How many keynote speakers and mentors have you heard articulate the strategies and benefits of effective goal setting throughout your education? If it’s half as many as I have, then you could probably give your own workshop on the topic and leave students feeling just as motivated and capable as you have in those moments, even though you, yourself, have never actualized all of these behaviours that are so key to being the best and most successful version of yourself.
At least, that’s where I am right now.
I have a very good understanding of how to set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, & Timely) goals, but I’ve never tried it. I’m very aware of where I could be right now if I had spent the last few years setting SMART goals and working towards them, but I’ve never tried it. I know how much progress I could make in a year if I utilized SMART goal setting, but I’m not starting today.
So, I guess the question is why so many of us are completely averse to setting goals and working towards them. It seems so simple, and we’ve been told it’s SO effective, but we still don’t bother.
For me, I believe the answer is a combination of a number of things. I’m fairly unorganized, I often start things that I never complete, I spend a lot of time on things that don’t help me be a better me, and I’ve never learned how to work hard.
Right now, I’m in the first stages of a BSc. in Mathematics after spending two years studying political science. I forget a lot of what I did in high school math classes and I don’t have teachers that will hold me accountable. If there’s a time for me to start using all these strategies I’ve learned to my advantage, it’s now.
That’s why I bought a little white board to hang up next to my desk.
I’ve started using a “to-do” list. I’d be lying if I said that I’ve completely changed my ways in the few weeks I’ve been using this, but there is a noticeable difference. I make myself update my to-do list at least once a day and I try to check off as many things as I can. It’s helped me hold myself accountable to do homework and exercise.
For me, the key to using this to-do list effectively is writing down SMART tasks. Particularly, Measurable tasks with associated Time frames.
I never write down a task without giving myself some quantifiable way of knowing, absolutely, that I have or have not accomplished it. For example, my white board currently says, “Do 30 math problems by Sunday night (0/30)”. Whenever I do a few problems, I can fill in my total and on Sunday night I’ll know for certain whether or not I’ve completed the task. If, instead, I wrote “do math homework on Sunday night” or even “Catch up on math homework by next week”, it would be far more difficult to quantify whether I’ve done what I intended. What I’m really trying to say here is that when you’re making a to-do list, use numbers. Numbers (and maybe even fractions) are your friend. Take it from a Math Major.
Equally as important as having Measurable tasks is having Time-bound tasks. Set yourself deadlines. Deadlines on deadlines on deadlines. Deadlines help you to prioritize your tasks and avoid procrastination; both of which I’ve had incredible difficulty with in the past.
Lastly, if you’re going to adopt this strategy that I’ve been using to hold myself a little more accountable and increase my productivity, you have to update your list EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Otherwise, you’re going to miss deadlines and fall behind. When this happens, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and just stop using your list altogether in order to avoid confronting the backlog of tasks.
If this does happen to you, simply erase the whole list and start over. It’s important not to work from too far behind, because you may never catch up. It’s often better to omit tasks that are behind you so you can focus on what’s ahead.
The ability to hold yourself accountable is something that a lot of us lack. Especially after leaving home and starting university, I’ve noticed that without my mother and teachers to get on my back and encourage me to do things, I far more often procrastinate and waste my time on mindless things like PS4 or Netflix. My To-Do List is the first step I’ve taken to hold myself accountable. Hopefully you can apply my experience to your own situation and start making steps to becoming the most productive and useful version of yourself!
Jeremy, Catapult 2010