In September, many of us feel renewed energy to accomplish our goals - or extra pressure to meet deadlines.
Every day, I hear how hard it is to simply “get things done.” While setting realistic goals and dealing with the dreaded “to-do list” will always be a challenge, I want to share with you a few things that have helped me accomplish more with less stress.
I believe “getting it done” requires setting the right goals, having personalized systems for tracking progress, and building in room for change.
Here are five ideas that have improved my experience of setting and completing both broad goals and specific daily tasks:
1. Use other people’s systems as a source of inspiration, not as a “quick fix” to all your to-do list suffering (including the ideas in this blog!). The options can leave your head spinning - whether it’s a new app being advertised, a supervisor’s instructions, or a well-meaning friend. View the endless options as an opportunity to research what works for you. Give yourself complete permission to set aside what doesn’t make you successful and then adapt what does to fit in even better with your needs and strengths. Are you a paper and pen person or do you thrive on the latest technology? Do you need to work on your to-do list once a week or 3 times a day? Do you combine lists for work and personal tasks, or approach them separately? In the end, the only right answer is what makes you feel less anxiety and more productive.
2. Set your own numerical goals. This process turns a vague feeling of “so so SO much to do” into something you can control and celebrate. An example would be asking yourself “how many work items can I put on my list today?” If you don’t know what number is “right" just start somewhere. Say seven. Think about what those seven might be. Then check in with yourself about how that number feels. If you start to panic, reduce it to five or six. If you feel very confident about completing seven maybe raise the number to ten. These are your goals, and the purpose is not to punish yourself for falling short but rather to set yourself up for success.
3. Put goals in context. If you are setting personal goals, consider your work goals, and vice versa. But also don’t forget the larger context - family, community, and the world. For example, in November I will be looking for a new apartment and I am told that when the weather is cooler that is a good time to find deals. I will also remind myself that the first week of the month may be a less productive time for me both because of out of town guests arriving and because of a big election. This example is a big picture goal, but the same idea applies to a quick everyday task that may work best at a certain time of day or is effected by the people around you.
4. Use repetition to improve memory and motivation. Advertisers and campaigners know that humans learn and remember when they receive messages repeatedly and in different ways. I use the same principal when I communicate to myself what I need to do. Although I have one main notebook that I keep my to-do lists in, when I want to reinforce items I have a soft spot for colored post-it notes where I rewrite what is most immediate or most important. Sometimes, if I have a plan to accomplish something big, I make sure to say it out loud. Does it sound like something I am really going to do? You can tell a friend, family member, pet, co-worker, therapist or coach! Added bonus: Since the task is in more than one place I get to cross it off or delete it from more than one place - so satisfying!
5. Stay flexible and revisit task lists and goals. There are external forces around us moving a mile a minute and if everything else is changing, our goals and timelines must too. We also learn things about ourselves and are abilities as we go, so growing into our plans could mean going farther than we thought we could. Reframe revisions and adjustments as a vital, exciting part of meeting goals (For example, I set out to make a list of four for this blog, and here are five!). Also, remember to communicate those changes to yourself and those around you.
I wish you a Fall 2018 full of crossing off, deleting, revising, contextualizing, and moving forward to accomplish your goals and dreams. I look forward to hearing from you about how it is going and what you are getting done.