You’ve likely seen the hashtag. Besides just plain-old #goals we have things like “#relationshipgoals,” “#fashiongoals,” and of course we can’t forget, “#closetgoals.” I’ve been thinking about goal-setting a lot lately, partly because it keeps coming up as a topic in my work with clients (it’s weird how these things seem to come in waves), and partly because I recently set a big goal of my own.
Some people like to use that SMART method for goal-setting. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound). That works pretty well when you’re starting out learning or refining your technique. But when I first got the inkling and defined my big goal, I decided to quietly put it out to the universe, do my best to keep my mouth shut about it, and get busy. Talking incessantly about my goals often backfires on me, and there’s even some evidence to suggest why that is.
Some of my clients have given up on setting goals because pretty much everything they think about doing seems like good intentions that never happen (think getting that garage or basement finally cleared out). Or some avoid goals because they might happen - then they would be successful, and being successful is scary (“OMG, what now??”). Some clients don't ever set them at all, because the concept has never been discussed or taught. It doesn’t occur to them, it’s not on their radar. Or for some people, perhaps goals sound too much like work.
Some experts suggest you should never set goals, because the minute you do you self-sabotage your way out of achieving them (like New Year’s resolutions). So if you just DO all the time without thinking too hard about the future, you’ll be better off. But where does that get you? Being in the moment certainly has advantages, but perhaps it’s more a matter of what word we use to define how we want to go about accomplishing something.
The end. Hmmmmm. Sounds pretty final to me, and sort of discounts the infinitely valuable journey. If “goal” doesn’t work, what word could? I’m open to suggestions.
The magnitude and gravity of goals can shift and change over time, and depending upon needs. One month you might have a goal to start drinking more water and leave it at that. Next January you might aspire to spend the year gradually purging and preparing your home for sale so that you can downsize - a goal that would require more planning, checking in, reminding (like lots of mini-goals). In either scenario, how do you begin without some sort of an end in mind? I think where we often go off track is in letting the process get in the way of the product. It can be a little intoxicating to walk through some new way of accomplishing something, checking things off of the latest list app, shopping for a shiny new planner. If those things help, fine. But if they aren’t supportive of you actually working through and making it to that final “whatever,” they’re just more window dressing.
I do like to have a road map for things. When you’re setting a course for a particular location, it’s helpful to have some idea of how to get there. If you use a mapping app with GPS, you often see two or three choices of how to get to your destination - with highways, without tolls, etc. - choosing your route depends upon the time or money you have to spend, the level of curiosity you have, maybe even what kind of shape your “vehicle” is in.
Is there value in throwing the map away occasionally and just wandering around to see what you might find? Sure. You might stumble across things you would never have seen or considered otherwise. Interestingly (at least to me), when I started writing this post I didn’t have a particular destination in mind. I just knew that the “goals” thing seemed to keep popping up in conversation, in thought, and in various media I was reading, so why not explore it a little bit and see where it took me?
I think it’s taken me here:
- Call them whatever you want, but there are definitely times and situations where goals are appropriate.
- There is a difference between a Big Goal and the steps required to accomplish it. The steps, in and of themselves, can also be goals.
- Writing, thinking, talking, listing, and planning can be helpful (but not always essential).
- None of any of the above matters without taking action.
And finally, there's an idea, a journey (with or without a plan and cool tools), and a conclusion - whether a goal is achieved fully, or partially, or not at all.
Or a champagne flute, or a jelly glass, or…
I don’t know why it still surprises me when someone tells me they never use any sort of a calendar or planner. Perhaps it’s because I have never been able NOT to use a calendar, and admittedly I am a bit time-obsessed, but still…how do people keep it all in their heads?
I think the short answer is, most of them don’t*. At least not past a certain age. I don’t mean that comment from a “senior moment” perspective but more from the view that as we get much past high school life starts getting in the way - there are just too many things to keep track of, plan, and act upon. Our heads really aren’t designed to hold every single piece of information they encounter, and if we don’t make some sort of conscious effort to choose how to retain what we need, we get into trouble. One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite shows, Sherlock, details the consulting detective's conscious decision to get rid of an unnecessary (to him) piece of information - in this instance, the fact that the Earth orbits around the Sun:
Sherlock (in response to John Watson’s disbelief):
Oh God, that again! It's not important!
Not important?! It's primary school stuff! How can you not know that?
Well, if I ever did, I've deleted it.
Listen: [points to his head] This is my hard-drive, and it only makes sense to put things in there that are useful. Really useful. Ordinary people fill their heads with all kinds of rubbish, and that makes it hard to get at the stuff that matters! Do you see?
John Watson will not win this one, but is Sherlock really so wrong? While the appointments we jot down in a central location may not exactly equate to “rubbish”, the practice does allow our brains some room and opportunity to focus on other, in-the-moment issues. Then too, critical times and dates can easily get knocked out by other brain “rubbish”, like the distraction of a new season of your favorite show. You’re sitting at home binging when you should be at your dermatology appointment, or a meeting at school, or a lunch date.
My husband tells the story of how he never used a calendar until one dreaded day in college when he discovered that he had booked himself for two gigs at the exact same time. The two commitments were retained in his brain, but the dates and times they were connected to, for whatever reason (pondering midterms, frat parties, slogging through a music history text, whatever) were not. Not a pretty result, but an excellent (if painful) learning opportunity. From there on out a planner became an essential tool.
