When people hear the word goal, they might think long-term. They’re not necessarily wrong, but a goal doesn’t have to be long-term. The majority of goals are actually short-term. And even long-term goals should be comprised of many short-term goals.
Every day of your life is going to be filled with short-term goals. The majority of these will likely be mundane tasks that simply need to get done. They’ll constantly pile up until you complete them. And after you complete them, there will be more, so the trick is staying on top of them.
I like to think of short-term goals as small actionable tasks. If you constantly knock them out, you will feel more productive. And if you have long-term goals, you will be effectively working towards them.
The trick is to stay organized so that you always have an awareness of what is actionable. This avoids the guesswork and allows you to dive right in. Let’s talk about organization and methods of accomplishment.
The Power of an “Inbox”
You probably have a long list of tasks you need to get done before you can start focusing on the things you want to get done. These are things like paying bills, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc… — the stuff that just keeps piling up.
An “inbox” is a metaphor for a digital space where you parse and organize your to-dos into both actionable and non-actionable items.
Let’s make an inbox right now. I use a free to-do list style smartphone app called Wunderlist. I highly recommend you download it for yourself, but for now you can use a pen and paper if you prefer. Now write down EVERYTHING that you need to do, whether it is a major task or a minor one. This might take an hour. There’s nothing that comes to mind that should not go on this list. It can be anything from buying more cat food to returning a book at the library to calling your parents to replying to an email at work to planning a trip to Hawaii in 5 years. Again, write down everything.
When you exhaust your mind of things to write down, you should immediately feel some relief because you know in the back of your head that you haven’t let anything slip through the cracks. You have successfully done a full brain dump of everything on your mind.
The next step is parsing all of these items into bigger “project categories” in a way that feels logical to you. For example, a grocery list or a places to travel list. I personally have a work list that has project sub-folders for each project I’m working on. A lot of tasks end up in there because I happen to be working on a lot of projects.
Repeat this exercise daily. Make it a habit to parse your inbox into categories of actionable items. When you think of something on the go, put it in your digital inbox for the next time you triage your to-dos.
The beauty here is that no stone is left unturned. You capture literally everything, and as a result, you should feel some serious mental relief.
The 2 Minute Rule
David Allen, a renowned productivity consultant, wrote a wonderful book called Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. I highly recommend you read this book. Add it to your inbox and then parse it into your books to read project folder!
This book changed my life. In it, he writes in depth about the inbox methodology. However, one of my biggest takeaways from the book was his “2 Minute Rule”. The rule is simple; if a to-do takes less than 2 minutes, just do it now. Need to buy tickets online to an event? Just do it now. Need to reply to an email to confirm a meeting or answer a quick question? Just do it now.
Many things in your inbox or within your project categories are going to be quick 2 minute tasks. They’re almost always very trivial, but they do require interruption. Knock them out now, cross them off the list, and you will thank yourself later. Alternatively, you can set a side a dedicated block of time everyday to cross these miscellaneous tasks off of your list.
Leverage Your Calendar
If you say you’re going to do something and then often find yourself not following through, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to schedule it in your calendar. Deliberately blocking off time to focus on and complete a task is the best way to get it done.
Respect your calendar and treat the events that you schedule very seriously. On top of that, let the people around you know that you’re scheduling some “heads-down” time for yourself to accomplish something. This will free you of any interruptions.
Accomplishing Long-term Goals with Short-term Milestones
We have sifted through the madness of our daily lives and organized it into a digestible system. Now we can track our short-term projects without accidentally forgetting something. We’re knocking out 2 minute tasks left and right like a pro. Thanks to this organization, we can plan methodically when to tackle bigger action items so that we are continually making progress.
Now, how does this help with our long-term life goal? The answer is two-fold:
- Part of accomplishing our long-term goals is determined by how in-control we are of our other day-to-day obligations. It will always be easy to find an excuse not to do something if we feel obligated to do something else. So by organizing our obligations into smaller action items that we are deliberately chipping away at regularly, we are relieving ourselves of that excuse to not work towards our long-term goal.
- It is nearly impossible to say “my long-term life goal is XYZ” and then productively work towards accomplishing that goal without some sort of planning or approach. So why not use your organizational inbox system to organize milestones for your life goal? This system should never be limited to your short-term goals. Put ALL of your goals into one place and track them together.
TL;DR: get organized.
I dump things into my inbox many times throughout each day. I parse my inbox into projects 2-4 times a day. When I show up every morning, there is no question of what needs to be done. I am able to track my progress at a very granular level. I never forget anything, therefore I worry less. And because of all of this, I am proud of my accomplishments and confident in my abilities. I made goals and I am hard at work accomplishing them.
Do the same for yourself. You will not regret it.