Blog Short #132: How to Create a System to Execute Your Goals
Photo by INDU BACHKHETI, Courtesy of iStock Photo
How do you stay engaged in activities that focus on what’s most important to you without getting sidetracked by all the “noise” that competes for your attention daily?
That’s what we’re tackling today. I’ve got a list of strategies to get and keep you there. I’m drawing from three authors, and as always, I recommend you read their books for more information and details. They are:
- James Clear – Atomic Habits
- Charles Duhigg – The Power of Habit
- Greg McKeown – Essentialism & Effortless
Let’s get to it because it’s a lot to condense into 1300 words which is always my goal.
Design a routine.
Habits are the machinery that facilitates achievement.
Work gets done best when routinized, automated, and practiced consistently over time. To do this, you have to create habits.
The basic structure of any habit includes three parts (Duhigg). These are:
Cue – Routine – Reward
You set up a cue that triggers a behavior and then reward that behavior to instill it. My cue to write is to brew a cup of coffee and sit it on the table next to my writing chair, where I’ve placed my computer in the seat. The routine is to write for a specified time (usually an hour). My reward is crossing it off my list and checking Facebook for ten minutes.
In addition to setting up routines, several other strategies can help your habits stick.
- Do the most challenging things first.
- Build one routine at a time and make sure it’s automated, which means you don’t resist doing it anymore for the most part.
- For more complex habits, set up different routines for different days. I don’t write every day. I write three days and record course lessons two. Change it up!
- Build habit stacks.
Habit stacks string three to four habits together, each serving as a cue to the next. These work very well because you get a lot done at once. The key is to make the first habit easy and something you have no resistance to. For more on how to build habit stacks, read this article.
That’s how you create habits, but how do you deal with your resistance? That’s the key. Here are some great ideas from our esteemed authors.
1. Start small.
James Clear uses the strategy of making a 1% improvement every day. The idea is that doing something consistently daily (a habit) has “compound” effects, just like money in a savings account that accrues interest daily. It becomes more embedded in your brain and more automated. Each time you execute your habit, you get greater gain.
Small steps executed consistently build momentum. If I write for 15 minutes every day, it becomes easier and more attractive, so I want to continue it and get better at it. This is how all habits take hold, both good and bad, which is something to keep in mind.
2. Make it simple.
McKeown’s strategy, which I think is brilliant, is to execute what he calls “minimal viable progress.” Ask yourself, “What is the minimal action I can take to begin moving toward my goal?” Do the least preparation needed to get going, complete the action, and follow up with a reward.
If the goal is to exercise daily, walk 10 minutes and then reward yourself with a yummy healthy snack. Minimal preparation is putting on walking shoes and socks.
3. Remove obstacles.
Equally important is recognizing the obstacles that get in the way of executing your habits.
Before you start your new habit, list all the things that could obstruct your progress. Of these:
Which one is the leader – the one that unleashes all the other ones when it sets up a roadblock? If you can get that lead obstacle out of the way, the others won’t have much power.
These obstacles can come from the outside, such as other people who impose on you and use up your time, in which case you need to get good at setting boundaries.
They can also be your thoughts, emotions, and competing habits. Examine your repetitive self-talk, ingrained emotional reactions, and sneaky ways you avoid doing things that require some mental exertion. Scrolling Facebook, turning on the TV to watch just one episode of your favorite series, telling yourself you’ll start again tomorrow, feeling moody, giving those negative thoughts about your ability to succeed a front-row seat. All of these are obstacles to your success.
Which one is most obtrusive? Which one holds you back the most? If you can identify it, you can make a plan to outwit or challenge it.
My favorite for all obstacles is to use the “minimal viable product.” It works even when you’re depressed or feeling inadequate. Tell yourself, “If I do my work for just 15 minutes, I can reward myself with 15 minutes of something else.” Then do it again and again. The product, in this case, is 15 minutes of whatever activity you choose – maybe four paragraphs written in my case. Do what works for you.
4. Build in buffer space.
This one comes from Greg McKeown. Very simply, it means allowing for the unexpected. McKeown advises adding 50% more time to every plan you make. That’s a lot! But just imagine how relieving it would be to have that time if you needed it so you didn’t feel derailed by something popping up. Better yet, you’re ahead of the game if you don’t need it!
Secondly, avoid “deadline performance,” – doing a report the day before it’s due, writing a paper all night before you need to turn it in, driving to the airport to catch a flight with not a minute extra assuming everything will go right.
Don’t wait until the last minute to tackle something that needs time and thought.
Instead, use what McKeown calls “scenario planning.” Assess the possibilities, impacts, and risks of what you want to do, and plan how to avoid them. That means doing your work ahead of time.
Make a to-do list, schedule every task on your calendar, and allow extra time in case something gets in the way.
5. Track and review.
This one’s mine and one I live by. No system remains productive if you don’t track and tweak your progress when necessary. One of the routines you’ll need to set up is regularly reviewing your process and making changes based on your evaluation.
I won’t go into this one in detail because I’ve already written a blog on how to do this, which you can access here. Just suffice it to say that a weekly review can set you up for success and keep your “why” in the front of your mind so you stay motivated and focused on your overall purpose and goals.
An Important Factor
This insight comes from James Clear. Specifically, he points out that habits stick because they’ve become part of your identity. They’re not just something you perform but something embedded in your sense of self. They’re extensions of who you are.
This makes perfect sense when your activities and behavior reflect your overall sense of purpose and values. Being on time means you see yourself as a dependable person. Meditating every morning represents your love of peace or your spiritual values. Keeping your home decluttered might indicate you value simplicity, organization, and space.
When setting up your habits and routines, think about them in terms of what parts of you they reflect. This examination will make it easier for you to stick with them.
This blog finishes our three-week foray into clarifying your purpose and essential goals, and how to execute them. I hope you enjoyed it! Next week we’ll tackle an important relationship issue.
That’s all for today!
Have a great week!
All my best,