Setting goals can be a lot like running a marathon. The distance — 26.2 miles — is awfully intimidating on first glance. Before beginning to train for my first marathon I too was taken aback by that distance. If it takes me around 8 minutes to run one mile, then I’m going to be running for a whole lot of minutes! Not to mention the distance, the pain, etc.
But, when you break down a marathon mile-by-mile, it’s a lot less daunting. Sure, it is going to be tough and you’re going to feel it. But, you have your vision set on shorter check-in goals. And, after reaching those 26 checkpoints, you will have reached your marathon goal.
The marathon strategy is also a great way to set professional goals. Let’s say you’re a salesperson who would like to close 26 deals over the calendar year. If you focus on the 26 all at once, you may feel overwhelmed: You’re going to need to find hundreds of leads, go through dozens of sales calls and so forth. But, if you break it down little by little — set a goal to reach X number of sales calls in a given week, create reminders to follow up and set shorter term goals, you will see the direct path in front of you on any given work week. By the end of the year, if you reach your short term goals — assuming they align with your longer term goal — you should meet or even exceed your long-term goal. You’ll be able to cross that finish line with a smile on your face.
Let’s look at a few strategies for how to keep track of short-term goals.
Use an Action Day style planner
For some time now, I’ve relied on my physical Action Day planner to stay disciplined day-in and day-out. It’s a great resource, one that relies on making lists that focus on short-term goals, delegating essential tasks and prioritizing your to-dos.
(I promise I’m not getting a cut from them) but I would strongly encourage you to look into an Action Day planner if you like writing down your to-dos and are looking for a place to prioritize everything in your busy day. It has really, really helped me focus on short-term goals that point to my longer ones.
Try the “8 for the day” approach
I was an evangelist for the “8 for the day” approach for a while. I still use this organizational technique. The idea here is that you determine the 8 most important things that you need to get done during the day. Focus on those urgent things first, cross them off your list and then move on. I was introduced to this approach in an Entrepreneur article from a while ago; that number 8 really seems to be a nice sweet spot. It is enough tasks that allow you to move the needle but not an overwhelming list for your day.
This strategy really taps into our brain’s love for ordered tasks. This article in The Guardiandigs into that research: Studies show that we perform when we physically write down what we need to do.
And, there’s something about crossing things off your list that just makes you feel good.
Schedule your work week in hour-by-hour chunks
One of my first managers was laser-focused on this approach; and it was really a great way for me to organize my days working on multiple accounts over the course of the week. With this approach, you create a to-do list, prioritize what needs to get done and then, ideally on Monday, block out how you want to allocate your hours in a given week.
Of course, things may come up. This approach may work best using a Google calendar where you can shift blocks as needed when major things occur demand your time. Another idea — which another manager taught me — is to block for the organized chaos that may happen in a given week. Ideally at the end of the day, schedule an hour for getting to all of those “urgent” matters that come up. For the rest of the day, focus on those tasks that will move you closer to reaching your marathon finish.
There are plenty of other strategies on setting goals and productivity. These are just a few suggestions that have worked for me.
What works for you? Let me know of any resources you use in the comments section. It’s always great to share knowledge about productivity.