You have a paper due for your first-period class tomorrow. You’ve known about it for two weeks, and somehow you haven’t even opened the book. So now you’re typing nonsense while you’re half asleep, at 3 in the morning, and you wonder, how did this happen?
Procrastination is a problem that affects all of us to a certain extent. No matter how often we say, “This time I’ll start on it as soon as I get home,” life sometimes has other plans for us. While it may seem tedious and boring in the beginning, breaking up one large task into a series of smaller goals can help you reduce stress and achieve anything you set your mind to. Here are five simple steps to identifying a goal, keeping it, and completing it.
1) Find the right goal - Rome wasn’t built in a day, or a week, or a month. The first step in accomplishing a goal is to find one that is reasonable and achievable. One problem with New Year’s resolutions is that too many people pick goals that are far too lofty. How often do you hear someone’s resolution and think, I’ll believe it when I see it? Whether it’s climbing Mount Everest or losing 5 pounds, you need a goal that can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose your motivation and abandon it.
2) Break your goal down into smaller, simpler goals - Sometimes writing a 10-page paper on “War and Peace” seems almost as impossible as someone writing “War and Peace” in the first place. Just picking up the book is enough to make you despair. The trick is to look at a large task as a series of smaller, more achievable goals. While you may not be able to read the book in one sitting, you probably can knock out 20 pages in an afternoon. And while you can’t write the entire paper over a weekend, you could probably outline it in an hour. Mystery author Rebecca Forster puts it best when she says, “All creative work is based on meeting smaller goals: chapters in a book, movement in a symphony, shading on a painting. The more that you can look at one large difficult task as a series of small easy tasks, the better you will be at completing large difficult tasks.”
3) Keep a calendar - This one seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how few people do this. We find ourselves stressing out when we’re unprepared for what is approaching, and sometimes we have several deadlines looming at once. A calendar will help you figure out what you need to accomplish and when. If you have a big paper due, a job interview, tryouts for the basketball team, and community service all in the same month, it can seem just as daunting as reading “War and Peace.” Having all of your goals laid out in black and white will give you the peace of mind to focus on the task at hand.
4) Prioritize! - One of the great things about getting older is taking control of your own life. On the other hand, one of the hardest things about getting older is taking control of your own life. Where you once had an army of parents and teachers and faculty members telling you what to do and when to do it, you now have to figure most things out on your own. Learning to prioritize is the art of learning what is most important in your life. David Gibson, a graduate from the University of Southern California, said, “As soon as I got to school, it was a whole new ballgame. But once I figured out what my priorities were, everything else was easy. Sometimes you need to focus on school or work for a while and let your social life take a back seat. ... Whatever it is, if you’re sure of what your priorities are, you’ll not only accomplish more, but you’ll learn to take control of your own life.”
5) Follow-through - Someone once said, “Life, like a good golf swing, is all about follow-through.” Goals have an awful way of getting harder before you reach their end. Whether it’s the last rep of a set of bench presses or finding the perfect ending to a short story, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Sometimes it’s just a matter of bearing down, following through, and giving your best to get the job done.
Finding good goals, sticking to them, and seeing them through to the end are some of the most important things that anyone can learn. If you break anything down into the five steps outlined, you won’t spend another sleepless night wishing you had done it sooner.