Let’s face it, none of us are getting any younger, and if you are, please let us in on your secret! We are all hurried to get to something, get something done, tick that thing off our imaginary (or not so imaginary) list. Have you really sat down and looked at where you spend your time, what are you actually doing? For example, just a quick google search of how many hours a day we spend on our phones led me to see that the average time is 4 hours! That means four of the twenty four we are given are spent starring at the phone screen. Now honestly, that isn’t entirely all bad, but it is a good example of empty time we could be filling with something else. Maybe our screen time is meaningful. Maybe we are encouraging others in our social media groups, maybe we are sharing stories with treasured loved ones through video chatting, or exchanging that pertinent work email that gets a project going or another one completed. But if you are like me, a good portion of that screen time is devoted to adorable and funny pet videos. I could easily kill an hour alone laughing at cats shoving things off counter tops. My point here is not all screen time is bad, but all of it isn’t good either.
But back to the topic at hand. This sounds all well and good but how do we find the time to take on something else in our life. The answer is pretty clear, and it will sound a bit harsh, but someone has to say it, right? The truth of the matter is we don’t have time, we make time. We make time for the things that are our highest priorities. Those priorities fluctuate from day to day, sometimes hour by hour. Most of the stress we feel are those competing priorities fighting it out for your attention. Balancing a full time job and full time family isn’t easy. What about throwing night classes into the mix, and you really have yourself a party of competing priorities! So the question is this, what is important to you over the long term, middle term and short term? Are your current actions getting you closer to those items that you have just listed as important to you? Have you even stopped to think of things in that framework before?
Let’s start with long term goals. Those tend to be the easiest for people to come up with because they often fall into the “dream” category of life. Well right now, we are making them goals. What’s the difference? I’m glad you asked! A goal has a defined end date and path, a dream is oh this would be nice if this someday landed in my lap. Goal is an actionable conscious plan to get somewhere (physically or figuratively). We don’t need every step on the path laid out, but we at least need an overall map and a lay of the land to get started on our long term goals. Do you want a higher position at work? Do you want a career switch? Do you want to make the transition to stay at home parent? Start your own business? Travel the world? Pick a few long term goals. I would say no more than two or three, and make them specific. Also try not to pick ones that would contradict one another. For example, if you are hoping to transition to becoming a stay at home parent, don’t also say you want to get your PhD in History. Granted you could do both, but would you technically be a stay at home parent if you were at a college for even half the day doing research and coursework? That is more in line with becoming a full time student while being a parent, not so much a stay at home parent. That is what I mean by making sure the goals align with each other. We are sending you on a general path northward towards a set of goals, if you pick some that are headed south, it will make the journey twice as long and probably not successful. Now what sort of time frame are long term goals? I say that depends on where you are in life and truly what the goal is and how long you want to take to get there. Generally I would consider something a long term goal to be within the next five to ten years. I think shorter than that you are talking about a mid-range goal. Anything longer and there are so many variables that would deter you from your journey that it would be harder if not impossible to stay on course. So take a few moments and really think about what your long term goals would be. Go ahead…we will wait.
Wonderful! Now that you have one or two long term goals, lets talk about the middle ground. These are the somewhat more pressing and realistic “long term” things we want from our lives. For example, we may want to buy a new car or home within the next year or two. Maybe we want to be able to run a 5k or half marathon “someday”. This is a good time to get that certification for your position or finish that degree you started all those years ago. These types of goals tend to be clearer and can be completed in the next twelve to thirty six months. Again, I wouldn’t choose more than one or two of these because this is really where we are going to focus our primary moving forward energy. These goals tend to be the ones where we make the big steps in life. We push for these changes, we make time to do these goals because they are important to us. Now even more helpful is if we can get the long term goals and these mid-range goals to line up. They don’t have to be in the same area, but again, they need to be in somewhat the same direction. If you stated one of your long term goals was to travel the world, but one of your mid-range goals is to buy a house, those two things may be difficult to accomplish at the same time. If you are saving for a down payment on a home or the costs of moving expenses, that makes it a little trickier to also travel the world. Again, not impossible to have both of these are goals, they can be done together, but it may take longer to save for both goals, or you may buy a home and decide you like the area so much you no longer want to travel the world. Also, home ownership comes with surprise expenses like the heating went out for the tune of a $8,000 bill, or the hot water heater flooded whatever room it happens to be in. Those surprise expenses can definitely put a dent into a travel budget! Now take a few more minutes and think about things you want to accomplish in the next twelve to thirty six months. Again…we will be waiting on you.
And finally, we are down to short term goals. These can be several because their actions to fulfill them tend to be less time consuming by the nature of being a short term goal. I wouldn’t go all crazy and make like twenty of them, but maybe five or six to start off with, and then as you complete them you can cycle through some additional ones to keep things interesting. I would classify anything that is less than around nine months to be a short term goal. Again, make them actionable and something that you can reasonable expect to do or accomplish in that time frame. Also choose something you have some control over. Do not choose something like you will win the lottery in the next six months as a goal. The chances of that happening are slim, and you have no control over the outcome of that no matter how hard you work. On the flip side, do not choose something that will take longer than that nine month max timeline because that is also setting yourself up for failure. Kick that goal to the mid-range goal list if you need to. If you have never done a college class in your life, expecting to have a bachelor’s degree in nine months is ludicrous. It is possible under some very specialized circumstances, but for the general public, not really practical.
Are you stuck? Did you manage to get the list done on the first try? Don’t worry if you didn’t, most people don’t. It often requires some reworking and retooling. I would venture to say most adults have never sat down and had an honest conversation with themselves centered on their goals, much less write them down in a timeline or looked to make sure each level of goal was aligned with the ones below it. But how we spend our minutes is how we spend our lifetime. We can unconsciously wander through life, being the victim in our own movie, or we can choose to make a change. What you are doing at this exact moment is choosing that change for yourself, your family, your happiness, whatever motivates you. Could you find an hour a day to make more happiness for yourself? More memories for yourself and family? Maybe work towards that dream that now has a deadline? Just one hour a day? Doesn’t even have to be a consecutive 60 minutes, it could be a few small minutes a day spread throughout the day to make those shifts you want to see in your life. So lets venture back to you don’t have time for a new project? It looks like the six or so things listed on your goal sheet may say otherwise. You have a lot of living to do, how about we get started? The next post will be how to get moving on those goals you have written down. Do yourself a favor and take some time during this stage, maybe include some close loved ones that will be involved in this journey or can help you reach those goals. They may have some valuable input as well.
To recap, lets remind you of some important aspects to goal setting:
- Keep in mind the length of time it will take to do the goals, set reasonable time frames.
- Make sure the goal is actionable and something you have some control over.
- The goal should have a proven outcome, just saying you want to run more isn’t a clear cut goal. A goal of I want to run three times a week for three miles each time is a very specific outcome that you can easily see if you have reached.
- Make your goal specific! Do not just say you want a better paying job, look for career options either within your field, or a field you would want to transition into, and then look to see what it takes to get those qualifications for that position.
- Your goals can change! Do not get frustrated if you find yourself a few months from now wanting different goals. Life happens and your priorities as an individual change. You could have a sudden illness in the family that dramatically shifts your goals. Don’t be afraid to change them should life call for it. You just start this process over again, and maybe it isn’t at square one.