Set Small Goals to Reach Your Potential

I took some time off work recently to help my wife with one of her projects.  We have a guest house that has become a storage space, and we wanted to clean it out completely to get it ready for our son to move into.  He’s 24 and in his last year of college, but his bedroom is small.  This gives him a space that’s bigger and more private while affording him the comforts and benefits of living at home. 

Knowing how my wife is, I took the week off to help.  I’m of the school that a little progress each day is good, but she’s from a different school.  She’s of the mind that “Let’s get it all done now.”  She will work until she can’t work anymore, and then try to repeat the process the next day.  It made me realize the problem with large goals versus small goals.  With my method, I was happy with our progress each day,  After five days of work, the house is completely empty, ready to be cleaned and re-painted.  But, since she wanted to work until she dropped each day, she was never content with our progress, always feeling that “we could have done more.” 

The problem with large goals is that no matter how much progress one makes if you haven’t achieved the goal, you won’t be satisfied with your progress. There’s no allowance for celebrating success along the way.  A better way to set goals is to have smaller “micro” goals that can be accomplished so that progress is clear and achievable. 

That was my problem for 30 years with writing.  I kept trying to set monetary goals.  This was always driven by the idea that “someday I’ll write for a living.” What I didn’t realize at the time is, I didn’t have a path to success.  There was no vehicle to make me even 10 cents from my writing.  OK, that’s not completely true, there were a few venues that were similar to how Medium is today.  There was one called Associated Content.  They got bought by Yahoo and then subsequently killed.  I made about $20 off all my writing on that platform over the years.  But no matter what happened with my writing, my goal was to make money from it, not to write.  It was a bad goal.  It was too big, and ultimately, it was an outcome, not a goal in and of itself.  The real goal is to become a writer.  

I tried to explain to my wife why she needs to set a smaller goal, but she would have none of it. She wants to get things done as soon as possible regardless of anything else.  Again, at the end of the week, I’m happy we got the project done before I have to go back to work on Monday, and she’s disappointed it took all week.  Same result, different attitudes. 

With my smaller goals of just making sure I write every day, I read every day, and I work on learning a new language every day, I feel like I’m accomplishing something every single day.  I would love to work in drawing every day, but that doesn’t seem to be the case yet.  I only have a finite amount of time, and I’m already getting up at 4 AM just to get this much done each day, I can’t get up any earlier.  I do try to draw in the evenings when I don’t have too much work to finish up, or when I’m traveling because I have a lot more alone time when I travel.  Although drawing on the plane isn’t really possible, but reading and writing are. 

My point today is that you need to find smaller goals that you can set yourself and stick to. I’ve seen so many budding writers struggle with the day to day mechanics of writing. One young writer I follow was lamenting that he felt guilty when the entire family went to work, while he stayed home and played video games and slept in.  There’s a way to fight that guilt, it’s get up and do your own work.  Get up at a reasonable time and write, read, etc.  I dare say he wouldn’t feel guilty about not having a job yet if he was still working every day.  Not getting paid is not the same as not working.  Plus, the amount of work one could get done in just a week of full 8-hour days is absolutely mind-boggling to someone like myself who carves out a few hours each day just to write 1000 words.  I would be able to write at least 5000 words each day.  I could get a month’s worth of writing in a week.  Plus the reading I could get done.  Oh, to dream. 

I actually need to take a real vacation from my day job and do nothing but creative work for the entire period to see how I handle it.  First, can I handle it?  It’s a different kind of stress, that’s for sure.  Second, can I actually write all day long?  I’ve only done that when I’ve had major school projects to finish and let’s just say those weren’t the most creative endeavors.  Especially my most recent works with my Master’s degree.  Those were all research projects around information security.  I enjoyed the work, but they weren’t creative.  The problem for me now would be that my work won’t leave me alone. Even though I was on vacation this week, I read more than 450 emails and responded to the ones that needed attention.  Granted, I did this so that I didn’t have 500+ emails to catch up on Monday, but the point is, it’s hard to step away when you have people who report to you. 

Back to goals.  If you are struggling with achieving your goals, I recommend starting over.  Set new goals, smaller ones this time.  Something you can attain. The best thing about setting your own goals, is you have the right to change them at any time.  If something isn’t working, you just change it.  It’s your life, these are yours to change.  You only have yourself to answer to and if you aren’t making progress that you want to, maybe your goals are a little too large.  Set smaller ones that will support the bigger goal.  That way, you can at least feel good about your progress.  

Whatever works to help you get to your goals and make you feel good about your work is a winning solution, in my opinion.  Micro goals really work.  I need to start exercising because, well, I’m 50.  So when I start, I’ll get myself some small task of doing X amount of exercise every day.  Walk for 15 minutes, or do 25 push-ups, or something like that.  But I’ll make sure I do it every day, that will be the goal.  Something I can accomplish.  Again, I’m not sure where the hell I’m going to fit that in, but that’s the idea anyway.  I’ve played around with a treadmill desk because I pace when I’m on the phone.  I think it would be perfect to get some exercise while I work.  We shall see.  If all this fantastic AI technology actually worked, I could dictate my daily writing.  Although 1) It doesn’t work well, I’d spend more time correcting than writing and 2) My writing voice is totally different when I dictate then when I speak.  I’m not sure I like it. 

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m a big fan of goal setting to get what you want out of life.  The key is finding ones that help you support your larger goals.  Instead of having a goal to buy a house, have a goal to stop wasting money daily.  Make your own coffee instead of buying Starbucks, or something along those lines.  Compound on those smaller goals to support that larger goal.  Break those bigger goals down into smaller chunks that you can achieve and celebrate when you do!  Not only will you actually get to your goals, but you’ll be happier along the way. 

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