Being productive is something I’ve struggled with most of my life (and still do at times). For a while, I was the girl who relied on vague plans to reach my goals and was always frustrated with how “little” time I had to pursue them.
When I started writing down my New Year’s resolutions a few years ago, I noticed that a lot of the ones concerning my dreams kept repeating year after year and I wasn’t getting any closer to accomplishing them. As someone painfully aware of how fast time flies, I was disappointed in myself for slacking on the goals that mattered so much to me. I started looking into time management techniques (I highly recommend Time Management Magic by Lee Cockerell, a former Disney exec) and after experimenting with several, I’ve been amazed by how much my productivity has improved.
The truth is, most of us have more time than we realize to devote to our dreams. The trick is learning how to engineer your hours and outwit the habits that have been holding you back. In this post, I’m sharing the techniques that have worked for me and the healthy mindset that will help you move forward.
How to Consistently Move Toward Your Dreams
Get intimate with your goals
The first step is to get to know your goals inside and out. Most of us have broad ideas what we want, like “to be a published author,” but take it a step further and think about what that goal means to you. How will reaching it change your life, externally or internally? Visualize the transformation, every aspect of it, even the smallest details. What is driving you toward that dream? Get a firm grip on that mission and the feeling that comes with imagining what it will feel like to achieve it. This will make it feel so much more real and help guide your decisions on how to get there.
Break down your goals into tasks
All big picture goals are made up of smaller goals and tasks. They are what move you toward the destination. Let’s say your goal is to become a published author by the end of the year. How do you plan to reach it? By what date do you want to publish it? How many words do you have to write every day, week or month to reach that goal?
And of course, you’ll also have to build in time for it to go to your beta readers, make revisions, have them read it again, make more revisions, then send it off to your editor (do you have one yet, need to research and interview some?) and so on and so forth.
Once the book is done, you have even more questions that lead to tasks: Are you going to self-publish or go the traditional route? How are you going to help market it? What is going to be your writing platform – blogging, social media, podcasts?
It may feel overwhelming to think of all these things at first, but it actually has the opposite effect once you put it into practice. Write down all your major milestones that lead to that one big goal and what their deadlines are, then make a list of the tasks you have to complete to reach them. Every week, add a few to your to-do list for that week. This will keep you super focused on your goal rather than flailing aimlessly toward a vague idea. Trust me – any time I avoid writing things down that I need/want to do, 9 times out of 10 they don’t end up happening but once I take the time to flesh them out on paper, I get that shit done.
By consistently making progress every week and checking off small tasks, you’ll also feel wonderfully accomplished. Before you know it, you’ll have reached a milestone. And then another. And then another. And eventually, you’ll reach your goal and be ready to pursue a new one.
Be ruthless about distractions
I am the Queen of Distractions. I relate to Dug the Dog from Up! in that we both have a “SQUIRREL!” state of mind. One moment I’m deep in a task and the next I’m dreaming about what I’d like to eat for dinner. If this is you, I feel you. The problem is, what feel like “small” distractions in the moment can actually suck up a lot of valuable time because they add up quickly. It’s okay once in a while to give your brain a break, but be honest with yourself when they are stealing your attention too frequently.
One trick that I’ve found immensely helpful is to time each task. It sounds a bit silly, but actually watching a timer tick by every second makes me keenly aware of it and more focused on what I’m trying to do. When you see a timer counting down the seconds until a bomb goes off in a movie, you feel the pressure, don’t you? It also feels like a challenge to myself to see how much I can get done in that time. To do this, I use a free app on my browser called Toggl (I always think of Hoggle from Labyrinth when I see the name). It’s so simple but I love it.
It’s also important to know when to say “no.” This is something I’m currently working on as I’ve always been inclined to take on anything that was thrown at me, whether it was a project I didn’t really have time for or taking a call from a friend to shoot the breeze when I’ve got a lot to get done. You don’t have to shut everyone out of your life and give up things that really matter to you, but you should start prioritizing your goals because they matter, too. A lot.
When something tempts you, like an extra project, a night out, or a movie on TV, ask yourself: is it more important than doing something that will drive me closer to my dreams? It’s important to take time to have a social life and relax, but you also have to be honest with yourself when you aren’t prioritizing your dreams enough.
There’s another thing about trying to keep it all in your head: it’s fucking stressful. Before I started writing things down and keeping all of my tasks and goals organized, I was a stressed out mess. I never felt like I was on top of anything – like I never had enough time, even though at the end of the day, I felt like I hadn’t accomplished much at all.
