Whether you are just entering the workforce or have been working for years, everyone has career goals. While some goals are loftier than others, they are often simple to state or describe. It’s easy to say you one day hope to hold a certain title, start your own business, work in a specific city, or graduate with a Master’s Degree. For most, describing the path to this end goal is a much harder task.
There are so many decisions, variables, and experiences along the way. And many get caught up in daydreaming about what they hope the future holds, instead of actively working towards their desired outcome. Without a plan, the process of attaining these goals can feel overwhelming. This paralyzing feeling can derail your ambitions from becoming reality, but here is how we combat this.
Procrastination. While this is a term that we familiar with, many of us still suffer from procrastination daily. That paralyzing feeling mentioned earlier is what leads to us procrastinating. And this ultimately prevents us from reaching our long-term goals. Tim Urban, an expert on procrastination, brilliantly explains why we procrastinate in a Ted Talk from 2016.
While using a colorful metaphor involving monsters and monkeys, Tim argues that people are wired to want instant gratification and make decisions based on this want. When work is required, this gratification is not instant, and people tend to put off this work until panic sets in. Panic takes the form of deadlines, due dates, and other time-sensitive requirements, often associated with short-term tasks, assignments or goals. With a deadline looming, it is as if a switch flips in a person, and all the sudden it is time to make that phone call, send that email or meet with that person.
However, with long-term goals, procrastination can be even more troublesome. Goals that have no deadlines do not come with the benefit of panic motivating you to begin. Things like a career change or going back to the gym can consistently be put on the back burner, telling yourself that you can always start tomorrow. Tim describes this process saying, “It’s that long-term procrastination has made them feel like a spectator, at times, in their own lives. The frustration is not that they couldn’t achieve their dreams; it’s that they weren’t even able to start chasing them.”
From Start to Finish
So how do we escape this cycle, motivate ourselves to start and to finish? For both short-term and long-term goals, the most important step is getting started. Implementing a routine that emphasizes discipline and action is crucial to your success, as it helps accomplish tasks that you do not necessarily want to do, but know we have to do. The 5-Second Rule emphasizes beginning a task by counting down from five, pushing productivity and making decisions. Starting is a choice, made easier by attaching a tangible timeline, which in this case is 5 seconds long.
Another strategy is to consider is making your bed each morning. When you begin your day by accomplishing a task, it makes the tasks that will follow much easier to accomplish. It also gets you in the necessary mindset that enables success in anything you do; no matter how big or small. The man behind this philosophy is Navy Adm. William H. McCraven who says, “Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
For goals that are longer-term, the strategies above are great for getting started. But what can we do to constantly be working towards something that is not as clear? The key is forming a solid, strategic plan. Goals that involve several parts, that sometimes can take years, are hard to wrap our heads around. There can be so many variables to consider or changes that may occur, plans can become jumbled if not done well.
First, plan backward and specifically. How do you define success? Then, set benchmarks that will create a clear path moving forward. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do in ten years, five years, one year or in six months to go from where I know, to where I want to be?” Write these benchmarks down and begin each month with a to-do list that is on track with your goal’s nearest benchmark. These benchmarks should be quantifiable, measurable and descriptive. Track things like increases in salary or hours worked, as opposed to variables that can change daily, like your overall happiness. As you accomplish these monthly to-do lists and begin meeting benchmarks, the path to your goal will only become clearer. And you will begin to wonder why you did not start sooner!
It is important to recognize that good things often do not come easy. The ability to reach the goals we set for ourselves requires foresight, patience, and perseverance. Planning backed in research is wonderful, but useless unless implemented and acted on. The first step is always the hardest and most crucial. So why not start today?