Many clients tell me that they find it easier to work to an externally set deadline. Personal projects seem to drift along without end, especially when life gets in the way. So what can be done about it? The short answer is to set your own deadline and build in accountability to the process. In this brief post I offer three simple questions that I ask clients. These questions will help you to overcome procrastination, set your own deadlines and increase your motivation.
When would it be too late, to achieve your goal?
- 1. By what date will you be disappointed that you have not completed this project or reached this goal? In other words ‘what date’s too late?’
This gives a possible end date by which procrastination has gone too far. A goal is really only a goal if it does have a target date. Until then it’s just wishful thinking. An end-point allows you to move out of the ‘intention phase’ and to begin making concrete plans.
Now that you have a latest possible date, it helps to review the reasons. How come this feels too late? If you pass this date, how do you imagine you feel? What are the other negative associations with passing this date? What are the negative consequences of dragging things out until the last-minute? It helps to get something in black and white, so make a list. This becomes something that you can add to and review from time to time. Sticking to your goal will help you to avoid all of this down the line.
What’s your delighted date?
- 2. For you to be absolutely delighted and elated, by what would you have to meet this goal?
Together with the first question, you now have range for the target date for your goal. the nest change is to inject a little realism.
What date is most realistic to complete your project?
There’s a phrase I use in coaching that I use to preface questions: ‘Knowing yourself as you do’. Coaching should be from a position of realism and self-knowledge. In the ubiquitous SMART goals, the A and the R represent Achievable and Realistic.
- 3. So, knowing yourself as you do, what would be the most realistic date, between your ‘disappointed’ and ‘delighted’ deadlines for you to complete this goal/project?
This allows you to take into account obstacles, or just aspects of everyday life. The example I often use is starting a healthy eating plan on 23rd December when you also want to enjoy Christmas.
Goal completion: Delighted to Satisfied to Disappointed
Not only do these three questions give you a range of dates to use, they also have an emotional value attached, which helps to address some of the impetus that comes with external goals. This may be enough for you to pick a date, put it in to your diary, program the count down on to your phone or stick a note to the front of the fridge. The question then becomes, how do you maintain the momentum? Aside from engaging the services of a life coach will keep you accountable to your goals, there are techniques you can use by yourself.
The first step is to acknowledge the importance of this target date. If you nurture the attitude that it can move if something else comes along, then it will keep moving. Think about what you do if you are no likely to meet an externally set goal? What’s your process? As soon as you know your are not able to meet the original deadline, you estimate how much longer you would need and then contact the outside person to renegotiate a new deadline. However, the odds are that there will be some room for manoeuvre but not much. It’s important that you use the same criteria to re-set your own goals. If you don’t the over-arching message is ‘this is not important enough’. If you make a habit of reinforcing the ‘not important enough’ message it’s unlikely that you will meet the goal.
Using a formalised procedure for goal-setting
Some people find acronyms useful, others loathe them. There are a lot of them about, with SMART and GROW being the most famous. My own addition to the goal-setting acronyms is GO-FLOW. It’s a development of the GROW acronym. I came up with to fit in with the water-based theme of my book Don’t Wait For Your Ship to Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It! GO-FLOW stands for: Goal, Observation, Feelings, Limitations, Options, Will. For more information see: Going For Your Goals or Going with the Flow.
There are many goal setting tips on this site (See: Goal-setting Posts ). The important thing is to find a formalised system to help you keep track of the goals. One development of the SMART goals formula I use is SMARTER: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Enthusiastically Phrased and Reviewable. Goals evolve as we progress, especially with regard to achievability and realism. However if you need to readjust target dates it shouldn’t be done with a shrug of the shoulders. it should go through a formal process, even the act of putting the new date on a calendar or in your diary. ‘Whenever I can fit it’ means the goal is unlikely to be met.
Rewards as accountability
The most powerful of tools for shaping and changing behaviour is simple rewards. Working on goals should be a thankless task, so it’s important to break down bigger goals into smaller steps and build in a series of rewards as you complete the steps. When you are rewarded it makes it more likely that a behaviour will be repeated. So give yourself something to look forward to as you progress with your goals, obviously keep the reward proportionate to the achievement. You should save the bigger celebration for the end.
It can be more difficult to meet goals that do not have external deadlines. The main difference is that we often approach external deadlines more seriously. This post has offered a process and ideas for creating more compelling personal deadlines to make sure that perpetual postponing is not inevitable.
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About Gary Wood
Dr Gary Wood is a chartered psychologist, life coach and broadcaster specializing in applied social psychology, personal development and life coaching. He is the author of Unlock Your Confidence: Find the Keys to Lasting Change Through The Confidence-Karma Method (Buy: Amazon UK / Buy: Amazon USA ) Gary is based in Birmingham and Edinburgh where he runs his coaching and training practice and research consultancy.
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