It may have been light years since you bought a textbook or owned a pencil case (do kids still use those?), but it doesn’t matter—back-to-school time is ingrained in us; after all, we were students before we were anything else. But you don’t have to be matriculating anywhere to engage in a new curriculum for yourself.
So with the change in season and your household embarking on a whole new routine, it’s time to think about what you going to do with YOUR brand new school year? What new habits and goals do you have in mind, and how do you plan to achieve them? Maybe you want to start a business proposal or that book you’ve been wanting to write. Perhaps you want to find your true passion—or lose a few pounds. Here’s some of my favorite advice for buckling down:
Make sure your to-dos are married to a goal.
There’s what you feel you should do (repaint the bedroom, lose 10 pounds), and there’s what you really want to do. The reason so many of our to-do tasks lay orphaned on a list is because we didn’t want to do them in the first place, or they weren’t aligned with any larger purpose.
So ask yourself not whether you feel like painting the bedroom, but why you want to do it? What will you get for that effort? A brighter, more uplifting space to relax in—ok. Maybe getting up at 6am to go for a run or brisk walk sounds painful, but if the real goal isn’t just to torture yourself but to feel more energized and alert, then that’s a goal you can get behind. If you just have a list of things you dread doing, guess what isn’t going to get done.
Work less, do more.
Scott Young writes on lifehacker.com that he uses two to-do lists: a daily and a weekly. You identify what needs to be done during the week, and continue to move to the daily list what you will get done that day. “The power of this method is that it forces you to not work on certain things,” he writes. “You avoid the infinite to-do list syndrome of constantly procrastinating because it feels too hard to get started.”
The most common complaint? That people can’t finish the daily list. His response: You’re putting too much on it. While we may fool ourselves that we can get 10 things done, if you only ever get 4 or 5 at most, then that’s all you should have on the list.
“Nobody cares how much work you intended to accomplish,” he writes, “only how much you actually finished.”
Keep track of your time
While Young keeps a pencil-and-paper time log of how he spends his time, I have been using an app I love called OfficeTime. Ever since I went out on my own as a freelancer and consultant, I knew it would be critical for me to get a grip on how I spend my time. And it’s super easy to use—I name the project, hit a button, and the timer starts. It gives me an accurate look at where my time is going.
In addition to a to-do list, I also have a “done” list—I use idonethis.com, an app that tracks all your achievements for the day (even sends email prompts to get you to jot them down). I like the finality of crossing things off my paper list, but I also like tracking what I got done on which days. If you only ever focus on what looms before you, life can feel like an uphill climb. But I can look at my daily list of “dones” and think, “Nailed it.”
Dream big. But not too big.
While daydreaming and visualizing are key to inspiring our efforts and making the end results seem real, it turns out that too much fantasy may have the opposite effect, writes Gregory Ciotti on lifehacker.com.
Researchers tracked the progress of how people cope with four different types of challenges. As an example, in one of those challenges (trying to find a fulfilling job), those who had spent the most time fantasizing performed the worst in a variety of critical data points:
- they had applied for fewer jobs
- they had been offered fewer jobs
- if they were able to find work, they had lower salaries.
Ciotti cites Jeremy Dean, a psychological researcher at UCL London and the owner of PsyBlog who had this to say about the researcher’s conclusions:
The problem with positive fantasies is that they allow us to anticipate success in the here and now. However, they don’t alert us to the problems we are likely to face along the way and can leave us with less motivation—after all, it feels like we’ve already reached our goal.
So sure, go ahead and daydream a bit! You need to know what you’re aiming for, and visualizing is a powerful tool. But if you find you spend more time perfecting the ideal image of your life, rather than making strides toward it, you may sabotage your own efforts. Dream it—but don’t forget to do it.
Terri Trespicio is a New York-based writer, expert, speaker, and coach. She’s the creator of bestdecisionallday.com. Visit her at trespicio.com.