A few weeks ago, I found myself looking out my front window with a bit of trepidation. A change of seasons had buried my lush green lawn under a thick blanket of brown leaves. Fall cleanup was in order, and I knew I had a long day ahead of me.
I collected the tools of the leaf-clearing trade – leaf blower, rakes, tarp, Beyoncé playlist – and I headed out to face my foe. I blew a swath of leaves in one direction and then turned to tackle another section. If there’s a best-way-to-clear-leaves gene, it must skip a generation, because it was immediately apparent that my strategy was ineffective at best. I felt my motivation slowly ebbing away.
Fortunately, with age comes wisdom, and I’ve learned a lot about myself over time. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered several goal-related techniques that help me stay on course until I accomplish my mission.
One bit of self-awareness came as I discovered that I like to make visible progress against my goals. I need to be able to see what’s ahead and the little wins I’m experiencing along the way. With this in mind, I decided to use my trusty leaf blower to create a single, wide stretch of leafless lawn.
It may seem silly, but this simple act did a few things for me: It gave me a clear picture of my final goal, and it gave me reassurance that progress was, in fact, possible. I was eventually able to parlay that little win into a full-blown victory over my leafy nemesis.
When we’re pursuing big goals – particularly abstract goals – it’s all too easy for us to become frustrated. We may not feel like we’re making progress or that we’re not on the right track. If we can frame our goals in a new way, we can actually visualize the progress that we’re making. Doing so helps us remember that what we’re trying to achieve is possible, and we can build much needed momentum to carry us forward.
Not all of my goals involve deciduous trees, of course. One tool I often use to make my action plans and progress visible is a dead-simple Google Spreadsheet. I find that this approach works really well for goals that require daily or weekly actions, and it’s super easy to create and update on all of my devices.
Here’s an example of a spreadsheet that I’ve recently started using to track my progress against my triathlon training plan:
A few notes about this goal tracking tool:
- I prefer to use an online spreadsheet so that I can update my progress from any device, any place, at any time.
- I choose to start my week with Mondays as I’m a work-first guy and I find this European approach more fashionable. Plus, it’s called a weekend so who am I to disagree?
- When setting up my spreadsheet, I write in the first Monday date in cell A2. In cell A3, I use the formula “=A2+7”. This way, I can drag cell A3 down into as many future dates as I’d like.
- If I have planned actions in advance (like specific workouts) I write them into the cells. For other goals such as “meditate for 15 minutes every day”, I would keep the future cells blank and color them as I go.
- If I complete the action as planned, I color code that day’s cell Green.
- If I start the action but don’t achieve 100% of my target, I color code that day’s cell Yellow.
- If I blow a day completely, I don’t color code it Red. I find that this is too negative for me. Instead, I just leave it white.
- I do allow myself to cheat a little. If I miss a day of meditating but I make it up the next day, I mark both cells as Green since the work got done. Somehow, I still manage to sleep soundly at night and nobody has ever called the goals police.
- It’s incredibly motivating over time to see a long chain of Green wins! Even if there are a few whites in there, the overall achievement trend is still motivating.
Simple tools can go a long way toward helping you get started on your goals and to maintain your progress toward being your best. Whether raking leaves, pursuing a fitness goal, launching a new business, or just about any other positive thing you’d like to bring into your life, making visible progress can propel you toward long-term success.
What tools or techniques have you used to achieve an important goal? Share your experience using the comments section below.
(Featured image by Unsplash.)