1. No planning, bad planning, or too much planning.
Oh, the power of the plan. “Plans are useless,” said Dwight D. Eisenhower, “but planning is indispensable.” The act of planning helps you to figure out where you want to go (the goal) and how you’re going to get there (the next action you need to take). The best plans cover just that much information and, really, not much more.
No planning can leave you wandering. You aren’t committed to one goal or course of action, so you waver and accomplish nothing.
Bad planning can leave you overwhelmed by details, a rigid schedule, or a totally unrealistic view of the daily distractions and obstacles you will encounter. A good plan allows you to be flexible, deal with the details as they arise, and keep moving forward even when things go wrong.
Too much planning is just you wallowing around in your planner and task list instead of taking that next action you need to take. Trust me, you won’t make much progress that way.
2. Too many goals.
You only have so much time, energy, and availability. If you spread yourself too thin by pursuing too many goals at the same time, you’ll make minimal or no progress in each. That’s just plain discouraging.
Instead, focus on one to three “big” goals, and keep the rest of your life in maintenance mode. Once you make significant progress, or reach a goal, you can tackle another. Success breeds success, so you’ll build on your momentum as you complete one goal and go for the next.
3. Goals you don’t care about.
Your mom, your spouse, your brother, and your ten best friends may all think it’s a great idea for you to start a business or lose weight. But if you don’t really care, there’s no point in setting that goal. You’re the one who has to work for the goal, so you’re the one who needs to want to get to it.
4. Organizing in lieu of doing.
Reaching goals requires that you take action, not spend time eternally preparing to take action. Orderliness is great, yes, and serves its purpose; but your ability to take action does not depend on how organized your stuff, space, or schedule is.
Give yourself a limit on organizing and prep work; when you reach the limit, it’s time to start moving forward, even if things aren’t as neat as you’d like them.
5. Too detailed or ritualistic.
Writers fall prey to this one all the time. You can read dozens of biographies of writers known for their various rituals and tics, from only writing while laying down in bed to using a particular type of pencil to having the right odor in the room.
While those rituals are interesting to read, in real life all they do is slow you down. When you commit yourself to a ritual, you handicap yourself psychologically. “I can’t work unless _____________.” But that’s not true, is it? You can work, as long as you possess the physical and mental ability to do the work itself. Even if that means you have to skip your ritual, or work in a space that doesn’t look, feel, or smell right.
6. Lack of supplies.
So simple, I hate to mention it, but if you’re going to do something requiring special supplies, go get your supplies. Now. Set them up. Now. Then you can actually do the work: whether that’s pen and paper, a laptop, running shoes and a water bottle, paints and brushes, or a piano.
If you set a goal but refuse to arm yourself with the supplies you need to reach it, you’re not really serious about the goal. Either switch to a goal you are serious about, or set yourself up for this one.
7. Tracking results instead of progress.
When you’re working toward a long-term or “big” goal, like, say, writing a novel, it’s easy to get discouraged. In my case, the result – a finished novel – was far-off in the distance when I first started writing. So instead of measuring my success by a result, which was still in the distance, I learned to measure by the progress I made.
For example, I would track word counts or minutes spent writing. Sometimes I would push myself to complete 1000 words a day, every day, for a week or a month. Other times, when life got busier, I would just focus on putting in 20 minutes a day.
Tracking progress allows you to see that you are moving forward, even if slowly, and that knowledge helps you to keep pushing through.
8. No milestones.
Larger or long-term goals need milestones along the way. Training for a marathon is a big undertaking, but if you break it down into certain training milestones, you can keep your focus.
Your first milestone could be running two consecutive miles; your next could be running three; and so on, until you reach your goal. Starting a business, another big, unwieldy goal, works well with milestones. First milestone: setting up an LLC. Second milestone: setting a budget for your business. Third milestone: launching your first product. And so on. Tweak as needed for your big goal.
9. No accountability.
I am, by nature, a private person. And writing is a private endeavor. Talking about my novel made me feel like it was silly to attempt it, so for a long time I avoided letting anyone but my husband know what I was up to, hunched over my keyboard in the corner.
That was my mistake, as it turns out: my husband is not a private person. Pretty soon he was casually mentioning to anyone within earshot that his wife was working on a novel, at which point I would stammer out some sort of acknowledgement while silently vowing to kill him as soon as we got home.
But a funny thing happened… First, I learned how to own what I was doing. Was I a real writer or not? Did it matter? I was writing, so I might as own it, and stick with it.
Second, I learned that people are intrigued when you set big goals. They want to know why, and how, and what motivates you. They start getting inspired. They start sharing their own big goals. Pretty soon, you’re checking up on and encouraging each other.
Before long, I was sharing daily word counts on my Facebook wall. The accountability and encouragement I got, first from my husband and then from many friends, helped me to stick with it on many days when punching out a few more paragraphs was the last thing I wanted to do.
10. No rewards/acknowledgement.
You know the great thing about having accountability? Once you reach a goal, accountability shifts to acknowledgement.
When I finished my novel, I got to brag about it, on Facebook and to anyone who would listen. Public acknowledgement is a powerful motivator, but that’s not the only kind of reward out there. For bigger goals, promise yourself a reward for every milestone. Make it something fitting with the goal so you stay focused.
The Path to Progress
The path to progress is not going to be an easy walk. You know that, right? When you set big goals, you set yourself up for an uphill climb. You’ll be working against a culture that encourages mediocrity as well as your own tendencies to procrastinate, be lazy, and question yourself.
But you can still reach your goals. Focus. Work on one or two big goals at time. Act instead of planning or organizing. Don’t over-complicate things. Get what you need to get the job done. Track your progress along the way, celebrate each milestone with rewards, and share what you’re doing along the way. The path to progress isn’t easy, but it’s fulfilling, invigorating, and the views are a heck of a lot better than anything on YouTube.