One of my many realisations at midlife is that I could benefit from doing a little more planning. Every year, sometimes multiple times a year, I set goals for myself. Sometimes these are annual goals. Sometimes these are “Gosh! We’re at the end of September and I want to get some big things done by the end of the year” goals. So I’ve come up with 7 steps to become a better planner.
Occasionally, I accomplish my goals without further thought, coming across my lists later and being somewhat surprised that I’ve achieved what I set out to do. These tend to be goals for things I really needed to do anyway, in the course of my work and life.
More often than not though, the same goals keep making a reappearance in future lists of goals, still unrealised. These tend to be the goals that, if accomplished, would ‘blow my mind’ i.e. long held and heartfelt aspirations that I’d really like to accomplish.
It’s comforting to know I’m not alone in this. Most of us know the research and have had personal experience of the dismal success rates of New Year’s resolutions or weight loss goals. There are also plenty of recommendations out there, giving us lists of how to set and achieve goals, including:
- Writing goals down
- Listing the benefits of achieving them
- Identifying obstacles and risks
- Developing a plan
- Setting a deadline
- Gathering a support team
I understand all this. I’ve read the books … but I still don’t follow through and I have to ask what gets in the way? Not surprisingly the answer is … me! (Or in your case, possibly you!)
It turns out the secret for me is planning. By temperament, I tend to dive into new things – starting anywhere without a plan and figuring it out as I go along. I’m always excited and energised at the beginning but lose interest fairly fast, as something new captures my attention.
At midlife I face the challenge of learning to operate in new ways, if I’m to finally achieve the goals I continually say are important to me.
It turns out there is no magic silver bullet. If you want to start a business, write a book, create a work of art, travel, renovate, lose weight, accomplish a fitness goal, find a partner or get on top of your finances, you need to set yourself a goal i.e. a dream with a (realistic) deadline and work methodically to achieve it.
For most of us that means taking our goals from aspiration to execution. As author Todd Henry says: “Inspiration has a shelf-life, unless you take action.”
Here then, are 7 planning steps to get you going:
- Stop before you start. Take the time to get clear about what it is you really want to achieve. This may differ from what we feel we ‘ought’ to achieve. There’s no point in me setting a goal to run a half marathon. I hate running! And while setting a goal like this might indeed enable me to get fitter, it won’t help me achieve my real goal to get “lean, toned and fit in a way that’s sustainable for life”.
- Reduce goals to a manageable number. Some say five, others say three. I suspect the answer is whatever is a manageable number for each of us. I’ve also figured out that a sneaky way to reduce the number of goals is by taking out those that will happen anyway.
- Turn each goal into a project. Most of us have grown up doing craft projects. Remember how much fun they were? So what about taking the focus off our goals and turning each of them into a project – with a clear outcome at the end of each one? This has the added benefit of putting a bit of distance between us and our goal so that we can learn and adjust our approach as we go.
- Give each project a name. While you can default to the actual name, it can be kind of fun to make something up e.g. Operation downsize me, or Project: expert financial manager. It’s your project, and you don’t have to tell anyone what you’re calling it, but if the title is catchy it may even help with your ongoing motivation.
- Break it down to its component parts. Before you go any further take out a piece of paper, write your fancy schmancy project name at the top of the page and then make a list of everything you think you’ll need to do to complete this project.
- Assess and prioritise. Based on past experience, make a generous assessment of how long it will take you to do each action on your list (this is especially important for one who tends to be overly optimistic about how fast I can get things done!)
- Schedule and follow through. Once you know what you need to do, schedule time in your calendar when you know you can hold the time. Then don’t let anyone or anything knock you off course. Resist the temptation to expect yourself to commit too much time. A day may be too big an ask but surely you can commit a couple of hours somewhere. And when you get to that scheduled time, do only that activity.
Right. I’m off to scope out Project: Glorious Gals go South East – what about you?