Creativity. Focus. Risk.
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Goals are Good


Here is a dorky chart showing what I call The “Spectrum of ‘GTD workflow’ Tools” (long-time readers may recognize this chart):

Basic task-management tools shine with short-term tasks and goals. They’re simple and have no learning curve. However, they can strain under the weight of too many tasks, long-term projects, tasks which are not yet relevant until several months from now, or tasks which need additional layers of information beyond the action item itself.

It’s because of these “shortcomings” of basic tools that more complex tools exist. The complex options excel at managing detailed and long-term projects, tasks with due dates in the far future, and action items with multiple bits of additional information.

However, the complex tools have a trade-off as well. They take time to learn, they beg us to input as much information as possible for every action item thus requiring an extra step or two (or five) when creating a new task, and it can sometimes feel like we’re spending more time managing our task system then actually doing our tasks.

And that’s why in-between the basic and complex tools are those that support a basic structure of projects and lists (and perhaps even due dates with reminders), but which don’t allow or require additional layers of information.

Somewhere along this spectrum is a tool and system that works for you.

Using too basic of a workflow tool when your circumstances require a complex one will cause unnecessary mental friction and will lead to wasted time and forgotten tasks. But using a too-complex tool when your circumstances don’t require it can lead to unnecessary management of and tinkering with your workflow and tools.

There is no single right or wrong solution here. Some of us use a certain tool for task management because our circumstances require it, and some of us a certain tool because our personality prefers it. There are also those who use a non-ideal tool because they don’t know a better option exists (or because they are too stubborn/lazy to seek out and learn the proper tool).

If you can: find a tool that makes sense to you.

It doesn’t matter where the complexity of your life falls on the spectrum. If there are long- and short-term goals you want to accomplish, you need some sort of way — however minimal or basic — to help keep you on track.


The Value of Goal Planning

In his popular article on HBR about “The 18 Minute Plan”, Peter Bregman quotes some stats from the book, The Power of Full Engagement:
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe a study in which a group of women agreed to do a breast self-exam during a period of 30 days. 100% of those who said where and when they were going to do it completed the exam. Only 53% of the others did.

In another study, drug addicts in withdrawal (can you find a more stressed-out population?) agreed to write an essay before 5 p.m. on a certain day. 80% of those who said when and where they would write the essay completed it. None of the others did.


Why don’t people have goals programs?

In the 1994 book, Over the Top, by Zig Ziglar, he states that the vast majority of Americans have individual goals, but that 97% of them don’t have a goals program. 

1. Fear
Earl Loomis said, “We deny our talents and abilities because to acknowledge or to confess them would commit us to use them.”

Some people are afraid to acknowledge their abilities, aspirations, and goals because if they did then they’d be committing to do something about it. And they simply don’t want to commit.

2. Poor Self-Image
The second reason people don’t have a goals program, according to Ziglar, is because of poor self-image. They don’t see themselves as being capable of doing meaningful work or having meaningful relationships. They don’t see themselves being able to accomplish anything — perhaps they have a history of starting new goals and not completing them.

3. Lack of understanding the benefits
Some people don’t have any sort of goals program because they honestly don’t see the point in one. Perhaps they don’t think they have any goals (ask them if they’d like to be able to retire one day and see what they say). Or perhaps they think that having a goals program, even a simple one, isn’t worth the effort.

4. Unsure how to start
And lastly, many people don’t have a goals program because they just don’t know how or where to start. 


Overcoming Fear and Poor Self Image

You need confidence. You need to tell yourself that you have something unique to offer to the world, and that diligence and focus are skills which can be learned.

One of the ways we overcome fear as it relates to our goals, is to simply have a plan. Direction gives confidence. What harm would it do to write down one short-term goal that you’d like to accomplish in the next week, and then list the steps necessary to accomplish that goal? 

Overcoming lack of understanding and lack of where to start

Many of the productivity-centric books, articles, methodologies, and tools out there seem quite complex. And it’s as if everyone is saying if we don’t use these hyper-complex methodologies then we’re doing it wrong.

That’s simply not true. If you need a complex productivity system, then by all means it’s worth the time to learn. But if you don’t, then, my friend, there is nothing wrong with using even just a simple paper list clipped to the refrigerator or a simple notes app on your phone.


Creating Meaningful Work

Show up every day. That’s the advice for folks who want to create meaningful work, build an audience, build a business, improve their skills, etc. It’s invaluable advice, and I can’t emphasize it enough.

Well, showing up every day happens to be an expression of a goals program.

For example, want to write a book? Step one: decide what to write about. Step two: write every day until you’re done.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I made a change to my morning writing routine that resulted in writing over 40,000 words in just one month. Since that time I’ve written another 20,000 words. Over 60,000 words written in less than 2 months.

I think that’s awesome. And one of the big reasons I believe I saw this progress was that having a plan of action frees up your  brain to worry about the doing of the work.

In short, when you have direction — you know what needs to be done and you know when and where you’re going to do it — then all that’s left to do is show up and do the work. 

Your mind is free to do its best creative work.

As I wrote in my article about fighting to stay creative, clear goals and diligence are two significant stimulators for creating.

Having a defined goal can help us to focus on actually accomplishing our idea and making it happen. Looming, unanswered questions often lead to inaction and procrastination. Overcoming that is often as simple as defining an end goal. Of course, it’s worth noting that sometimes you just want to go out and take photographs and who cares what you shoot. Nothing wrong with that either, of course.

And diligence, well, it isn’t a personality type. Diligence is a skill we learn. Some of us had a good work ethic instilled in us by our parents, some of us have had to cultivate it on our own later in life. 

It is silly to think a creative person should live without routine, discipline, or accountability. Sure, inspiration often comes to us when we least expect it, and so by all means, let us allow exceptions to our schedules. But sitting around being idle while we wait for inspiration is a good way to get nothing done.

* * *

Question: Do you know what some of your long- and short-term goals are? As in, are they actually defined and written down somewhere? If so, do you have any sort of way for keeping track of your progress?

As always, thanks for reading!

— Shawn
The Fight Spot is a weekly email about creativity, focus, and risk. Questions or ideas? Just reply back or ping me on Twitter.
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