Finding your path: how to choose your way for further growth

by Nick Collins

Imagine your life is an endless road. You can move blindly without a goal, but no one can tell you where you will be in five years. Many people give up on the stream, not wanting to make decisions, but few are satisfied with their lives.

Another option is to choose the path yourself. Every direction, every turn of your life will bring you closer to your goal. If you don't want to let your life take its course, you need a tool such as planning. You will always know you are moving in the right direction.

Goal, plan, priority: your step-by-step productivity

In a nutshell, planning is building a step-by-step guide for achieving your goals and increasing your productivity. When drawing up a plan, you set yourself tasks that you need to complete and set priorities. It lets you see a complete picture of your next steps, evaluates your progress towards the goal, and changes your approach if necessary. In addition, planning helps you get the most of your time - by prioritizing what matters the most and is not essential.

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In turn, a goal is a result you are striving for and making all the efforts. Most often, a goal stems from a dream or inspired desire. But inspiration alone is not enough — you should perform some actions to reach the goal.

You can put it this way: goal = desire + conscious decision to act.

The goal answers the question "What needs to be done?" while the tasks suggest "How to achieve the desired result." For example, you want to learn how to cook. In that case, you should write down a task to sign up for cooking courses or to purchase a cookbook and start learning it yourself.

The famous quote says: "If a man does not know to what port he is steering, no wind is favorable to him." It's true - when you don't have a goal and plan for it, your every step will be like playing blind man's buff. You'll find it harder to finish your tasks if you don't know the purpose of every action. When you have goals to reach and a particular plan to follow, it feels like someone has rolled out the red velvet carpet for you. You need to walk it with confidence and never look back.

One of the biggest challenges in work and personal life is misplaced priorities. Even if you have a goal and action plan, it doesn't guarantee 100% success. After all, the third cornerstone of your productivity is setting the right priorities (which we fail to do in most cases). The workloads are skyrocketing, and everything seems to matter. However, the truth is that some of the work you do every day doesn't need to be done, at least not immediately.

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Plan & prioritize your tasks

Learning to prioritize means having more time each day, which is so limited. So if you've been delaying the family dinner because you have "no time," - prioritizing will help you incorporate this special event into your schedule. Or, if you've dreamed of learning to play the drums or flute, with planning and prioritizing, your dream can come true whenever you want. When you master this skill, you'll manage to do the things you enjoy instead of spending life moments working yourself to the bone.

Sometimes, you can change your expectations after setting priorities or realize you're moving in the wrong direction. In this case, it's difficult not to be disappointed. You can even experience the sunk costs effect when you continue to do something just because you have already invested too much time and effort.

But the reality is never giving you any guarantees, so if you choose the wrong direction, you'd never get your time back. Thus, observe your path wisely because sometimes you must stop flogging a dead horse and find another one to keep going.

Suppose you want to maximize the effect of planning. In that case, you can use wide-known planning strategies from successful entrepreneurs and managers. Their solutions allow you to save time setting goals and finding out what is worth your efforts and attention.

person writing on white paper

Try the SMART planning method to measure your goals

Setting goals has bright and dark sides. When you put them, your motivation can reach the sky, and you feel you will win the battle no matter what. However, realizing that you haven't accomplished most of them can brutally hurl you down to earth. That happens because most of us fail to plan wisely. No wonder more than 92% of people never reach their goals. Want to be among these 8% happy achievers who keep up with everything planned? Then it's time for you to discover how to set SMART goals!

Created by George T. Doran, a corporate planning director, this goal-setting system has changed the world by showing people what is wrong with their goals. Most of us can't set specific and framed objectives, so they seem unachievable and annoy us. But with SMART goals, you can alter your planning routine and start moving towards your ambitions.

Setting SMART goals means making them:

  1. S - specific.
  2. M - measurable.
  3. A - achievable.
  4. R - relevant.
  5. T - time-based.

Each of these characteristics makes your goal more real. They all work together to create the foundation for successful fulfillment. Let's look closer at each of them:

Set specific goals

Setting uncertain and blurry goals means you risk moving in the wrong direction and getting unpredictable results. So if you want to pursue your goal, you should know precisely where to go. Be clear about who will be involved in this goal, how much time you have for it, and which resources you need.

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In this case, your goal could look like that:

I want to reach the B2 level of French in one year, so I'm visiting Frech courses at a language school near my office. Every class costs $25, so I need $2400 to pay for the 12-month study.

Set measurable goals

It's essential to have a long-term plan that requires resources and management. That's why you should define how you can measure your steps. You can easily get lost on your path toward success; measurements will help you mark milestones and focus on the final result.

Referring to the previous example, you can measure your goal like that:

Every French word & phrase I learn makes me closer to my goal. When writing an essay on French, I'm proving to myself that I'm making good progress.

