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In Order to Reach Your Goals, Only Keep Small To-Do Lists Visible

The contradictory way to accomplish your goals


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Jerren Gan

3 years ago | 4 min read

When we think about the future, most of us will have certain aims and ideals that we want to achieve.

Whether it is learning a new skill, starting a successful business or becoming a prolific writer on Medium, we look forward to satisfying our lofty expectations and lifelong dreams.

To achieve these ambitious dreams, we find ourselves setting actionable goals for ourselves. To write a book by the end of the year, to lose 5 kg by the end of the month, to reach 5000 dollars in sales weekly, setting a goal gives us a tangible end result to work towards.

Yes, setting these broad goals is a great way to approach life and motivate us to work hard to achieve our dreams. I often find myself scribbling all my various goals for every aspect of my life on my notebooks, planning out all the actions I have to take to achieve them.

After all, these strategies are often touted by successful individuals. They tell us to write our goals down, keeping them visible and constantly believe that we can achieve them. And if these strategies worked for them, why wouldn’t it be helpful for us too?

Yet, as I work my way towards reaching my goals, I have come to realise that there is a better way to encourage myself and make constant substantial progress.

Goals are a great way to transform your dreams into feasible finish lines. But when you constantly mull over and deliberate over your goals, it is easy to find yourself overwhelmed and stressed out.

By constantly keeping these goals in sight, you unconsciously begin to compare your current situation to what you dream of achieving.

You see yourself as a failure because you’ve only earned 500 dollars in sales this week, a mere 10% of your goal. Even after writing a whole chapter, you find yourself worrying that you are still too far away from your goal to publish it by the end of the year.

These comparisons, while seemingly harmless, slowly start to chip away at your motivation. Before you know it, you begin to treat these goals as a chore, making it much more challenging to complete them.

That’s why, to maintain my motivation to work, I have decided to keep my goals of sight. To replace them, I employ a simpler to-do list system that actively encourages me to take comfortable steps and focus on the small processes that make the dream possible.

My To-Do List System

When I have goals I want to achieve, I think about all the small actionable steps that I would have to take. In this case, pretend that I want to compile a poetry analogy while learning a new language (say, Korean). So the steps that I have to take would be to write poems and study Korean.

After much trial and error, I found that weekly to-do lists were the most effective for me. So I write down my to-do list for the week:

Week 1
Write 5 poems about friendship
Learn the Korean consonants
(and other deadlines I have for the week for work/school)

Maybe that particular week was a stressful one and I only had time to study Korean. So the second week would look like this:

Week 1
Write 5 poems about friendship
Learn the Korean consonants (done!)
(and other deadlines I have for the week for work/school)
Week 2
Write 5 poems about betrayal
Learn the Korean vowels
(and other deadlines I have for the week for work/school)

Instead of throwing away the to-do list for the previous week, I keep the list so that I can work on those if I had time. By the end of the month, I should have something like this:

Week 1
Write 5 poems about friendship (done!)
Learn the Korean consonants (done!)
(and other deadlines I have for the week for work/school)
Week 2
Write 5 poems about betrayal (written 2)
Learn the Korean vowels (done!)
(and other deadlines I have for the week for work/school)
Week 3
Write 7 poems about anything (written 3)
Learn 20 basic vocabulary for Korean
Week 4
Read 5 different poems for inspiration (READ)
Write 5 poems based on a novel (done)
Practice reading Korean words for 6 hours (read for 4 hours!)

As you can see, through the weeks, I worked on various items and ticked them off even if they didn’t belong in that week. Of course, there are leftover items for the month.

Instead of simply continuing the list or starting a new to-do list, I often dedicate the first week of every month as the week to catch-up on my leftover actionable steps that I have failed to complete.

(Following Month)
Week 1 (leftover to-do list)
Write 3 poems about betrayal
Write 4 poems about anything
Learn 20 basic vocabulary for Korean
Practice reading Korean words for 2 hours

By designating week 1 as a “catch-up” week, I can ensure that I am maintaining a good pace towards reaching my goals. If I find that a particular “step” is constantly left undone, I know to reflect and find out why I am failing to achieve that “step”

On the other hand, if I manage to keep a good pace and complete everything (or nearly everything) the month before, the first week of the month becomes a week for me to take a breather and enjoy other things that I might like.

By keeping to my to-do list system, I am able to ensure that I keep things simple and achievable, reducing the stress I put on myself while still being able to reach my goals ultimately.

Indeed, goals are important to have as they are meaningful finish lines that encourage one to work harder and achieve one’s dreams.

But at the same time, many goals are often ambitious and difficult to surmount. After all, they are the physical manifestation of all our finest dreams and fantasies.

In this long marathon, sprinting blindly towards these finishing lines would only tire you out quickly without actually bringing you to the end.

That’s why, by adopting a simpler, stripped-down process like this to-do list system, you will hopefully be more motivated to take more steps, eventually helping you reach your finishing line.

It’s time to stop worrying so much about the big life-changing goals.

This article was originally published by Jerren gan on medium.

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Jerren Gan

| Freelance writer • Blogger • Poet | Loves writing about the environment, society and the beauty of language • used to write movie and book reviews on my blog | medium account: https://medium.com/@jerrengan


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