I recently illustrated it to a client another way: appointments and tasks need a container. Let’s say that container is a glass, and you pour all of your commitments into the glass. The glass gives those commitments a place to hang out until they’re needed. It gives the schedule some shape. It’s transparent, easy to handle, easy to get those commitments back out when it’s time. You can choose what goes in, and what to dump (delete?) down the drain. If you leave the commitments in there too long they might go flat, so you have to check back frequently and sip from the glass from time to time. If you don’t use a glass at all, your schedule just splatters all over the place and makes a huge mess for you or someone else to clean up. Sipping from the floor or a countertop is not efficient or pleasant.
Maybe a boring, clear glass isn’t your thing (or should I say - ha - "cup of tea"?). Perhaps it’s a carafe, a jug, a stein, a hollowed-out gourd. It matters not. Whatever you choose to pour your schedule into just needs to be functional and appropriate for you. Your calendar container might be digital, physical, 3-ring, spiral bound, weekly, monthly, etc. - if you have gone years without one, you might be surprised at all of the current options. Don’t let the myriad choices become more brain rubbish: you just want it to be easy to plug things in and get those things back out when you need them.
What sort of time container could work best for you?
*As I type this I'm steeling myself for the comment from at least one reader who gets away with never using a planner. You are exceptional, but give me a shout when it all comes crashing down. I'll be here for you.
Confession time: I hate to fold laundry. I find it insufferably boring, and I would rather scrub a bathroom, wash all the dishes by hand, weed a flower bed in August, and/or sort through a three-foot mound of paperwork with a client than get the towels and sheets in order.
It has nothing to do with my talent for folding. I’m a pretty darned good folder. I can fit more things into a suitcase with creative and careful folding than most people get into three. It has nothing to do with how I grew up (military dad and homemaker mom = very organized household). I have no trauma associated with folding laundry, and I have no issues with actually running everything through the washer and dryer (I tend to do a lot of air drying). I have plenty of space to fold, and my clothing storage is more than adequate. I simply hate doing it.
I think we all have a hated task (or five) - some of my clients hate washing dishes, opening mail, paying bills (no big mystery on that one), dusting, or cleaning windows. A recent survey indicated the top 20 most hated household chores in America* - number one was scrubbing a toilet (something from which I get a strange satisfaction), and number twenty was emptying the dishwasher. My hated task didn’t even make the list, so I guess I’m somewhat alone in my ambivalence. [Side note: I was intrigued to read that most homes have three “junk” drawers - y’all give me a call, because I'm all about organizing those junk drawers. :-)]
The problem is, at some point the rubber is going to hit the road, and the hated task will get entirely out of hand. When my kids were really small (and before I was an organizer striving to walk my talk), we had a daybed in our bedroom that used to get totally swamped with the clean clothes. The rest of the house could be spotless and in order, but that daybed carried the dirty secret.
I think one reason I got frustrated with the task back then is the whole orphaned sock thing. It used to drive me crazy to not find a match. I even bought these cute little “sock sacks” for everyone to use so I wouldn’t have to search and search to put two together. That idea never caught on, and I know I wasted a heck of a lot of time rummaging for matching socks for a 6-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy (my husband, blessedly, handles his own socks). Two things helped ease the situation:
1. I quit worrying about matching their socks (they didn’t care - go figure); and
2. As soon as they were old enough I taught them how to do their own laundry.
Thereafter, everyone in the family was responsible for their own clothing, and I would handle things like dishtowels and placemats and other linens. Simplification, delegation, and letting go of perfection can be incredibly freeing.
But I also have to be an adult, right? I still have my own clothes to get put away, and I do hate wasting time. So what helps me to get through the dreaded chore now? My secret weapon is to pair the hated task with something that’s somewhat of a guilty pleasure...and I adore a good podcast. When staring down a pile of jeans, t-shirts and yes, socks, I plug into an absorbing episode of Hidden Brain or Brothers Mysterium or Revisionist History, and I’m good to go. By pairing my hated task with something I really enjoy, I manage to pretty much forget what I’m doing (and it never even takes up the length of an episode - so I get to chill when I’m done, stare at the empty space where the laundry used to be, and finish it).
Pairing hated tasks with fun things works mostly if the job in question is pretty repetitive or mundane. I probably wouldn’t try to listen to a podcast while pulling together tax documents for the accountant (but I probably WOULD tell myself I could listen to one as soon as I got it all done.). You can also gamify a tedious task by doing things like seeing how quickly you can get something completed (like opening and sorting the mail), and then seeing if you can beat your time the next day. As you might imagine, there are even apps you can use - Todoist gives you Karma points and ways to visually track task lists over time, and Habitica is a complete gamification program for every to-do item you could dream up (complete with a social network for support).
What’s your hated task, and what helps you to get through it?
p.s. Also, what’s your favorite podcast?? I need something new to try...
*"America's Most Hated Chores Revealed" - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-5688843/Americas-20-disliked-household-chores.html
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, coach, wife and mom, and serial list-maker. Excited to be in the process of becoming a Certified Organizer Coach. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?