Set achievable goals

What can be more discouraging than non-realistic and unachievable goals that make you feel useless and incapable? So before writing down a goal in your planner and investing all your resources in it, think about whether you can achieve it now. Think whether you have all the necessary skills and tools for it, and when the answer is "yes," then go on and fight for it! But if you realize you lack resources for some goal, leave it for better times.

Your goal is achievable if:

  • you can reach it in the nearest future (maximum in 2-3 years)
  • you can achieve it without changing your schedule drastically
  • you have the skills, resources, and energy to accomplish it.

Set relevant goals

Your goals should contribute to one significant objective. Each time you write down a new plan, does it correspond to your values and path? Will it help you get to your main goal? Why is this goal essential for you?

person using macbook pro

Here is what a relevant goal can look like:

I want to learn French in one year because my company offers relocation to Provance. I will need to communicate with my colleagues in French.

Now, take a look at irrelevant goal:

I want to learn French because I watched a French film and now I want to speak this beautiful language. However, it'd be better for me to improve my business English, but who cares?

Set time-based goals

Following goals without time frames is like swimming in an endless swamp. You're moving slow, tired, frequently pausing, and can't see an end to your hard work. It makes you less productive and wakes your inner procrastinator, who will put everything for tomorrow.

In turn, time-based goals help you maximize your efforts in a particular time and see the results quicker. However, don't set yourself too rigid and unrealistic time frames because you'll get tired to the bone. Estimate how much time you'll need to achieve this goal, then add 20% of that time on top - here's the perfect formula for counting the time required.

Your perfect time-based goal can look like this:

I want to learn ten new French words weekly and five phrases each two weeks. I will write one 120-words essay each month to verify my progress and consolidate the knowledge I gained.

As you can see, there's nothing complex about setting SMART goals. And if it meets all five demands, you have an excellent foundation for accomplishing it quickly and effectively. Question your goal before pursuing it to ensure you're doing it right.

Step-by-step guide on how to choose the right path to approach your goals

Now it's time to build an actionable plan on how to approach your goals & stop wasting time pursuing the dreams & goals that don't fit your unique path.

1. Select your long-term goals

Goal-setting provides a clear vision for the near future, defining the possible directions for growth. In turn, ignoring goal-setting can result in losing sight of any goals, which is just as dangerous as not having any.

Long-term goals and plans help you remember direction and how you're progressing to where you want to get in life. Your objectives give your daily activities greater significance and meaning by keeping them grounded in something greater than just today or right now.

sticky notes on paper document

Goals are also achieved over periods, setting intermediate milestones that provide markers on the way to more significant heights provided by the long-term plans. Being purposeful about your life objectives might be less overwhelming than you think once you put specific long-term goals around your decisions.

2. Think about possible paths for achieveing your long-term goals

Most people put their energy into achieving their short-term goals while missing their long-term goals altogether. These long-term goals might be professional, personal, or both simultaneously, yet they define your future in 10, 20, or more years.

You may know what you want to achieve in the long run, but do not take concrete action, so your goals stay as dreams on paper. You may be uncertain where to start, feeling overwhelmed and discouraged by such a big undertaking. That's why you need to build a few possible ways with detailed steps for achieveing your long-term goals. These ways may be the opposite, yet they should cover the main options for reaching your objective.

To make sure that you are on the right track and staying motivated, remember that these decisions will represent your future self when you are old and gray. And even though it is hard to start from scratch with achieving those goals, this should not hold you back from working towards them today.

person writing on a book photo

3. Choose the path that suits your lifestyle & capabilities

Choosing a life path can be daunting and constitute too many things at once, so it is easy not to know where to start. It would help if you considered many things while choosing when to get married and the profession you wish to pursue.

You must have an idea of what is in store for your type of lifestyle and capabilities to figure out the path that best suits you. For example, there are two paths in front of you. One may require a long time investment, such as a high-paying job, and the other where hourly wages are high but require minimum effort. Knowing which path will suit your personality and capability levels would take out most of the guesswork from your decision-making process.

You can choose many different paths to reach your long-term goal. However, if your motivation is solid and you have a particular plan - a way of achieving your destination - you're more likely to experience a sense of accomplishment. Even though it doesn't guarantee success, choosing a path that suits your lifestyle gives you more energy. Then you can achieve your goals consistently & without drawbacks that pull you back, ultimately leading you to success.

So your plan may look pretty simple - when you've chosen your long-term goal and a way of achieving it, it's time for action. Apply all of your creativity when approaching a new idea or project. Don't hesitate to analyze the process and make conclusions from your mistakes. That way, you'll always have the drive and energy to try new things and the courage to assume where you were wrong and what you need to fix.

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