Break Down Your Goals
Thinking shift. Before you read any further we need to address the fact that an effective plan takes an investment of your time to create and requires some hard work. It may seem counter intuitive but taking time to plan upfront can significantly reduce the overall time and effort to complete a task, and it can significantly increase the progress you make through your actions. In other words, if you plan to take the right actions, you will find you're less busy, yet making greater progress towards your goals.
Another reason that some people don't work from a plan is that they have a belief that as they already know what to do, they don't need a plan to get it done. Unfortunately, there is almost always a gap between what people know and what they do. Many of us want to get into better physical shape and virtually all of us know what that takes, but unfortunately many of us don't ever lose the weight or become more fit. That's because simply knowing what to do isn't enough. The world is noisy. The unexpected happens, distractions arise. As Iain Thomas wrote “Every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’”
Our natural desire to stay in our comfort zone tugs at us and we lose focus on the things that we intended to do. This is why to successfully get more done in less time, make progress while being less busy and free up your precious time one of the most powerful things you can do is to create and work from a written plan.
I know many of you are juggling lots of different goals in different areas of your life and business and feeling quite overwhelmed. A research study by Amy Dalton and Stephen Spiller found that the benefits of planning diminish rapidly if not altogether if you pursue and plan too many goals at once. The study suggests that the act of planning for multiple goals itself discouraged people when they were forced to consider all of the obstacles and the costs involved in reaching their goals.
In a previous blog post I mentioned procrastinating because a task seems too big and overwhelming? For example, if you are confronted with a big project such as cleaning a very messy house with multiple rooms plus many sub projects such as piled high laundry and dirty carpets, you can feel overwhelmed and fail to take any action at all.
When you start writing a plan that identifies the costs that must be paid to reach the goal, you think about the magnitude of the effort involved, and this affects your willingness to take any action. Imagine for a moment that you're trying to do all the things Ms B is trying to do. She's decided she's going to lose 20 lbs, sleep better, increase the turnover of her business by 25%, spend more time with her children and start a regime of home cooking meals herself. Now imagine you add one more thing to that list. For example, she’s driving from London to the coast for a holiday. On top of everything else on your plate, you've just added a new goal (family holiday) and a new plan, (the directions to drive there). According to the research, you should now be feeling overwhelmed and rejecting plans altogether, making decisions based on what feels right to you in the moment instead. That is the place some people get to; have you been there? Have you ever cancelled plans because you just felt that you couldn’t show up and carry out one more thing, you just wanted to hide on the sofa under a blanket because that felt good in the moment? I expect we’ve all been there at one time in our lives, I know I have!
However, often we do push through and get in the car and using the directions, arrive at the destination. So how is that possible? Well, you are only actually taking one action at a time while you are driving. You are not cooking home cooked meals or exercising, losing weight or increasing your business turnover while you drive. You compartmentalise and set aside the divergent goals and their actions and you focus instead on your directions, one turn at a time, until you reach your destination. Therefore, you're not thinking about the trip in a way that overwhelms you. Using that trip approach works with your other goals as well. The drive confines your focus because you physically cannot do anything else while you drive, all you are doing is focusing on driving. The Dalton and Spiller study also confirms this. It found that if you think your plan to reach multiple goals is manageable, then you are more likely to complete it and planning becomes beneficial for multiple goals as well. In other words, the way you think about your plan affects your ability to carry out your plan. There are ways to change our thinking about the goals that we're trying to achieve, ways to break them down into smaller, manageable tasks. Melissa is trying to pursue several goals at one time. She needs to shrink the magnitude of this challenge in her mind’s eye so that she feels more able to achieve it. It is important to note that the ultimate goal doesn't shrink, it is your thinking about it that matters. There are somethings you can do. First, limit the initial investment in time. In our cleaning the house example, spend 30 minutes cleaning rather than five hours. The second thing is, divide the goal into smaller, manageable, bite size tasks and set progress milestones that are quickly within reach. For example, clean the small bathroom first. By doing this, your thinking about the magnitude of your challenge shifts, and you can get unstuck and begin to act. One step at a time.