Goal setting hasn’t necessarily been something you’ve prioritized the past four years has it? And that’s reasonable, since there wasn’t much to exactly prioritize, outside of how you were scheduling your days and managing your courseload.
But day-to-day goal setting and prioritization differs greatly from big picture thinking. When you’re thinking about the big picture, you’re thinking longer than just today, this month or this semester. You’re focused on what you want out of life. Who you want to be. Where you want to end up, professionally, personally, physically, emotionally -- the list goes on.
It’s a skill that’s learned largely after college, when you need to start acting on those answers. Now, you’re more likely stuck in a dreaming and planning phase, considering how this internship, that major, and any of those job applications will contribute to your big goal. None of it actually gets real until you’re out of school and can start taking action and making real decisions.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start creating, prioritizing, and planning a roadmap for your goals now. It’s the best time to start on what should be a constant habit. We promise this is about more than just productivity, results and time management.
Here are five tips to help you start setting and prioritizing goals.
Start writing things down. As vague as that sounds, before you can decide what you do in a day that contributes to what you ultimately want to make of your life, it’s a good idea to start tracking what you’re doing on any given day, period. Notice where your time sucks are. Notice where your moments of deep creative flow are. Notice what you’re spending time on that’s not essential -- and notice what you’re not doing that you believe is essential. Once you begin to visualize -- with certainty -- how you’re actually spending your days, you can start to rearrange and reprioritize.
Create buckets based on milestones and timelines. Once you’ve got a grasp on how you’re currently spending your time, begin considering how you should be allocating that most finite of resources. Make a laundry list of everything you want out of your life: financially, professionally, self, physically, emotionally, spiritually. In your relationships. With your free time in pursuing hobbies. Chart a “destination” for each of the buckets that mean the most to you -- at the end of your life, what would you hope to accomplish in each area? That’s your long-term goal, and the bucket it sits in. Then, plot the journey backward. How can you, in five or ten years, come closer to reaching that goal? Those “in-between tasks” are your five year milestones. Get even more granular and chart the daily or monthly activities you would need to incorporate to begin moving even closer to that five year marker. Those are your monthly goals.
Attach a ranking or priority to each goal. Perhaps at this point in your life, your professional journey is the most important aspect you’d like to focus on. In ten years, you might be more inclined to pursue spiritual greatness or a life partner. But looking at right now, what’s most important to you in your wheel of life? Rank those goals and objectives. Literally. Attach a number to how important they are to you.
- Plot your time based on those rankings. Based on which area of life you’re focusing on, and how highly they rank in importance to you, start scheduling how you’d like to spend the next year, each month, and every day. What needs to get done this year to bring you closer to that ultimate goal in the most important aspect of your life? And what needs to get done today to move the needle a bit closer each day to it? When you look at how you want and need to spend your days and weeks to reach that milestone, you understand how to prioritize the menial tasks that will get you there. If it’s five minutes every night reading about financial markets because you want to be retired by 40, or if it’s 30 minutes of free journaling every night because contentment tops your list, start scheduling it into every day in your calendar, and have the discipline to hold yourself to it.
- âFind the imbalances. Once you have your “ideal schedule,” plotted with all the tasks you should be doing to bring you closer to your key areas of life and milestones in five years, test it out. After a month, see how well you’re doing with sticking to the schedule you set. If this schedule addresses what you want out of your life truly, but you’re finding difficulty maintaining it, that’s a great sign that you need to reevaluate your goals, priorities, values -- or take another look at what you think you actually want. What’s not matching up? What do you seem to always find time for? Where do you need to be spending more time? Once you’ve been able to test your goals and see how they actually play out, you very well may find yourself back at step number, bringing greater awareness to your days. Start the exercise over, and see where you land.