line. But what if you rewarded yourself with coffee shop lattes for a week when you hit $1,000, a nice dinner out at $2,500, a new TV at $5,000? While you’d spend a bit after reaching each milestone, you’d be more committed to staying on track.

Rewarding yourself for small feats is neither childish nor selfish

Get out of the mindset you can’t celebrate until the end of the game. For most, not realizing regular returns on hard work is enough to give up. Celebrating those small moments is what helps you finish the game.

Team Tony (Robbins) reinforces the importance of rewarding oneself upon completion of a key milestone:

“By rewarding yourself in the moment, your brain elicits positive emotions, leading to the realization that your efforts result in a positive reward. By doing this continuously, your brain will start to link pleasure to accomplishing the task or objective and move towards it in the future.”

Share the glory

Post mini-milestone happy dance, be sure to recognize those who helped — your colleagues, a friend, or a family member. Show gratitude for their assistance. Keep track of everyone who made your job easier so you can send additional proper thank yous at the end.

Pamela Hazelton is an avid writer, marketer and business consultant. She’s an editor of 2 Minute Madness, Small Business Strong, The Work+Life Balance and Write, I Must, and manages the Small Biz Strong Substack. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Parler.

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Pamela Hazelton

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Avid writer, marketer & business consultant. // Reward yourself a little every day. 🆆🅾🆁🅺 + 🅻🅸🅵🅴 🅱🅰🅻🅰🅽🅲🅴

The Work + Life Balance

Stories promoting healthy harmony between work and home life. We follow the rule that we work to live — and live we must.

Pamela Hazelton

Written by

Avid writer, marketer & business consultant. // Reward yourself a little every day. 🆆🅾🆁🅺 + 🅻🅸🅵🅴 🅱🅰🅻🅰🅽🅲🅴

The Work + Life Balance

Stories promoting healthy harmony between work and home life. We follow the rule that we work to live — and live we must.

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