Have you ever found yourself caught in the same old patterns, making no progress to your dreams and goals? If you are like me (and I reckon most people), you know exactly what I am talking about. You have big aspirations, but thanks to your job and other affairs, you just repeat your regular routine month after month.
For the past couple of years, I simply felt that I could not find the time to chip away at large goals. I am attempting to write a fairly extensive non-fiction book, but time always seems to be in short supply. This leads me to put off the research and writing, and before I know it, another month has passed.
To be honest, watching the passage of time without much personal progress or self-fulfillment is pretty damn depressing. Two months ago, I put my foot down. Enough is enough. “If I am not going to take the initiative to help myself, then who will?”, I thought to myself as I struggled to fall asleep one night.
I did not sleep much that night, but I found the answers I was looking for. My lack of personal progress can be pinned to the fact that my time horizon was too far into the future. My goals were all things that would be completed ‘later’, but I did not define when that ‘later’ would be. Because of this small error in goal setting, I never felt a sense of urgency to complete tasks that would lead me to reach the ultimate, big-picture accomplishments that I often strive for.
Create Subgoals to Keep You Focused
To stay focused on the goals at hand, I have made an effort to complete tasks each month. Like I mentioned above, I aim to complete a book. That’s a rather significant undertaking, so I have divided the main goal into subgoals that can be completed a month at at time.
My journal’s goal list would have first included this:
- Write a book about cooperation in society
But now it looks like this:
- Outline the major topics affecting cooperation in society by the May 30, 2018
- Outline and begin drafting the chapter about the familiarity principle by June 30, 2018
- Finish drafting the familiarity principle chapter by July 30, 2018
See the difference? The primary goal of writing a book is not actionable at all. It doesn’t have timelines. It doesn’t have specific tasks. If you stop the planning process at the primary goal, you will have no sense of urgency to achieve something great. Make small subgoals that are significant, actionable, and have a due-date.
Use a Monthly Review Day to Stay on Track and Revise Your Plans As Needed
Break Away From Routine
Time slows down for no one. Since there are no physicists in the room, we’re not going to bother with the exceptions to this rule. Time is a bit pesky in that we cannot just will it to stop while we work towards our goals. Because of this, it is necessary for us to take a breather every once in a while. A moment of not working is often what we need to gain some clarity and make the best use of our limited time.
By taking a step back and looking at our progress each month, we can avoid getting swept away by time itself. I reserve a day during the last weekend of every month for what I call a monthly review.
I like to make a small celebration of my monthly review. I rent a cabin for the weekend, go for a long hike, or lock myself away in a hotel room. It doesn’t matter what you do, but do something to escape your daily routine for a full day.
Reflect on Your Progress
Near the day’s end, fill a glass with your favorite beverage, grab your journal, and get thinking. I recommend that you set aside at least 30 minutes for this reflection, but you may need an hour or more depending on how many goals you take on each month. Ask yourself some important questions about your progress. Start with general goal questions.
How have I accomplished my goals? Where have I fallen short on my plans? What methods worked? Which ones failed?
If you like to visualize your success in terms of numbers, you might also ask questions about word counts, miles logged, projects completed, or any other thing that can be measured. If numbers help motivate you, then by all means, think in terms of numbers!
Reflection is a deeply personal process. I cannot tell you the best way to reflect, but I know that making a two-column list of accomplishments and setbacks is a good way to put my goals into perspective. Give this method a try. It’s oddly therapeutic.
Prepare for the Journey Ahead
By identifying accomplishments and roadblocks, you can determine exactly what works for you. Use these lessons during the next month (be sure to write the lessons near the new goals).
After you have sufficiently considered the current month’s lessons, look to the coming month. Create new goals with actions and deadlines. Keep at it until you are satisfied with your progress, and then keep going still. By repeating this process of pause-reflect-plan each month, you consistently work towards your goals while learning from your mistakes
The strategy of setting detailed subgoals followed by a monthly review has truly helped me break free from the trapped feeling that comes from watching the calendar change pages. I hope these strategies are as useful for you as they are for me.