Staying On Track With Your Goals

Ed. Note – This is the fourth in a series of posts in which I’ll deal with the main purpose of this site: Life Design.  This will be an encapsulation of my thoughts on the subject, and the foundation for everything else that’s written here.  You can find the entire series here.

Stay On Track

So, now that we have all these goals, what do we do?  The problem that everyone seems to have with goals is that they’re hard to keep up with.  What I mean is, typically people will keep their goals in their heads, and won’t commit them to paper (a big no-no).  I’ve heard statistics stating that only 2% of Americans write down goals of any kind.  If you never write your goals down, they remain nebulous and vague.  Writing them down forces clarity and directness, and it removes them from your mind so that you can focus on coming up with actions to achieve them.

Even if people write down their goals, they still find it difficult to keep on track with them.  As long as they remain big, long-term statements, there’s really no road map to get from where you are to where you’re going.  Having big goals is fine; it’s a great motivator for you to just see where you’d like to be.  However, under those goals should be a list of tasks that, taken in sequential order, will get you to that end goal.  This requires a lot more work than just sitting down at a table and listing out what you want your life to look like in 5 years, like many people have done in the past.

I’m not saying this to discourage you from setting big, audacious goals that express your innermost desires.  What I am saying is that you need to be able to plan from your goals a way to achieve them.

  1. You need a daily to-do list.  The list is just what it says: a list of tasks that you need to complete every day, to move you farther along the road toward your goals.  The format of the list isn’t that important; you can use a piece of paper and a pencil, or any number of software options (from the free Google Tasks in Gmail through any number of expensive stand-alone programs).  Just be sure it fits easily into how you live your life.  For example, if you work outside all day, away from a computer or means to monitor an electronic list, then electronic lists probably aren’t the best option for you.  You need to be able to refer to it at any time during your day.

    Once you’ve identified incremental steps along the road to the goals you’ve set, like I suggested in the previous post, you should take the first one and put it on this list.  I would personally suggest that you have one task for each goal in your life to be accomplished every day.  You can set up your list depending on the options available to you, but you should associate each task with every goal that you have.  You can color-code them with highlighters or use the “@” sign followed by the name of the goal, and then list the task associated with it.

  2. You need to have periodic updates where you review your progress.  These updates can happen whenever you feel they’re necessary; I personally think that anything more regular than monthly is probably too often.  I would go with quarterly.

    In your first update, you’ll want to sit down with your list of big goals, and detail all that you’ve accomplished in the past quarter on the way to achieving it.  You should also take the time to note anything that went wrong during the past quarter when trying to complete certain tasks.  Perhaps you ran into challenges in finding the information you needed or you somehow got off-track and didn’t keep up with doing tasks to reach a particular goal.  Don’t beat yourself up about it, just use these cues to understand your trouble areas, and set about thinking of ways to get around them during the next quarter.

    During subsequent updates, you can have the opportunity to look back on where you were at the last update and how far you’ve come.  You should also look for areas where you had challenges in the prior periods, to see if you’ve overcome them sufficiently.  If not, you need to dig deeper to examine your motivation.  Is it really just a set of circumstances conspiring against you (that happens sometimes!), or are you subconsciously not as interested in the goal as you used to be?  There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  If you find yourself plugging away at something that doesn’t bring you joy currently, and you don’t see it adding much long-term value to your life, then quit doing it.  Don’t plug away at something for a long period of time just because you made a commitment to yourself.

    The commitment you made with yourself initially is to become the best “you” you could possibly be.  These goals are supposed to help you get there.  If all a goal is doing is making you crabby and irritable because you set it and now see that it’s not the goal for you, then drop it.  Life’s too short.

  3. You should do a yearly review.  This is somewhat like your periodic updates, except for you’ll need to examine every goal you have set for yourself, whether you’re making good progress or not.  Evaluate them against your life values and make sure that they’re still matching up.  Also, make sure that you’ve not uncovered a better way to reach your dream during the prior year.  The good can be the enemy of the best sometimes, and the same is true with goals.  If something has come up during the course of the year that has led you to believe that your dream can be more quickly or easily reached without compromising who you are, then you should consider changing your goals to align with that.

    Next, plan for the upcoming year.  See if you have any new dreams that have come up and make sure you’ve set up a plan to achieve them.  This is especially easy if you’ve achieved a dream during the prior year.  Always try to replace one with another.  We risk becoming stagnant in our lives if we’re not focused on achieving a dream of some kind.

  4. Finally, you need an accountability partner.  This could be a mentor of yours, who’s helping you along the road to achieving one or more of your goals.  However, it can also be someone you’re close to who you feel comfortable in sharing your goals and dreams with.  These people should feel the same way about you.  You both should make a pact to have regular discussions about  your progress, and promise to be totally honest about your successes and failures.  The motivational power of knowing that someone you respect expects something from you is amazing.  Many times in the past, it’s been the only thing that kept me going on the road to doing what I know I needed to do.

Am I perfect at all these steps?  Absolutely not.  I’m especially sloppy at numbers 2 and 4.  I also have a tendency to get lazy and keep lists in my head.  However, I think this is a good road map for getting your dreams realized.  You can’t build a personal development plan without a systematic effort like the one described here.  I’m working towards the discipline involved in numbers 1 through 3, and the willingness to be open with someone for number 4.  I hope you’ll be able to work through these steps to achieve your dreams.

Photo Courtesy: comedy_nose

Which of these steps seems the most difficult to you?  Why?  Have you ever used any of these methods to achieve a dream of yours in the past?  Tell us about it in the comments…

5 thoughts on “Staying On Track With Your Goals”

  1. I have loved reading this series, but I hesitated on #4 – there are many things that I do without external motivation. However, I do find that sometimes a little gentle reminder from someone is a good thing. My problem is that having an accountability partner often locks me into a path and closes off branches that could be very good.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, LJ! The point I was trying to make with the accountability partner will only work if you have the same values. Therefore, if you need flexibility in your life to stay sane or what-have-you, then your partner needs to be just as flexible to adapt to that need (as you must be with their needs).

  2. I actually came across your “start being your best” by an accident-

    and it WAS exactly what I needed!! you keep it simple, doable, and not

    overly complicated!! Are you writing any thing else at this time???

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