How to Fight Distraction and Make Your Goals Happen
There’s a highly charged collective energy around positive change at the New Year. We’re all eager to get healthy habits in place, set exciting goals, and make our dreams come true. Anything seems possible.
But how do you stay accountable a few weeks later when that starry-eyed energy wears off, you’re faced with the day-to-day drudgery of making your goals happen, and distractions tempt you at every turn?
According to U.S. News, by the second week of February, 80% of us have failed on our resolutions.
For me though, it’s not about impetuous resolutions made in response to holiday indulgences. I put considerable thought and energy into creating an annual strategy for my life and my tiny business. I’m dead serious when I set those goals even if I’m simultaneously naive and overly enthusiastic.
Here's the hitch for me. It’s easy for me to be accountable to others. It’s a million times more difficult to be accountable to myself — to my own dreams and aspirations. The fact that I no longer work for anyone else and thus don’t have to do anything, makes it all the more harder for me.
In a recent heart-to-heart, these words mysteriously slipped out: “I don’t want to be accountable to myself.” Where was that coming from, especially for someone who demonstrated a high level of responsibility for most of her life?
This illustrates to me how our fears and resistance run deep. If we want to make our goals happen, we need a mix of the right tools, the inside story on willpower, and the courage to look deeply within at the sources of our own self-defeating patterns.
Today, I’d like to share some of the ways I plan to stay accountable this year, hopefully all year long, not just in January or part of February. I’ll also offer a few questions to help you look at deeper issues that might be holding you back from changing bad habits or achieving your dream. In my next post, I’ll focus on 10 things you need to know about willpower.
Let’s start by looking at effective ways to manage your time and stay accountable. I won’t share every time management or accountability method under the sun, just my favorites, the ones that work for me right now.
Track Your Time & Remove Time Wasters
It’s impossible to accomplish your goals or have the space for new habits if you don’t allocate your time wisely. “I didn’t have time,” is one of our most common excuses when we fall short of our goals, but is it really true? You can’t really know unless you track your time and activities for a designated period.
When you track your time, you’ll be able to clearly see if your activities align with your values, priorities, and goals, how much time you waste and exactly how you squander it, and where you fail to honor your boundaries and thus reluctantly give your time away to others.
Read more on boundary issues here: 11 Sure Signs You Need to Strengthen Your Boundaries
It’s simple to track time, you just have to make a commitment, pay attention, and consistently record your time and activities for a specified period. I recommend time tracking for 7 days. But if that feels overwhelming to you, you could start with 3 days or even 1 day. Just be sure to track enough days to end up with a representative sample of your overall time usage.
Download my free 7-day Time Tracking Log, which includes simple instructions, a time-tracking log, and a page to tally the time you spend each day by category.
Time tracking can be an eye opening exercise, especially if you’ve never done it before. It’s also a good exercise to repeat periodically because bad habits tend to creep back in.
While it can be uncomfortable to face the truth you see staring back at you from the time log, the knowledge you acquire through tracking will allow you to move forward in a positive way.
Use Time Blocks or Time Boxes
In 1980, Francesco Cirillo refashioned the use of time boxes into 25-minute intervals and called it the “Pomodoro Technique.” The creative entrepreneur, Lisa Jacobs, named her time boxes “power blocks” and sets them for 90 minutes.
Whatever length of time you decide upon, time boxes are an age-old time management technique in which you schedule a task or a batch of similar tasks into a designated block of time. Time boxes also serve as an accountability partner since you can clearly see whether or not you’ve completed the tasks ascribed to your boxes.
I’m incredibly keen on time blocks because they help me get more done in less time. I find 25 minutes too short, however, except for relatively mindless tasks like scheduling social media posts. I like longer time blocks so I can get into a flow when I’m writing or creating. 90 minutes of focus can feel intense, however, unless I get up for a few moments in the middle. Right now, I’m experimenting with 60 and 90-minute time boxes to see which type works best for me.
At the start of the week, I pencil in eight 90-minute time blocks (or the equivalent in 60-minute blocks) in my Hobonichi Techo Cousin planner (affiliate link). Then each day, I assign my priority tasks first in my designated time blocks, and then my administrative tasks.
I set a timer on my I-Phone at the start of each time block. That might feel like pressure at first, but with time you can learn how to ease into timing without it feeling stressful.
This system gives me a pre-planned schedule for getting things done. It invites me to focus and helps me to avoid distraction. It also shows me how much I can really get done in a block of time. I tend to over estimate what I can accomplish on any given day, most of us do. This system keeps me realistic and working consistently toward accomplishing my goals.
Time boxes can help you to establish new habits too. Let’s say you want to run or meditate for 20 minutes, 5 days a week. Create a time box in your schedule for this new habit. Then check it off each time you accomplish it.
Write Your Goals Down
It doesn’t matter if you scribble your goals down on a piece of loose-leaf paper or keep a sophisticated planner, as long as you break your goals down into measurable objectives and manageable tasks and revisit your plan again and again.
According to the Written Goals Study conducted by Gail Matthews at Dominican University, those who write their goals down achieve significantly more than those who don’t.
