I was living in India. We had just had a daughter. I didn’t know when we would come back home.
This is when I decided to write a book on how to buy a Mac without breaking the bank. It was going to be an adventure. It turned out to be quite an experience!
It wasn’t easy. The journey caused me to face my fears and doubts. I got emotional. But writing a book was a great standalone project with some clear goals to achieve.
Writing, a book or a blog for that matter, is a solitary endeavor. It requires consistency and discipline. Unfortunately these skills are hard to come by in today’s population.
In a previous post I covered how clarity is a key component for achieving your goals. Here I will focus on the process I use to stay on track and meet my goals.
- Do you have trouble achieving your goals?
- Do you find yourself procrastinating?
- Do you constantly get distracted?
- Do you get discouraged by long term goals, too far away to be tangible?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, keep on reading.
When you are working towards goals, the most important aspect is consistency. And consistency requires motivation. Here are 5 steps to stay consistent and motivated.
Step 1: Short term goals
Starting with the mission statement created following the 5 steps system here, the first step is to reverse-engineer your life goals. Write down in details what components are necessary to achieve them. It will help you picture clearly how you can reach your goals.
Then, go back in time and write down shorter-term milestones paving the way to your goals. Write down 3-year and 1-year milestones. I recommend 5 goals each time so you can stay focused.
Finally, slice it down further to 6 months, 3 months and 30 days milestones, and also 5 goals each time. I recommend going even further and writing down weekly and daily goals.
Make sure that each goal is a SMART goal (Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Time-bound).
Let’s use “writing a book” to illustrate the process. One of my life goals is to make an impact in the world. The book is one of the components necessary to achieve this life goal. It is typically a 1-year goal.
Deducing some time for book editing, designing a cover and the act of publishing, I then define a 6 months goal of finishing the writing. If the book has 6 chapters, it means my monthly goal will be to write one chapter. I write it down in my monthly plan.
Finally, I can slice down these goals in weekly and daily ones. A weekly goal would be to write 7 pages (if a chapter is 30 pages) and a daily one to write one page (about 500 words).
Defining all the milestones takes time but it is crucial to build actionable plans so that you know exactly what you need to do at any point in time. With monthly, weekly and daily goals, you now have short-term goals that keep you motivated as you can see your progress every day. This the first key item for consistency.
Step 2: The power of habits
Habits work like magic. They are the easiest way to get things done without spending too much energy. Habits mean automation: you do your tasks (almost) without thinking.
To illustrate it, let’s take the example of brushing your teeth. Is it a lot of effort for you to do it? Do you do it automatically? It is easy for us to brush our teeth, but think about when you were a child. It wasn’t so easy back then. And if you have children you can see that until it becomes a habit, it is a struggle for them (and for you!).
Once you have your goals written down, the next step is to take action. Look at your goals: what habits can you build that are congruent with your goals? Try to figure out two to three habits that you can then put in your schedule to get the work done.
For writing a book, one habit to build would be to write 500 words every day. It might take 30 minutes or an hour to do so (or even more at the beginning). It will be hard at the beginning, but after 30 days, it will become part of your routine. It will then be much easier to carry on writing.
Doing a specific task at the same time every day also helps building habits. It is not an obligation, but it makes it easier for your brain to automate the task. I’m guessing you are brushing your teeth in the morning, maybe after lunch, and before going to bed. The brushing happens at the same time every day or is triggered by specific events, like every time you have eaten or when you’re going to bed.
Build habits as much as you can and it will be much easier to get the work done and achieve your goals.
Step 3: Start small, then raise your standards
Setting hard goals for yourself straight away is likely to get you discouraged. My recommendation is to start small. As a first step, set yourself goals that you can almost not fail to achieve (there must still be a little bit of effort involved otherwise you would have already achieved those goals). Taking the book example, a first goal could be to write 100 words a day.
Achieving your first goals will give you confidence. Once you have achieved them, raise the bar. Set a goal of 200 words a day. Keep raising the bar, as far as you can.
Also, don’t set yourself too many goals, otherwise you will loose your focus, 5 weekly goals should be a maximum.
Achieving goals brings us to our next step.
Step 4: Keeping track
To stay motivated, it’s important to achieve your goals, but also to witness your progress and growth. I would recommend writing down your progress and achievements in a journal daily. But you can use anything you like, such as a simple text file or Excel spreadsheet.
I favor the journal as it encourages you to comment on your progress. You can “qualify” your growth. But it is perfectly possible to add comments in an Excel spreadsheet as well.
On top of that, set up weekly and monthly reviews of your goals and progress. During those reviews, if you see that you are falling behind, decide what actions you need to take to get back on track. If you are already doing your maximum and realize your goals are not achievable in the time frame that you set for yourself, you might want to adjust your goals to be a bit more realistic.
Step 5: Rewards
Apart from keeping track of your progress and your successes, rewarding yourself for meeting your goals is an important part of the process. It gives you another opportunity to appreciate what you have accomplished so far. It can also be an extra carrot to keep you motivated when you are having a hard time reaching your goal.
I will admit rewards have not been a big contributing factor in achieving my goals. Once I have built some habits and I have done a good portion of the journey I don’t find that rewards are a big deal any more.
But when a big goal is achieved, I will take the time to celebrate. Like once the book is published.
But others get more mileage out of rewards.
I definitely recommend rewarding yourself at the beginning. A reward can be going out to watch a film, going to the beach, having a nice meal or a nice bottle of wine.
Try it out for yourself. You might find out that rewards are an important motivator to achieve your goals, or not. Find your own balance.
In the end I finished and published the book within 6 months. It was a long endeavor. But by focusing on short-term steps, on building habits and by staying consistent, my goal was achieved.
It’s amazing what you can do with consistency.