When it comes to pursuing our goals, I think a lot of us can agree that the planning and dreaming part is the most fun.
You’re full of energy and enthusiasm, you can’t wait to break out the planners and pens, color-coding and mapping your goals--not to mention, you’ve yet to experience any real setbacks or criticism at this early juncture.
And of course, planning is an integral part of the goal-setting process. You need to chart your course of action before you can take that first step.
It can also be tempting, however, to cling to the planning period. We want to wade in the shallow end of the pool, where we know it’s safe and calm, rather than take a deep dive into the work and risk encountering any obstacles, or worse, failure.
Planning can also create the illusion of doing actual work. While, yes, plotting out our year and defining our milestones are essential to goal-setting, we also have to remember that taking concrete steps and reaching those milestones are the other half of the equation.
After all, why plan if you're not actually going to go anywhere?
Here are some signs that over-planning has been holding you back:
- You spend time creating a detailed, extensive to-do list, but haven’t started doing the tasks on the list
- You strive for perfection instead of completion
- You spend a long time on research and agonize over taking the right first step
- You weigh the pros and cons without making a specific choice
- You love to talk about how much you need to do
If you’re experiencing inertia with your goals, it could be a sign that you need to transition away from the planning phase and start taking concrete steps.
How to stop getting stuck in the planning phase
The key difference between helpful planning versus procrastination is action.
Are you taking action on your goals, or are you being passive?
Do you judge your progress by concrete results, or by general feelings?
It’s normal to have ups and downs when you’re working towards your goals; in fact, that’s a clear sign that you’re learning and growing. But if your progress is hard to quantify (or nonexistent), it might be time to start taking specific steps.
Here are some ways to help ensure that your plans will move you forward.
Set time limits
If you’re regularly checking in on your goals throughout the year, you don’t need long, extensive planning sessions every day or week. If you're doing too many drawn out planning sessions, that is a sign that you're procrastinating in the form of planning.
Instead, create a planning boundary and conduct a 20-30 minute planning session at the start of every month and week. For your weekly planning, conduct them on Sunday night or Monday morning so that you can hit the ground running each day that week, and know exactly what you have to achieve.
Save the long, deep dive sessions for every quarter or even every 6 months. Focus your daily work on achieving results, not projecting into an imagined future.
Create an action plan you can act on
Refer to your goals and the milestones that you’d like to reach when creating an action plan. Make sure your daily tasks are tied to your bigger goals, but don't get hung up on doing them in the perfect order. The most important thing is to start. Set a task, and do it.
Use an Ink+Volt Goal Planning Pad to ensure that you have clearly defined action steps. Come up with concrete things you can do every day that will get you closer to your goal.
So if your goal is “expand my professional network,” maybe your to-do list includes:
- Pick 5 people a month to email and invite for a call or coffee
- Follow up with people I don’t hear back from
- Send calendar invites
- Send thank you notes
If you’re concerned about challenges and setbacks, identify them and write them down on the Goal Planning Pad. For example, let's say you have a tendency to get hung up on drafting your email a hundred times until it's perfect.
This is the kind of thing you could work on indefinitely. Instead, give yourself a deadline. All emails must go out by Thursday at 2pm, for example. Try to think in advance about how you can prevent the problems that usually hold you back.
If you’re worried about taking risks or experiencing failure, you’re not alone! Write your fears down on paper and empower yourself with motivating words. What would you say to a friend who shared the same fears? Write with self-compassion and provide yourself with the encouragement you need to move forward. Things often sound easier when we write them out, rather than letting them swirl around in our imaginations.
If you’ve been feeling stuck or procrastinating, writing out your action plan can offer real, tangible steps you can accomplish.
Pick your top 3 priorities
Determining your priorities can help you focus your days. But if you find yourself hemming and hawing, and evaluating every single task, this exercise can backfire. We can spend all day trying to figure out our true priorities, and then by the time we narrow it down, the day’s already over.
In the morning, choose 3 things to do and get them done. If you still have time and energy leftover, knock off another item off your list.
The positive momentum you generate from accomplishing 3 priorities each day will help you get unstuck and show you how amazing progress feels.
Put it on the calendar
Having trouble taking action on your to-do list? Add deadlines or reminders to your calendar. If you have tasks that you’ve been dragging your heels on, pick a day and schedule it. When you schedule a task, you’re much more likely to complete it than simply waiting for the day you want to do it (which might never come).
Seeing your plans in context of dates and times can also help motivate you to take action. When a deadline feels too far away, it can be hard to connect with. So plotting your micro-goals and seeing how soon the big deadline is approaching can give you a kick in the pants to get to work.
Give yourself a deadline
The problem with a lot of personal goals is that they don’t come with built-in deadlines.
Maybe you want to work out more or finally write that screenplay or organize your closet, but you keep pushing it off because there’s no compelling reason to do it today instead of "tomorrow".
Atomic Habits writer James Clear recommends creating your own deadlines. Give yourself a specific deadline and add it to your calendar. In doing so, you’re making a commitment to yourself. Creating a specific deadline has power. When you see it, you’ll want to accomplish it.
Tell somebody about it
Whether it’s a family member, friend, or coworker, telling someone about your project or goal can motivate you to take action. The next time you see this person and they ask you how your project is going, you will naturally want to provide them with real results. Sometimes, there’s no greater motivator than wanting to save face. To help you feel supported in your endeavors, choose an accountability partner you trust.