There’s a good chance that you’ve got too many. It’s a classic productivity mistake – and an understandable one. We all want to achieve the best we’re capable of, and experts advise us to set challenging, even “audacious” goals.
The problem is, having ten simultaneous goals is worse than having none at all. You’re likely to end up frazzled and frustrated, as you’ll feel that you’re never making enough progress.
The cure is simple: cut down your list of goals to something much more manageable. But if you’re a bit of a goal-setting junkie, how do you even begin?
Step #1: Write Down All Your Goals
Record all the major goals that you’ve currently got on the go, or that you’re hoping to start. You might want to divide this list into “personal” and “professional” categories.
It’s up to you what counts as a “goal”. I’d say that it should be something sizeable (if you can accomplish it in a day, it’s not really a goal) and that it should go beyond your regular daily routine (“go to work” and “pay bills” don’t count).
Here are some common goals to help you think through yours:
Quit smoking (or drugs, alcohol, etc)
Change to a new career
Get a new qualification
Meditate / pray regularly
Gain a new skill
Strengthen your marriage (or another significant relationship)
Write a book
Redecorate a room (or the whole house!)
Take enough time to do this properly: you may find that you have unfinished goals nagging at you from months or even years ago.
Step #2: Choose a Good Method of Prioritization
Do you feel a sinking sense in your stomach when you look at your list? If so, you’ve definitely got too many goals. It’s time to cut down and focus on one thing at a time.
To do that, you need to know how you’re going to prioritize your list. There are several methods you could choose:
Most important goal first. This has the advantage of letting you tackle something truly worthwhile (perhaps even life-changing) – but it can also be a bit daunting, especially if you’re not always too good at follow-through.
Smallest goal first. This can act like the “snowball” effect when paying off debt – a small win at the start motivates you to go on to bigger and greater things. The drawback to tackling small goals, though, is that you might never get round to the big ones.
Big impact goal first. This isn’t necessarily the most important goal, but it’s the one that makes an immediate and large impact on your life. If you don’t have much energy and you’re unfit, regular exercise could be a big impact goal that empowers you for others – like a career change or new qualification.
It’s completely up to you how you choose to prioritize, and you may want to consider all of the above three factors. A great first goal would be one that’s important and has a real impact, but that isn’t too big. You want to see results within a few weeks or months, not within years.
Step #3: Write Down Your One Top Goal
Using the method(s) you chose in Step #2, figure out your top goal. If you’re struggling, ask yourself:
If I could only achieve ONE thing from my goals list over the next few months, which thing would I choose?
Write down this goal and commit to it. This is your primary goal: you can work on others too if you want (see the next step) – but this goal needs to come first.
You may want to set a deadline for this goal, if it’s smallish. If it’s a large goal, set milestones and dates. For instance, if you want to get a new qualification, you could set yourself the task of applying to a particular course by a particular date.
Step #4: Optionally, Choose One Or Two Other Goals
You may want to pick a couple of other goals to pursue, using the same method of prioritization. (Ask yourself, if I could do one more thing… etc.)
If you can, make these goals complementary to your top one. For instance, if your main goal is to lose weight, a second goal of “exercise regularly” would work well.
Avoid having three big goals that all take up a lot of time, energy or money. If you want to learn the guitar and learn to drive and take an evening class, you’re likely to struggle to manage all three.
Written by Ali Luke, a writer of fiction and non-fiction and a writing coach. She blogs about writing on her site, Aliventures.com, and has a free ebook “How to Find Time For Your Writing” available when you join her writing newsletter here.