It’s taken some time to find a system that works for me. And honestly, I’m still consistently experimenting with new tricks and techniques to make it even better. There are certain things I’ve implemented, though, that helped me see results right away and they’re ridiculously simple: to-do lists and planning out my calendar.
For my to-do lists, I use Google Keep. This is one of my favorite discoveries ever. It’s a free Google app that kind of looks like a Pinterest board but with notes. You can assign photos to them to pretty them up and customize them, create bullet points you can check off as you go, and paste clickable links inside of them. I have separate to-do lists for all my projects and it’s so easy for me to see everything at a glance. Here’s an awesome tutorial from Jenna Soard on how to make the most of Google Keep.
PLANNING LIKE A BOSS
To plan out my calendar, I use a gorgeous physical planner. I tried to use Google Calendar first because I liked the idea of an app but it just wasn’t dynamic enough for me. I couldn’t find any other decent apps on the market, so I decided to try a Day Designer from the Target collection. I’m a sucker for gorgeous office supplies and stationary, so I was so excited to have an excuse to finally buy a planner I’d actually use and not just stare at. I chose a Day Designer because 1) I fell in love with it at first sight and 2) it’s not just great to look at, what’s on the inside is just as impressive.
Here’s how I use my planner: At the beginning of every month, I sit down and go over what my goals are for that month. I then break them down into a list of tasks that will have to be completed each week. Every Sunday night, I make a to-do list for that week (which includes personal errands/chores and social engagements, work, and creative projects) and assign them to different days. By organizing it ahead of time, I can make sure the most important tasks will get done and I don’t have to be stressed about where I’ll find the time to fit everything in because I’ve already figured it out. I don’t always finish every single thing on the list because life happens, but I at the very least get the top priority and second priority tasks completed. Whatever is left over gets added to the following week.
Since I started taking the time to plan out my calendar, my overall stress has reduced considerably. It keeps me focused and (as long as I do my absolute best to follow it) ensures that I’m consistently moving forward.
Always keep inspiration around you & enjoy the journey
We’re human. We get distracted. We lose steam. Sometimes, we just get lazy. At some point, we all fall behind because of unforeseen circumstances or just simply because we need a day to sit on the couch in our sweatpants and watch Netflix and not give a fuck about anything else. Any of these scenarios are fine as long as you know when it’s time to put your big-girl pants on and get back to working on your dreams.
The best way to get fired up about your goals again is to keep them in front of you. Not just in the back of your mind, but right in front of your face. Write them on a post-it note and stick them on your mirror, computer, or refrigerator. Put them in your planner. Create an inspiration board with images and words that ignite that deep, visceral, fiery desire and hang it on the wall in your home office, bedroom or living room. If you prefer something digital, pin inspiring images and quotes to a secret Pinterest board and visit it daily for at least thirty seconds every morning.
Keeping your goals in front of you is one of the best things you can do to stay focused on the destination. Even if you never stop wanting that goal, our minds have a funny way of tricking us into a sense of comfort and laziness that sometimes makes it hard for us to move forward. When the journey gets tedious, remind yourself of that beautiful place to which you are headed.
While it’s important to remind yourself what you are working towards, it’s just as important to enjoy the journey getting there because the majority of life is the journey. Enjoy the process. Decorate your home office in things you love so you’re inspired by your atmosphere. Buy a beautiful planner so you’re excited to use it every day. Take your work outside to your favorite coffee shop, beach area or park bench. Meet up with other people who are on similar journeys.
Appreciate all the little moments and the magic within them as you build a life you feel good living.
A final note…
Being productive isn’t a gift bestowed only upon certain fortunate souls. It’s a choice facilitated by discipline and strategy. That’s not to say you won’t struggle. That’s not to say everything you’ve ever wanted will magically come to you overnight. But the point is to keep moving. Experiment with different methods. Be honest with yourself and take responsibility when you could be pushing harder. Be gentle when you are doing your best and things don’t go quite the way you had hoped. Be disciplined but encouraging to yourself.
And please, please don’t beat yourself up when you fall short of your goals – consider it a lesson on how you can kick ass next time. Study your bad habits so you can conquer them.
Your dreams, goals, and creativity are important. Treat them as such. Prioritize them, nurture them, and give them every bit of you that they deserve.
Because it’s your life and you should love spend it as much of it as possible doing what you love.