A few weeks ago I posted the article 6 Things I Learned After Researching 1,000 Self-Help Articles. By far, the most common comment was that everyone has read a lot of self-help advice but struggles to take action. If you buy a bunch of self-help books or attend fancy courses on the weekend and come Monday, you do not make changes, you just end up with an expensive pile of notes and books.
It’s a vicious cycle I know all too well as I have eaten a few shame-sandwiches followed by a dessert of humble-pie as a result of procrastinating and overwhelming myself with too many options. Imagine yourself starved after the gym and the restaurant menu is 4 pages long. Panic. Indecision. You become hangry.
I often hinder myself before I even begin due to one fatal error: LACK OF CLARITY. Remember, fuzzy targets are hard to hit. You may have an image in your mind of your dream house but your contractor still needs a set of drawings.
Anytime you say you want financial freedom, better social skills, or to learn a new language, ask yourself, “What should my plan look like?”
This is what that looks like…
Above is a template you can use for turning your vague goals, habits, and projects into clear options. The key word here being options. We will get to the implementation part in #7 in just a moment.
Get the template by clicking here (once you open it, simply copy and paste it into a new gSheet or Excel document)
The 7-Column Goals Planner Spreadsheet does not guarantee you will accomplish your goals but it significantly eases the burden of getting started in the first place and we could all use all the help we can get :).
This spreadsheet will give you visual clarity on all the ideas swirling around in your noggin.
Goal Planner Spreadsheet Process
Write your goals down - Not to worry, in this step loads of detail is not required.
Define what success looks like within the next 6 months - You can adjust the time period to your circumstances but this step gets you clear on what exactly you are trying to accomplish.
What are specific actions you can take? - For larger goals, odds are there will be a bunch of actions required to complete them. Again, we are in the ideation phase here, so feel free to get down as many specific actions as you think necessary.
We will get to the choosing part in #7 but in terms of prioritization, ask yourself, “Is this really the most important task related to accomplishing my goal?” We have created a planner for this exact purpose: Prioritization. Like diamond cutters will tell you: Measure twice, cut once. You need a plan. Period.
Set a time for approximately how long the task will take - How long will you dedicate solely to this particular action?
Recurring or one-off? - Is this a recurring task that will be done daily/weekly? Or is this a one time only task? I find this an invaluable way to separate out habits versus one-off tasks.
Where - Assign where you will get the task done.
Over 100 separate studies have come to the same conclusion: people who explicitly state when and where their new behaviors are going to happen are much more likely to stick to their goals.
We will get to the “when” part next in #7, but first an intermission…
INTERMISSION - What Goal(s) To Focus On / Making A Choice
Up until this point we are simply getting a high level overview of our options. #7 below will require locking a task into your calendar, that is, making choices of which goal(s) to pursue.
Even if you cannot commit to choosing right now, I highly recommend at least filling out columns #1-#6.
Every time you say to yourself, “I should _____”, you now have a clear visual representation of options on how to take action.
And because you have the top-level goal, a task like “making a grocery list this week” is connected to a deeper why - getting out of debt. Eating in (making a grocery list) becomes a tactic for not overspending on eating out. You Uber-Eats addicts know who you are. ;)
Now we get to the actual ‘blocking off the time to do it’…
Looking at the length of time to complete each goal and comparing it with the free time available in your weekly schedule, you are probably realizing you do not have time to do all of them.
Despite knowing this, the tendency is to want to cram as many actions as possible into your calendar like a game of tetris.
This is where you have to get honest with yourself. Look at your personal history. Have you ever accomplished two big goals at once? Three? Even if you have, how did you FEEL taking on so much?
In my experience, any time I try to take on multiple goals at once, I get overwhelmed and burn out. I am guessing your experience is similar.
That’s why it is super important that you pick, at most, 1 goal and 1 habit to complete, no matter what.
These should be the ones you are constantly thinking about while in the shower, commuting or folding your laundry.
Are you constantly thinking about starting your own business, connecting with more people related to your industry, becoming more present?
Ask yourself, if you accomplished nothing else this year, which goal would you choose?
If you still have trouble choosing, then for the first few weeks, experiment trying to cram in multiple goals and habits. If you do not feel like your schedule is a pressure cooker and you are making progress you are satisfied with, that’s awesome! If you find you're constantly stressed and achieving very little, time to scale things back.
When - now is the time to lock the goal(s) you chose above into your calendar. In column #6 you have a where, now choose a when.
By doing this spreadsheet you help tip the scale in your favor of taking action; but, let me address one last issue.
“I chose a goal and have a specific action related to the goal, chose a time and place to do it, but I am still procrastinating? What do I do?”
While I wish I could give you a magic recipe, there is not one - so here are a few remedies:
- Does your action step make you anxious / nervous / fearful? To lower the fear level, lower the risk level. Could you make the action easier in some way that still feels like a win?
In the beginning you may have to experiment with approaches. You may want to go to the gym and workout but realize group outdoor workouts are more your jam. You may decide you want to write in the morning but being a night owl is more your thing. You may want to get out of debt by saving $3 on lattes every day but perhaps you could freelance instead and enjoy your lattes?
Do you have too many goals in your schedule? I like to give myself at least 5-hours a week to work on one goal (1 hour M-F). Are other goals clogging your schedule? Could you cut something out?
- Do you have competing goals? You may want to get 8 hours of sleep and also want to get in a workout early in the morning. Does one goal make the other goal more challenging? Can you adjust a little to make it work or do you need to cut and/or choose a new goal?
Now, go out this week and make things happen!
P.S. Assuming you have clarity about your goal (specific actions, a where, and a when) and you are still not achieving anything, ask yourself “why not?”. Reply in the comments; I’d love to hear from you. I am here to help. We can work on things together and get you where you want to go…