Goal-setting is always my favorite part of the new year — the ritual of writing in my shiny new planner, the promise of a new year and all the success and prosperity that lie ahead.
But then reality sets in and we have to figure out how to actually achieve our big goals.
Sometimes we don’t know how to start, so we don’t do anything at all. Or sometimes we know we have a million things to do, and we become paralyzed with indecision.
If this sounds familiar, don’t fret!
Rather than looking at a big goal like an intimidating mountain to climb, try breaking down your goal into small, achievable chunks. Remember: you don’t have to climb an entire mountain in one day — you climb it by taking one small step at a time.
This works best when you incorporate a daily agenda into your planning process. A daily agenda gives direction and adds structure to your day, helping you make significant progress every day towards your big picture goals.
Here are some tips and tools that you can use to create a daily agenda that will empower you to work towards achieving your goal, one step and one day at a time.
Break it down
The reason that a goal can seem overwhelming at first is because it feels like this big, abstract concept. Yes, we’d love to be more successful in our career or have a healthier lifestyle, but what does that mean exactly and what does achieving that look like?
The key to turning the ambiguous into the achievable is to clearly define your goal, as well as all the things you need to do to accomplish it.
So how do we do this? At Ink+Volt, we are big fans of making a to-do list. Grab a pen and your favorite notebook and start writing down everything that comes up for you when it comes to your goal. Try not to leave any small detail out — you'll feel like a huge weight has been lifted once you put all your thoughts down onto paper.
So let’s say your big goal for 2020 is to write more. First, get specific and clearly define what it is you want to write. Do you want to write more in your journal? Do you want to write a memoir? A business plan? Try following the S.M.A.R.T. method of goal setting and make sure that your goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
If your goal is to write a business plan, then break it down into tiny pieces, no matter how granular or trivial they may seem. (Trust us, it will feel so good when you check those small items off your to-do list!)
So your next steps might look something like this:
- Buy a notebook to write down business ideas
- Read books about successful business leaders and get inspiration
- Listen to a business podcast on my commute
- Read one article a day on writing a business plan
- Brainstorm ideas
- Make a list of friends who have started their own business
- Reach out to these friends
- Meet friends for coffee and get their advice
Create your daily agenda
So we’ve broken down our big goal and written a list of actions we need to take. Now we need to assess our tasks and obligations, and determine our priorities. If your goal this month is to write 100 pages of your memoir, you need to prioritize all the actions that will help you get closer to this goal. (This includes figuring out how to handle all the tasks you have that *aren’t* related to your memoir!)
But how can we focus our attention to what matters when everything feels like a priority?
Remember: A priority list is your friend.
If you want to start planning for more productive days, you need to first identify your priorities.
You can use the Ink+Volt Priority Pad to help you write down the errands, assignments, and deadlines you need to complete. There’s also a box for “goals and endeavors” to keep you accountable with your big goals. So if you write down “do laundry” and “finish work presentation” then you’ll also want to be sure to include a task that’s aligned with your goal to make sure you continue to make progress there.
To use the business plan example, you can write down “Meet friend for coffee and get business plan advice” into the goal box.
The Priority Pad also has a space for “fire drills + favors” where you record the work and favors that you did/do for other people. By logging these activities, you start to notice any patterns and tendencies you may have that are getting in the way of your priorities. For example, do you tend to drop what you’re doing to respond to a coworker’s questions over skype? Do you always answer phone calls from your parents, even if it would be more convenient to call them back later?
By detecting these patterns, we can then resolve to make more of an effort to prioritize our work over other people’s needs. The next time you’re working on something important, put your phone on silent and mark yourself “unavailable” on Skype.
You can use this Priority Pad in tandem with your yearly planner. Break down the big goal into monthly and weekly priorities in your planner, and then follow up on those items with your Priority Pad each day.
Having a list of priorities for each day will ensure that you get things done and crush your big goal!
The 1-3-5 rule
If you need help managing your priorities, you can also try this organizational advice from NYSE exec Betty Liu. She stays on top of her daily agenda by following the 1-3-5 rule, where you aim to complete 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 small tasks each day.
Maybe a big task can be finishing 10 pages of your writing goal or working on an office presentation. 3 medium tasks can be work meetings or household tasks like laundry and making dinner, while 5 small tasks can be anything from returning emails to ordering a book online.
The 1-3-5 rule helps you streamline your obligations and organize your priorities by level of importance. By knowing what’s a big, medium, or small task, you’ll have an easier time incorporating them into your daily agenda. This planning rubric also adds some balance to your days, allowing you to combine your personal and professional obligations. On some days, your 1 big task could be work-related or family-related — it’s all about how you assess its importance for that day.
Liu also emphasizes the importance of actually writing down your priorities in order to hold yourself accountable.
She says: "Just the act of writing something down makes you obligated to do it. And when you have the satisfaction at the end of the day of checking off that last item on that list, you feel so much better, as if you really completed the day."
Write your to-do list the night before
If you want to get a head start on your day, you can write your to-do list the night before. This can include tasks that you didn’t get to that day or other items that came up. By writing your agenda the night before, you don’t have to spend the first part of your day scrambling around, wondering what you have to do. You can give purpose and shape to your days, rather than flying by the seat of your pants.
The next time you feel overwhelmed by a goal, just remember to break it down into the smallest of steps. Try to incorporate one or two of these steps into your daily agenda.By the time the end of the year rolls around, you just might surprise yourself by how much you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come!