Reaching Your Goals
You know you want something. But whether it's a lofty goal, such as to be completely debt free or own your own company, or a smaller goal, such as to buy a new laptop or finish a project on time, sometimes what you want can seem unattainable. Goals can often feel overwhelming, especially when they involve life-changing events and activities. By breaking the overall goal into manageable, concrete actions, it becomes much more achieveable.
Identifying Your Goals
The first step to reaching your goal is to simply identify what that goal is. What is it that you hope to achieve? It can be as simple as knitting a blanket or as complicated and long-term as getting and staying out of debt.
When identifying goals, it's important to be as specific as possible. Knowing the destination makes planning the trip much easier. "Save money" is too vague. Try "save $100 a month" instead. "Take a vacation" doesn't offer a visual goal. Where and when will the vacation be?
If possible, find a picture that represents the ultimate goal. Use this as motivation when the going gets rough.
Making Your Goals Manageable
Next, break the goal down. Ask questions that will lead to actions. Here are ideas to get started, using the two examples from above:
- "Save $100 a month." Where will the money come from? What can be done to spend less so that money can be saved? Where will the money go -- savings account? CD? How about direct deposit?
- In the case of the vacation, how much will the vacation cost? How long will the vacation be? Will time off need to be requested? What supplies, clothes, guidebooks will be needed? Will tours need to be booked? Hotels reserved? Tickets purchased?
For complicated goals, such as getting out of debt, break the larger goal into smaller goals. For example, paying off each credit card, the mortgage, or past due bills. When are the bills due? What are the total balances? How much is due as a minimum each month? When do you want to have the debt paid off by?
Take the questions and come up with actions that will answer the questions. Not all of the actions will be completed immediately, but developing a plan of action will bring the goal closer to fulfillment. If a goal is to save money and stay out of debt, you might consider the following:
- Going to put the money in a savings account? Research banks to get the best interest rate, then open an account.
- Direct deposit? Contact your payroll department at work and set it up.
- Cutting back on expenditures? Determine how many times a week you'll pack your lunch instead of buy it, how to work out without a gym, how long you can make clothes last before you need to buy new ones, etc.
A goal that involves taking a vacation may involve the follwing considerations:
- Need time off from work? Put in a request.
- Need to reserve a hotel and purchase a plane ticket? Research hotels and airlines. Book the best one.
- Not sure what to pack? Make a packing list, including a list of items to purchase.
Organizing Your Action List
Write down the actions that need to be taken to accomplish your goal, based on the answers from the previous step. Having a written to do list will provide a visual reminder without overwhelming you.
Be as specific as possible with each task. This makes it easier to achieve and keeps you from procrastinating. For tasks that must be done each week or each month, list the task for each week or month. Be very literal to avoid confusion. Don't be deterred by seemingly small actions. Even the smallest task will make the goal closer.
Put the tasks in chronological order -- either by the order in which they must be accomplished (i.e. opening a savings account before setting up direct deposit) or by date. Put the list in a prominent location. Look at it often to keep your goals fresh in your mind. Update the list as needed.
Making a list of actions to take is great, but unless those list items are completed, you won't achieve your goal. Come up with a game plan to tackle the items on your list. For items like saving money, make the tasks habit so they are easier to accomplish. Plan to check off a certain number of items every day or every week, then follow through. Remain consistent and determined. It will get easier over time.
Keep track of your progress. Periodically look at your action list and your overall goal. Can you see yourself getting closer? If you don't see any progress, don't be afraid to make adjustments to your plan. Achieving your goals is a work in progress, and you have to find a plan that works for you. But don't get discouraged if progress is slow, especially with larger goals. Movement in the right direction is still movement -- and that will get you closer to your goal. Even baby steps add up. Don't beat yourself up if you have a setback, though. As long as you don't lose sight of what you're trying to achieve, a minor setback won't keep you from your goal.
As you reach milestones, reward yourself. Anything worth achieving will require hard work, and you've been working hard! Determine a reward that doesn't set you back in your goals but makes you feel like you've accomplished something.