Linking Your Goals to How You Spend Your Time

In this bi-weekly installment of our big productivity blog series for 2015, we’re once again taking a practical approach. Or at least it’s practical in the way that a personal trainer is effective when he’s shouting at you to get a move on. In other words, in this article I will be shouting at you stop procrastinating and get on with the things you need to do in order to achieve your goals.

In previous articles, we have looked at several aspects of how to:

In this article, we will specifically look at some examples of what this means and how you should go about planning in detail in order to achieve your goals. The good news is this: it can be done – and you can become more productive and better at achieving your goals. The bad news? You will likely need to put in significantly more effort (at least to begin with) than you’re doing today, and you need to find a way to cut out all of the (fun) little things that you currently find an excuse to waste your time on.

The Key: Linking Your Goals to How You Spend Your Time

Time is the only resource that you can truly control – and its one that all of us have the same amount of. One of the big differences between productive and unproductive people is how we choose to use it. I’ll make a simple distinction for clarification purposes between successful and unsuccessful people: Successful people are the ones who reach the goals they have set for themselves and the others, well, they don’t…

The key traits of these successful people include:

  • Knowing how much time it will take to reach a goal – and making sure they allocate the time required to reach it.
  • Avoiding distractions and focusing on getting the work towards the goal done first – before allowing themselves time to do other things


Learning a Foreign Language in Practice

So what does this mean in practice? It’s very simple really. Let’s take the example of learning a foreign language that I have used before. I am not going to go into all of the nitty gritty details of the hows and whys, but I would say that in order to be able to speak a language well enough to have a good level of conversation you would need at least 5 – 7,000 words in your vocabulary*. If you want to go for something even simpler, you can go for the 120 word “survival kit” suggested in The Daily Telegraph. The key to either is breaking down the amount of time it takes and the specific targets along the way to reaching your overall goal. In other words it’s all about linking your goals to how you spend your time.

In the “survival kit” example the break-down looks like this:
Learn 20 – 25 words per week, focus on 10 – 20 words per study hour, and set aside 15 minutes a day. This means that you are looking at spending 1 hour and 45 minutes per week and should mean you learn 20 words per week, thereby reaching your target of 120 words in 6 weeks or less (if you up your output to say 20 words per study hour: 1.75 x 20 = 35 words learnt per week and 120 word target reached in less than 4 weeks).

Similarly, you can break down the task of learning 7,000 words of vocabulary thus:
You will learn the same amount of words per study hour, you set aside 30 minutes each day (for a weekly total of 3 1/2 hours) and you will therefore learn a minimum of 35 and a maximum of 70 words per week. If you can reach the maximum you can 3,500 words in one year (assuming you take two weeks off) and the 7,000 word target in exactly two years.

Trying to learn a new language can seem very daunting – and it can seem overwhelming if you look at it taking two years. However, if you turn this thinking on its head and say to yourself that you’re learning a new language in only 30 minutes a day, then it becomes a) possible, b) wondrous, and c) something that you really should want to focus on.

Then comes the practical task of trying to fit it in to your daily schedule> Think about your day for a second and be honest, remember this is only an exercise for your own benefit – and nobody knows what your answers are to these questions:

  • How much time do you spend watching TV every day
  • How much time do you spend procrastinating by surfing the web or reading less than inspiring literature?
  • How often do you feel that time just flies by without you having gotten anything done?

Now, are you quite sure you can’t find some “dead” time that you can convert into productive time and feel that you’re achieving something?

And do you know what the best part is? Once you start a new habit of spending your time more productively in one area you will want to do the same in others in order to experience the same feeling of achievement and success.

How to Schedule Your Time

Try to stick to the idea of having fixed times on a weekly basis when you set time aside for these activities (whether it’s learning a new language, getting fit, or improving your skills on the piano). If you can set aside the same time each day on a weekly basis you are much more likely to keep at it and therefore succeed. If you, on the other hand, take a laissez-faire approach and try and schedule from week to week it becomes so much easier to find an excuse (whether it’s a meeting, a coffee with an old school friend – or whatever else your day throws at you).

This is why the key to taking charge and achieving success is you controlling your time – and not time and events controlling you.

In the example of learning a language above, you could choose to set aside time as follows:

  • Monday 8 – 8:30 p.m. after dinner
  • Tuesday 6 – 6:30 p.m. before dinner
  • Wednesday 8 – 8:30 p.m. after dinner
  • Thursday 6 – 6:30 p.m. before dinner
  • Friday 5 – 5:30 p.m. after work
  • Saturday 8 – 8:30 a.m. before or after breakfast
  • Sunday 4 – 4:30 p.m. before a light supper

Just remember that these need to be times that work for you! Think about when you usually have time that just goes to waste – and then try to fill that time by scheduling meaningful activities instead.

It is exactly the same thing you need to try and do at work. If you have a project that requires 5 hours of work per week for 8 weeks, it means that you either need to find the time for 1 hour every day or some bigger chunks (maybe 2 x 2 1/2 hours) to work on this project every week for those 8 weeks. Make sure that you can avoid all distractions (hold all phone calls, shut down your email client and instant messaging software, and close the door to your office if you can). This way you will make sure that you get the work done and can deliver a successful project on time.

Now just make sure you use the tips from the last article on the nitty gritty of planning to ensure that you know exactly what you will be doing in that time.

As with everything else here in life you will need to learn to walk before you can run. Start by looking at one goal, identify how to break it down (use the Elephant Technique to determine what parts and how long it will take you to reach), and start scheduling the necessary time. Once you get on a roll with this goal, see if you can start planning other goals and scheduling the time for them. Before you know it, the process becomes an ingrained habit and will lead to massive productivity gains and allow you a much greater chance of achieving your goals – and faster because you’re putting in the necessary time! That’s why you have to focus on linking your goals to how you spend your time.

* There is an interesting discussion on this topic at Stack Exchange if you’d like to know more.