Here's a simple framework for establishing effective goals:
- Goals are general statements like I want to lose weight this year. Start with goals.
- Objectives are more specific like I will lose 24 pounds in 2018. They’re specific, measurable, time-bound, achievable, and realistic. Add an objective for each goal.
- Tasks are the steps you’ll take to achieve your objectives and goals. In this case that could involve removing specific items from your diet like sugar or bread, increasing your physical activity, counting calories, and so on. Create a list of task for each objective.
If you haven’t already, write down your goals, make an objective for each one, and list out the step-by step tasks you need to complete to achieve your goal.
Of course, you don't have to do this all in one go. You might need a few weeks to flesh out your plan. Go at your own pace.
This year I’m using a Hobonichi Techo Cousin with this inexpensive but elegant Kokuyo cover(affiliate links) as my planner and the place where I write down and review my goals. It contains monthly, weekly, and daily pages as well as a small number of blank pages.
I’ve listed my 2018 goals on the blank pages at the start of the year. I use the monthly pages for an overview of my appointments each month. I use the weekly pages for my daily task lists. I use the daily pages to plot out projects, weekly and monthly reviews — bullet journal style — and for my daily guidance tarot readings.
I need a single place like this where I write down my goals as well as my daily tasks. I look at it often throughout the day.
Track Your Habits
I’d never heard of habit tracking until I started using a bullet journal last year. Now, I see an explosion of habit trackers all over the web. Some of the popular agendas you see at the office store even include habit trackers these days.
Essentially, a habit tracker consists of a grid with the days of the week or month on one side and a list of your habits on the other. Or you can make a grid for a single day to track water consumption, your vitamin intake, and the like. Some people go to town and make their habit trackers colorful and artistic. Others, like me, opt for a simple, functional style.
Here are some cool habit trackers for inspiration and a printable one, but remember, you can keep it super simple:
- Mini Habit Trackers
- Free Printable Habit Tracker
- My Bullet Journal Planning Routine (the second image is a habit tracker)
- 116 Best Bullet Journal Habit Tracker Images on Pinterest
Creating or downloading a habit tracker doesn’t mean you’ll actually use it, right? You have to create the habit of logging your progress on your habit tracker each day and that might take a little time.
Start by tracking just a few habits so you don’t feel overwhelmed and give up. I habit track on the weekly page in my planner because I look at it every day. I don’t have to make a special effort to go to a monthly habit tracking page. See what works best for you.
What can you track on a habit tracker? Almost anything! For example,
- Morning routine
- Paying bills
- Making your bed
- Medications or vitamins
- Water consumption
- Household chores
- Watering plants
For more ideas, check out: 101 Habit Tracking Ideas
Evaluate Your Progress
You'll be more likely to achieve your goals if you regularly review your progress and address any obstacles that hinder your forward movement.
This year, I'll do this myself through weekly, monthly, and quarterly reviews in my planner. I don't feel I have to do a review every week, but I certainly will if I feel I've come up against obstacles.
You can craft your own review questions, one’s that relate to your life. Here are some simple ones to get you started. Although I’ve framed them for the week, you could use them for the week, the month, or the quarter.
- What did I achieve this week?
- What fell through the cracks?
- What challenged me?
- What lessons did I learn?
- Am I happy with how I spent my time this week? If not, what can I adjust for the next week?
Be sure to consider your review questions in the context of your goals, objectives, and tasks.
At the same time, you may accomplish something different from what you expected because you felt called in a different way. That’s not always a distraction. Perhaps you’ve had change of heart and need to adjust your goals. It can be beneficial to have a system, but you don’t want the system to damper your creativity or silence the callings of your heart. Remember, the system serves you, not the other way around.
Those are the five ways I plan to fight distraction and stay accountable this year. And would like to do so with ease. Staying productive and tuned into your goals doesn't have to feel like you're in a pressure cooker. Bring a curious attitude and adventurous spirit to the process.
What Holds You Back from Reaching Your Goals?
If you consistently fail to accomplish your goals, you may need to put helpful systems in place like the ones above.
Or it might time to look within. I haven’t figured out my own resistance to staying accountable to myself as yet. I’ll explore and journal on this topic for the next few months.
It’s been suggested to me that I’m an “obliger” according to Gretchen Rubin’s framework related to habit formation called The Four Tendencies. Rubin says Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves. I want to learn more about this and may even read her book, Better Than Before.
You can take Rubin’s quiz to find out where you sit within her framework: Are you an Upholder, Questioner, Rebel, or Obliger? It might tell you a lot about your relationship to habit formation.
You could also consider and journal about whether fear or attachment is holding you back. Some common fears and attachments that can keep you from achieving your goals include:
- Fear of uncertainty
- Fear of silence
- Fear of solitude
- Fear of being alone
- Fear of growing old and not having enough
- Attachment to receiving validation
- Attachment to helping
- Attachment to a specific identify
- Attachment to the comforts of life
If you have trouble reaching your goals, perhaps making a commitment to look within would be the most important step you can take right now.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for Wild Arisings, my twice monthly letters from the heart filled with insights, inspiration, and ideas to help you connect with and live from your truest self. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra