What’s the difference between goals and to-do-list items?
A goal is something you work toward over a period time. It might be a month. It might be a year. It might be twelve years. It’s an objective that might be complicated and usually involves more than just a few steps. You could need training or to save money or to work with a team to accomplish a goal.
A to-do-list item is something that you can get done in less than an hour. It’s a task. A single duty that has a start and stop time. You know when you’ve started and you know when you have finished. You may have a lot on your to-do list and you may have a list of goals, but they are not the same thing. Let’s explore this a bit further . . .
Everything that you do can be separated into three layers.
LAYER 1 IS THE NECESSITIES. You breathe. You eat. You sleep. These are the basics you need to do in order to live. Most likely, if you’re reading this right now, these are things you do every day without thinking too much about them (unless, of course, they are interrupted by an extenuating outside factor, and then they are the only thing you think about).
LAYER 2 INCLUDES THE ACTIONS YOU PERFORM OVER AND OVER AGAIN TO SUSTAIN A NORMAL LIFE. I am generalizing, but this would include everything from putting gas in the car to showering to taking out the trash to going to work. I would consider these the chores or habits that happen over and over again. Many of these things are so integral to your routine that you do them once a day or when they are needed without thinking much about them. Layers 1 and 2 include everything that must be accomplished by you or someone in your household. They are not exciting, but they are, for the most part, necessary.
LAYER 3 IS THE BONUS STUFF. It’s the more creative, more life-enriching (as opposed to life-sustaining) stuff that we choose to add to layers 1 and 2. For the most part, goal-setting and the majority of goals you will probably set will fall into the layer 3 category.
Layer 1 keeps us alive. Layer 2 keeps us functioning. Layer 3 brings the joy.
Layer 3 is where the creative experiments, challenging work projects, and magic are made. These are the things that come after the day-to-day activities, things that you want to add to your life because they make you feel happier and give you something to look forward to. Layer 3 is where hobbies happen. You don’t have to do the layer 3 items, and that’s what makes them exciting goals to work toward.
So how do goals and to-do-list items relate? Layer 3 (the goal-setting portion of your activities) is made up of to-do-list items. All of your big goals can be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps, and this is an essential part of the goal-setting process. If you don’t break big goals up into actionable items, they serve as nothing more than wishes and will not be accomplished.
What makes a “good” goal?
GOOD GOALS ARE MEANINGFUL, inspiring, possible, measurable, and explainable.
Meaningful: Your goal should be important to you. It should be something that you care about accomplishing. Ideally, the purpose will come from you, not the promise of someone else’s validation. This goal should matter enough for you to sacrifice your extra time and give it the respect it deserves.
Inspiring: Your goal should feel a bit out of your grasp right now. It should be something to reach for, not something you can just cross off (that’s a to-do-list item). You will need to stretch or jump or try in order to meet this goal. It’s going to take effort to achieve.
Possible: Your goal should be doable. Not today. Maybe not even next year. But someday. To be realistic, this goal should be something that you can achieve. There is no point in setting a goal to be six feet tall if you’re five feet four and haven’t grown in ten years.
Measureable: Your goal should be something you can track. It should be concrete, and you should know when you are making progress. “Be happy” is a great mantra and it’s something to strive for, but can you be more specific? What makes you happy? What activities help you feel happy? What lifestyle changes can you implement to increase your happiness? Form a measurable goal around those things.
Explainable: Your goal should be explainable via text message. It should be simple to say—even if it will not be simple to reach. A good goal can be communicated in a sentence.
You gotta do the work
You gotta do the work. It’s exactly that simple and that complicated. Because work itself is often hard and repetitive and boring. It’s easier and more fun to spend time doing all the things that are on the periphery of the work, such as getting organized, brainstorming, or gathering inspiration. This is the case for almost any craft
You hear all the time that if you want to be a good writer, you have to read a lot. (I think this is true.) Reading provides access to new ideas. It helps you figure out what you like and don’t like. It can help you home in a bit on your own style.
But you know what really makes a good writer? Someone who writes. To bake forty loaves of bread, you have to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, and turn on the oven. To write fifty thousand words, you have to sit down and type them out. To get the work done, you gotta do the work. The other stuff, finding the inspiration or the perfect tools or clearing the time, is a distraction from the real task: doing the work.
Reject the “inspiration cycle”
Your best work will be something that you do, not something that happens to you. It will not fall from the sky. Lightning won’t strike. The light bulb will not click on. Instead, you must go to the work. You need to chase the lightning down. You need to flip the lights on and off until they stay lit.
This may not feel good. It may not feel inspiring. It may feel as if you’re moving in circles. That’s okay. Don’t avoid or fight this feeling! It means you are getting something real done. The more time you spend consuming, the less time you will have to create. And the more time you spend reading the stories of others, the less time you have to write your own. You want to make stuff? Make it. You want to write stuff? Write it. You want to do something different? Do it. Get in and be inspired, but then get out! And then get to work.
It doesn’t have to be flawless to be complete
You can’t be perfect. Your project can’t be perfect. Your house, life, goals, job, kids, marriage, friendships, routines, hair, and body cannot be perfect. You will be flawed. You will make mistakes and tear holes and have fights and miss deadlines and get scars and stain your carpet. You will also cry tears of joy and create work you’re proud of and make love and see a sunset and develop laugh lines and sing along to your favorite song and eat a great meal.
This is perfection. It’s the wholeness and completeness of life. It’s that dance between the crappy and the wonderful. Accepting that you are going to always have a bit of both is why you are here. Life is not a quest to “do it all exactly right” or to never admit or acknowledge your flaws, but to instead keep going anyway.
So much gets wasted on the quest for perfection. If we spent any of this time, energy, and focus just doing the task, we would be so much closer to building something whole and complete.
Let’s talk about failure
It’s time to get over this idea that “failure” should be avoided at all costs. If you believe that—if you believe that failure is bad, you will not try. Failure is not great, but it’s definitely not bad! It’s just part of doing something. The best way to avoid failure is to never try, so if you are too scared to fail, you will be too afraid to try.
Don’t protect yourself from failure. Get comfortable with it. Failure is a chance to start over and rebuild or adjust. Your project might not “succeed” in the way that you expected, but did you learn anything? Do you now know something you didn’t? What about the accidental result that occurred? Can you build on that?
Of course sometimes failure is awful! Rejection sucks. Going all in on something that doesn’t pan out is terrible. I am not asking you to put on some rose-colored glasses and look at that spilled cup of milk as half full. You get to be mad when things go wrong. But you don’t get to not attempt things because they could go wrong. Failure is not the end of the world. Instead it’s a huge part of being a member of the world.
How change feels
WE ARE LIVING IN a swipe-to-see-the-before-photo world where home transformations take twenty-two minutes and a few commercial breaks. This is often how we see change happen, and so it’s not surprising that we want quick results. We want a montage. We want a spectacular “ta-da!” moment.
This, sadly, isn’t coming. Instead, change is hard! And slow! It takes commitment, patience, and effort. Have you ever lifted weights or gone for a run or moved boxes for a few hours and spent the next day in pain? Yes, of course you have. You also probably are aware that the reason you feel that pain is that in exerting yourself, you’ve created tiny tears in your muscles that are now working to heal themselves. They will heal stronger, but that doesn’t mean this process—the regrowth process—doesn’t hurt.
This is what all change is like. Change is tiny micro-tears that you have to sit with and let heal and then continue to tear and heal over and over again. When you try something new for the first time, it usually feels uncomfortable or strange. This doesn’t mean stop. This means keep trying.