7 Steps to Help Focus & Set Goals Before The New Year
1. Use a Spreadsheet as a Starting Point
a) Create a spreadsheet that will contain sections that include various activities in your life such as family, friends, work, personal development (physical or mental), extra-curricular activities (interests and hobbies included), finances, and personal health.
b) Write down everything that was and is bothering/concerning you or keeping you up at night, and things you would like to achieve as well, for each category.
c) Create a color-coding system that enables you to visually and quickly see your priorities within these lists.
d) For each category, select several goals that you feel are workable/reasonably feasible for you to achieve with minimal difficulty (think of the “low lying fruit” concept).
2. Prioritization & Assessment
There will be instances when you may feel extra inspired and motivated to do something, maybe even something big. Most people tend to realize that the excitement dissipates after a (short) period and then you’re somewhat stuck (in your mind) with a huge commitment (you made to yourself or even someone else) that you may not be able to meet. This is why creating a regular habit of goal-setting and prioritizing will prove to be quite helpful in maintaining balance in your mind, and life and reducing stress as the rollercoaster will become more like a wavy road — yes with ups and downs, but (hopefully) less stressful.
When you do have those moments of extra energy and creativity, I would suggest that you write down these thoughts and perhaps even lofty goals and ambitions. Then each week review them and decide what was practical (as per point 3.). By writing down ideas when they are fresh, you can harness the inspiration of that moment without getting bogged down by placing unrealistic expectations upon yourself as you would likely (in the past) have committed to doing them instead. Grand ideas (large and not so large) need to be tempered and instead broken down into small steps that are “bite-sized” and easier to reach, which may take more to fulfill, but you will be more likely to complete them and with less anxiety and stress.
3. Goals Evaluated & Updated — A Process
Weekly Review: Set aside a consistent day and time of the week to review and update your lists. In doing this you may realize that your goals and/or objectives may have been too aspirational or ambitious (stretching you too much and thus also stressing you too much as well), and at this point, you can decide to either modify them or set them aside (park it) for a later timeline.
After a good while of consistently reviewing and updating your goals and objectives, you may come to realize that this process is a tremendous anxiety-reducer. I would propose that sometimes you may need to deal with anxious thoughts (related to these categories) by allowing yourself that some things may not get done in the timeline you hoped for and that perhaps this isn’t the right time. If those items were constructive and important, they wouldn’t arise during moments where your focus should be on other activities when you’re meant to be focusing on what you’re actually doing at that moment.
This process only works when we actually set aside time “later” to reflect on it. The end of the day, the end of the week or the end of the month, or all, are appropriate times to think about those things causing anxiety or stress and decide what to do about them — versus ignoring them and letting them fester into something larger and disruptive in your life.
You may also realize that many of the things you may have been preoccupied with weren’t really problems, or things that seemed like major problems had an unexpected resolution. Sometimes in life, if we give some things a little time to work out — to think about, versus compress where we push ourselves to quickly resolve an issue when a problem seemed huge and insurmountable — gradually resolved itself. It is at this point where you are also able to cross off some items that weren’t in your control as you (initially) thought they were, and then enable yourself to focus only on those that are.
4. Distractor Prevention
It will often happen that when setting out to do work on a task you may come up with some other ideas while working on a said task(s). Obviously, this becomes somewhat of a distraction — if it takes you away from achieving your objective or task. If it is an idea on how to do this task better, but again requires multiple (and often time-consuming) steps in order to do so — stop it right there and push ahead. You can always do it another way next time, especially after you have gone through a post evaluation of your completed task where you may find that your end result was just as good or satisfactory/does the job as the saying goes. There are times when one has to focus on getting to the endpoint, the goal, and it is sometimes not about the finesse — it is about getting the task done period.
As a general rule, any time we are hard at work on one goal and suddenly a thought arises that we should be doing something else, it’s coming from the point of distraction or avoidance or will likely not keep you fiddles on the end game nor in a timely and efficient manner and potentially pushing you off-track.
5. Procrastination — The “kryptonite” of all productivity
So, what to do if you have the tendency to procrastinate?
If you are ADD/ADHD you may have a predisposition to distraction and procrastination, but regardless, whatever the cause or driver almost everyone experiences this to some degree. The name of the game here is to keep your mind on the goal/objective and to set a framework to stay within the framework of achieving this.
This is where list-making can be very helpful. I also suggest that not only using your phone or a written day-timer/agenda can help as well, but also using sticky notes where possible as visual cues to remind you.
Make note of the task you are avoiding and during one of your nightly or weekly check-in sessions, figure out why you’re avoiding it. Is there something about it that you find distasteful, uncomfortable, something you hate doing? A good idea may be to speak to a person who knows you well and talk through what is going on in your mind and walk the person through your daily routine where you end up using the task aside for a “later time” that does not get done. This person may have an outside view of you and the situation and be able to shed some thought on the situation. If this is something that is problematic, you may also consider consulting a professional.
Is the task too big? Maybe you need to break it down into smaller steps. Resist the urge to try to do everything at once. Don’t dump out your entire garage and try to clean it up and then park your car back into it unless you’ve set aside the necessary amount of time (an entire day) for said task.
Many people, especially ADD/ADHD have difficulty starting tasks and tend to be all or nothing and then get hyper-focused and try to push through in one huge push to get something done, even if they pause and have to come back to the task, it is once again challenging to “restart” what they were actually in the middle of doing. In this case, it is also an idea to possibly have someone with you as a potential active or silent (their presence) motivator to get started. Another method is to convince yourself to “just” do a small little task without pressure or expectation upon yourself to do more — and then more than likely, once you’re already in it you will slowly begin to move forward with the task at a regular pace. One technique for getting yourself started on an undesirable task is to set a timer for 15 minutes. It’s amazing how much can be accomplished in a short block of time. Once you’ve got yourself going, you may find it easier to keep on going and complete the task.
You may also consider that perhaps this chore isn’t really for you, and you need to delegate it to someone else who is perhaps much better or perhaps hire a professional such as in the case of being asked to paint some space in your home and you realize you just are likely not to do this that well — better hire a professional and it will be done right. Perhaps you have misjudged your time/availability and have not allocated or estimated how much the task really requires or how many steps are needed to get the task completed. So you then hire or find someone else to do this, or perhaps maybe you just need to have someone else help you with the task — whatever works for you.
6. Positive Mindset
When making a resolution, always use positive language, focusing on what “you will” do rather than on what you will avoid doing. Say to yourself “I will … ” rather than “I will try to … .” The problem with saying “I will try … ” is that it subtly gives the message that perhaps the task is unattainable, and subconsciously you are telling yourself that you ok with the idea that you may not end up doing this. If there’s any doubt about your ability to succeed, then modify your resolution. Make it easy enough that you can definitely fulfill it.
During your “check-in” sessions, it’s important to be in a positive mindset and allow yourself to become overwhelmed by how much you still have to do and how little you have accomplished. On the other hand, when we’re honest with ourselves, we may feel bitter disappointment. This is not unhealthy; bitterness or regret can be productive as long as they’re limited to those particular times and spur us to take action.
7. Grab and Grow
Sometimes, we just have to grab any opportunity, and as The Nike company says “Just Do It”! whether or not we are spiritually ready. Sometimes, we may perform a task that is well above our current level or a type of task that seems outside the range of our understanding or comfort level. In a single moment, you can take a leap in your growth, skipping over all intermediate levels. It is almost a spiritual stocktaking as well as that of our task list and anxiety level. And this is all good and well as long as it does not impede one from taking action in the present.