Thursday, 20 August 2009

On Simplifying Goals

I love lists. I love making lists; I love organizing lists; I love making lists of lists. In fact, I can spend so much time making lists and setting goals that I actually run out of time to DO anything. Although sometimes my goal-setting and list-making is really useful and productive, sometimes it turns into the most massive procrastination exercise ever!

Most months I make a list of goals I hope to achieve, and a little chart with boxes to colour in when I have achieved those goals (yes, I like colouring in little boxes in felt-tipped pen, so that’s what I do – I am still motivated by stickers and colouring books even though I left primary school decades ago).

However, the goal-setting has recently reached a point where it is totally unmanageable. I cannot walk daily, go to the gym, swim, do yoga, mend all the ailing clothes, figure out what a possible future career could be, read all the books on my list, do every question on my maths course, learn French, Polish, Finnish (and a whole host of other languages), learn bass guitar, improve my piano playing, practice my viola regularly, organize the house, read all the blogs I want to read, file the zillions of e-mails that seem to appear, write my own blog posts, set up databases for all my correspondence, etc. etc. etc. while still going to work, maintaining my (slightly dodgy at the moment) mental health and doing all the normal things that a human being has to do in the course of daily life.

Furthermore, I have reached the point where I’m spending more time colouring in little squares on my progress chart than I am doing the things I’m charting!

So, this week, I simplified my list. I filed all the complicated charts away neatly in a nice stripey ringbinder and have stuck my new, streamlined, list on the wall above my desk. It reads:




That’s it! Just four little words, rather than a whole page of text referring to hours spent, lengths swum, words learnt, e-mails sorted and so on. So, for the next couple of months I shall try, each day, to concentrate on these four things only.

Maths will probably be quite easy, since I have an exam to work for in approximately 2 months time. Instead of my usual “panic as the assignment becomes due” way of working, I shall try to work daily on my two remaining assignments and exam revision. I shall also keep reminding myself that it is more important to do some work than to do all work perfectly. A maths degree with a 2:1 result is much better than a maths degree I have abandoned because I’m not 100% confident I shall get a First!

Viola will also, I suspect, not be too difficult. I am currently working on several new pieces and also revising some old favourites, so I feel quite motivated in the viola direction at the moment. Fortunately, I also play the viola well enough that I can get satisfaction from playing it quite quickly – unlike the piano, which constantly frustrates me because I am such a poor pianist.

Yoga will, I suspect, be the most difficult, but probably the most “good for me”. I used to practice regularly and liked very much being able to stand on my head and touch my toes (neither of which I can currently do). I never reached the “putting my left leg behind my right ear while chanting ‘om’” stage, and don’t anticipate being able ever to do so, but it would be quite nice to be a bit bendier again!

Admin will probably be the easiest of all, since I have a reasonably good system set up. I shall focus on the day-to-day admin tasks rather than getting sidetracked into building elaborate databases and spreadsheets – that sort of thing can wait until after the maths exam!

So there we are. Simplified goals with a simplified colouring-in chart to match. Just three boxes per day: maths, viola and yoga (admin is its own box). The colouring in will be quicker, I shall (maybe) be less distracted by other things if I focus on these four, and I might actually make some significant progress towards my long-term goals over the next couple of months!

Of course, if I fail, then I will have failed at only four things, unlike the twenty or so on the previous lists! That, in itself, will surely be a success!

I think the glass must be half-full this morning!


  1. Good luck with your new, concise, list!
    You could try and combine your yoga with resolving some maths issues to help save time.
    However I wouldn't advise mixing the viola and yoga...
    A 2:1 maths degree would be something to be very proud of - so go for it!

  2. Great minds think alike. That's what I'm trying to do too... keep it simple, get stuff done, feel good.

    Procrastination, and also for me anxiety, are the two things I need to really battle. I'm sat here thinking about tidying my flat and putting a wash on. I've been thinking about it for ages. If I just did it I would actually feel a lot better.

    Good luck with the simple list! I hope it works, keep us updated!

  3. I'm good a great big long lists which I then go and ignore.

    Concise list is the way forward.

  4. Thats a good way to deal with overload - make your categories on the list very broad. I like it.

    Admin is so time consuming. One could spend ones life facilitating life and never live it.

  5. Oh my goodness, it's like you're inside my head! I also sometimes use lists to procrastinate and I LOVE using colored felt-tip pens! ;-) And my mom and one of my best friends still send me stickers because they know I love them.

    Simplified lists are awesome. I might have to try that sometime...

  6. Hey, thanks so much for all the comments.
    Anna: I'm still trying to figure out what would happen if I combined viola and yoga!!
    Helen: Procrastination and anxiety are also battles for me. Usually once I START something, I can manage to keep it going - it's getting the initial momentum that's the problem. I'm trying the "just do 5 minutes" approach, because 5 minutes never feels like very much. It quite often works for me.
    Amro: I'm great at ignoring big lists too. At least with the small ones I don't get so intimidated.
    Phillipa: Admin is SO time consuming. I sometimes think that I need an administrator, then I remember I earn money by BEING an administrator - maybe I should hire myself!!