There are a lot of articles out there telling us how effective goal setting can be. I’m sure you know about SMART goals – Goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. But once you’ve come up with your specific goals how do you make sure you keep continuously chipping away at them and don’t let them drop off into oblivion? This article will give you some tips on how to stay on track with your goals.

Why it’s hard to stay on track with goals

Let’s take medium term goals as an example. These are the kind you set around the end of the year for the year ahead, so a 1 year time frame. Let’s consider the reasons why it can be difficult to stay on track with your goals.

– The goal is too large
– Can’t see progress towards the goal
– No rewards for making progress and the goal is too far away
– Lose sight of benefits of achieving the goal
– Not enough time available to spend on the goal
– Other higher priority things come up each time you want to work on the goal

If any of these sound familiar, read on. All of these things can become hurdles that steer you off track. Once you’ve slipped a few times it becomes easy to ignore your goals. So how do you overcome these challenges?

How to stay on track

At productivity steps we love lists. So here are 6 steps that will give you the ability to stay on track with your goals:
1. Create smaller goals
2 Create a framework for getting work done that leads to your goals
3 Make it visible
4 Reward yourself
5 Remind yourself of the benefits of achieving your goals
6 Develop the will to meet your goals and stay on track

1. Smaller goals

1. Put them in a place where you can see them
2. Create smaller post-it notes that contribute to each one and can be accomplished in a medium length period, say 1 month
3. For the first month, break these up into even smaller post-it notes that can be accomplished in a week or a day – These are your mini goals.

Next week along with your work, house chores, family and social commitments, attack one of those small post-its from step 3 above. If you’ve sized it correctly, it’ll be small enough to complete within the week. It’ll also be small enough and very specific so that you have no chance to procrastinate or put it off because you don’t have time. If you can’t consistently complete these, then break the 1-week post-its into even smaller pieces. For example, things that can be achieved in half a day; tackle one of those each week.

Once you get this working consistently, you’ll be making progress towards your goals every week. Consistency is the key that will help you achieve your goals.

2. A framework for working on your goals

Once you have the above technique worked out, it’s time to make working on your goals part of your routines. I am currently using the 1-3-5 technique to create a list of my most important tasks at the end of each day so that I know what I’m doing the next day – it’s a simple yet effective prioritisation technique. Maybe you do something similar, or maybe you have a more elaborate productivity or task management framework. Either way, make sure your goal post-its become part of your routine every week which will ensure you stay on track. This is much easier if you have broken your goals down well in step 1 above, which is what makes that idea so powerful.

3. Make it visible

If you make your goals visible, for example by placing them on a wall in your home, you will have a natural feeling of being more accountable for ensuring that they are completed. It’s the same as responsibilities you’ve been assigned at work – if it’s visible to others, you naturally feel like you want to complete them successfully. If on the other hand your goals are not visible to anyone but yourself, it’s much easier to let it drop off because you don’t have that feeling of accountability. An alternative is to ensure you tell someone else about your specific goals and when you are aiming to achieve them. This also creates a feeling of accountability as that person will ask you how you are going towards achieving those goals.

Another benefit of making your goals visible is that you will be reminding yourself of those goals. Put them in a place where you’ll see them and be able to quickly read them every day. This will make sure they’re not forgotten and you will feel good knowing that as you complete your weekly post-its you are working your way towards achieving the things you want.

4. Rewards

Reward yourself for your achievements! This positive reinforcement will help motivate you to keep completing more of your weekly post-its from step 1 above. You can also make these rewards visible by putting them on your wall.

There are also many apps and games out there that you can use as motivation to work on your goals. Progressing or attaining higher levels in these games can have the same effect as other kinds of rewards and motivate you to continue working.

5. Reminder of the Benefits

Sometimes when a goal is quite far off and you’ve been working on it for quite a while, you lose sight of the reason it’s one of your goals in the first place. To help motivate you to stay on track with your goals it’s useful to give yourself a reminder of the benefits of achieving them. You only need to do this at the high level for your actual medium term goals, not for the broken down mini goals (your post-its from step 1 above). This will be a powerful motivator if it’s visible to you every day as in step 3 for the actual medium term goals.

6. Personal will to set a goal and meet it

Of course, things change and increasingly we need to be able to adapt and constantly re-invent ourselves little bits at a time, via continuous improvement. This might lead you to think that it’s ok to let go of a goal with the excuse that the benefit is no longer relevant. However this is very misleading. The idea of continuous improvement of yourself should be applied to improving your ability to stay on track with these medium term goals. To be able to achieve things you need to have the ability to set goals and meet them. Just having met the goal will give you a lot of confidence in your ability to set goals and meet them.

That’s why I strongly recommend sticking through the hard times by using the above steps to keep you on track, as this ability to set goals and meet them is useful throughout your career.

Leave a comment to let us know how you stay on track with your goals

More great links on goals
http://www.wikihow.com/Stick-to-Your-Goals
http://www.wikihow.com/Set-Goals
http://operationmeditation.com/discover/6-extremely-effective-goal-setting-techniques/
http://velocitylabs.io/blog/2011/12/26/agile-goal-setting/
http://www.planetofsuccess.com/blog/2011/best-goal-setting-strategies/

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