The words taunt me:
TODAY’S TOP 3: (What will make today a win for you?)
Am I the only one? Or do the words in your daily planner poke at you also?
Perhaps (like me) you’ve
- read books and blog posts about setting goals.
- taken goal-setting classes.
- written SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Bound).
- even written SMARTER goals (SMART + Exciting & Relevant)
Maybe you’ve broken your goals into micro-steps, and attached them to existing routines.
When you sorted your gargantuan to-do list into an Eisenhower matrix (urgency-importance), did 90% of the items fit exclusively in the Important But Not Urgent quadrant? Me, too. Not very helpful.
You’ve likely even realized that knitting and gourmet cooking are not activities for this stage of my life — because even though you can do almost anything you want, you can’t do it all right now.
I’ve been there, too.
These concepts all make sense to me. I even teach some of them.
But when I read Today’s Top 3, my heartbeat quickens and my brain races. Those tiny words feel like one of the biggest barriers to achieving my goals.
What would make today a win?
Which three items should I choose?
- I have to take my kiddo to school and pick him up six hours later.
- I have to prepare tomorrow’s lecture.
- I have to eat dinner.
Are those my Top Three things?
Because this list doesn’t include taking my son to his piano lesson, scheduling an appointment for a mild but urgent medical situation, spending quality time with my husband, updating my students’ homework grades, grocery shopping…
Are you hyperventilating your own list at this point? I apologize.
I’m sure your list, like mine, doesn’t even include your sanity savers: reading, writing, napping.
I confess: when I imagine the experts’ daily Top 3 Target Goals, I resort to stereotyping:
I would be able to focus on my top 3 goals each day, too, if I had a wife at home and an administrative assistant at the office.
But I’m being unfair. I don’t know how time-management gurus spend their days.
But I wonder — for real — do they include “eat dinner” on their Top 3 list? If so, does it qualify as one goal, or four (plan meal, buy groceries, prepare meal, clean up kitchen)? Again I long for a wife or admin assistant.
My brain spirals out of control and contributes to the fear that I’m different than everyone else, that I’m not equipped the way others are.
- The way smart people are.
- The way successful people are.
- The way people who leave the house with combed hair and clean shirts are.
Chances are you have your own version of a never-ending list of things to do, many of which are not urgent (though some are), but most of which will make life easier on a later day.
I have no problem constructing goals. And I have no problem breaking those goals into micro-steps.
In fact, I’m a master at it.
For example, several years ago, I decided to read the entire Bible in a year. A momentous goal, to be sure, it required dividing the 1700 page book into daily assignments.
After researching the topic online, I created a chart listing the exact Bible chapters I would read each day. Perfect!
Until January 5th, when the pendulum of chills and fever took over my body and confined me to bed. I emerged four days behind in my Bible reading, my housework, my laundry, and my classroom prep for a term that started the next day.
So I recalculated the daily micro-steps necessary to reach my goal.
And when the Dreaded Illness swept through our house again 3 weeks later. (Oi vey, this must be the plague), I recovered and updated my chart.
And the week the washing machine broke, I recalculated my micro-goals.
Yes, I’m awesome at setting goals!
Attaining goals? Not so much.*
With each adjustment to my goal schedule, I feel more like a failure.
Is this you, too?
Well, I have the solution for you!
It goes against the standard time-management leaders’ advice, but it works.
Stop Setting Goals
You heard me: Stop setting goals.
What?! Mom said I’d never amount to anything without goals.
Now, before you run upstairs to drop this new life plan on your parents, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you have no goals at all.
But if you’re setting goals and not reaching them, maybe the goal-setting process enchants you too much.
Because, although it’s exciting to open a fresh spiral-bound journal and write a treatise of your life-long dreams, purple pen on lavender paper, the purpose of goal setting is to achieve them.
Am I right?
Do This Instead
Chances are, you already know what your goals are. You know what you want to accomplish.
For example, suppose your goals look something like this:
- Read the Bible from cover to cover.
- Write more frequently.
- Learn a new language — or computer programming. Or how to paint with watercolors.
You can turn any of these into SMART goals. Or you can use the other time-management techniques business leaders suggest.
But why not do something even easier and more powerful?
Don’t get me wrong. I love me a good time-management system.
But if goal setting makes your head spin. Or worse, if setting goals hasn’t resulted in checking those goals off your list, here’s a simple two-step process for living the life you want.
Step 1. Stop setting goals.
Seriously. You already know what your goals are.
Step 2. Act.
That’s right, do the thing.
1. If you want to read the Bible, read it.
Stop worrying about how many pages you need to read each day to finish in a certain amount of time.
If you read 10 minutes a day, then one year later, you’ll have spent over 60 hours reading the Bible.
Is that enough to read the entire book? I don’t know. But you’ll be farther than you were at the start of the year.
2. If you want to write, don’t spend time planning your writing goals. Just write.
Talking to myself here!
But seriously. If you write 500 words each day, you’ll have written 15,000 words by the end of a month.
Considering a book ranges from 30,000–60,000 words (fewer for an e-book), you could have the first draft of a book written in 2-4 months. Wow!
3. If you want to learn things, learn them.
You don’t need to quit your job, enter student loan servitude, or apply to your local college. Chances are you have a lifetime of knowledge at your fingertips for free.
Hint: The device you use to text cat videos to your friends? It can also connect you to Almost All the Knowledge in the Universe. For free. 24/7.
Regardless of your goal — or your starting point — you never have to be afraid of your day planner again. Rather than choosing 3 Top Goals for the day, taking small, consistent steps is the most powerful way to triumph over your goals.
It truly is that simple.
Additional Goal Setting Resources:
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Overwhelmed: How to Quiet the Chaos and Restore Your Sanity by Kathi Lipp & Cheri Gregory
Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day by Glynnis Whitwer