Do you ever feel like you have a head full of seemingly conflicting goals for your life and career?
You definitely aren’t alone.
You may be wondering if it’s worth taking the time to write everything down in one place. I’d say so, because putting your goals and dreams into writing can provide a tremendous amount of clarity—especially if you break them up into tangible next steps. But writing it all down, reflecting, and getting organized is only half the battle.
So, what’s the other half? Here are three practical guidelines for making sure your day-to-day life is setting you up to achieve all of your wildest dreams.
1. Look for Logical Overlaps
The first way you can cut your list (i.e., achieve more in less time) is to identify relationships between items. Some things will complement one another, and this synergy will allow you to work toward more than one goal at a time.
For example, say you want to start a personal blog and become a better writer. If you use your blog as an instrument to advance your writing, then the lunch breaks you spend writing are also advancing your career, because superior communication skills will help you with both your career and personal ambitions. Maybe you want to get your name out there, so you create a personal website. The time you spend on your website could help you achieve tons of other goals, from landing a new job to beefing up your tech skills.
Of course, some goals may feel like irreconcilable conflicts (think: traveling the world and living close to your family). In this case, it’s critical to take each dream and ask yourself, “Why do I want to do this?” Then, write your answer next to each item. By using your values to help articulate your core motivations, your priorities will begin to emerge and your dreams will start to structure themselves. (For example, you may find that it’s an important time for you to be near your family, but in a few months, you would consider a job that includes more travel.)
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2. Make the Time
Much of the panic surrounding what you are (or aren’t) achieving is self-inflicted: You tell yourself that there just isn’t enough time. Yes, time is limited, but—as counterintuitive as it may seem—the best thing you can do in the face of its finite nature is to start thinking of time as being a plentiful resource and declare it to be something within your control.
For starters, replace the phrase “have time” with “make time.” Saying, “I don’t have time to become a doctor” isn’t doing you any favors. Even (the perhaps more accurate) “I don’t have time to study for the MCAT” still won’t move you any closer to achieving your goals. Instead, try this more self-aware option: “I am not making time to become a doctor.” Then, use the above “why” exercise to prioritize and examine where being a doctor fits into your list and how important it is to you. If it’s at the top of your list, then you may feel differently about setting aside two hours every night to study for the MCAT.
3. Avoid Over-Planning
Whatever you do, don’t make a timeline of all your dreams with “two years” or “10 months” next to each item on your list. Trying to calculate exactly how much time you’ll need to achieve your goals will drive you crazy! Undoubtedly, life will get in the way, and being open to its serendipity—instead of micromanaging—will make you much happier in the long run.
In lieu of over-planning, come up with one tangible next step for each item on your dream bucket list.
For example, if you want to move to China within the next year, replace a list item entitled “Move to China: 12 months” with your next step. That might involve sending emails to each of the contacts you have in China or setting up a meeting with your boss to discuss openings in the Shanghai office. These practical steps will get you going in the right direction, without making you feel overwhelmed by a specific timeline.
When you find yourself struggling to do everything, pull out your dream list and reaffirm yourself and those ideas. Check in with your priorities, and if they’re the same as they were the last time you wrote them out, then remind yourself that these are still very important to you and you will achieve them in due time. Revisit your “next steps,” and see if the list needs updating. As long as you continue to hold yourself accountable for your dreams, you’ll stay in control.
Elaina is a former NYC management consultant turned legal nomad who writes about the intersection of career, life, and travel for today's 20-somethings. By day, she works to produce economic reports on emerging markets, currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa. By night, she writes for a variety of places on the web, including CNN, Thought Catalog, Escape the City, Zady, Brazen Careerist, and Go Overseas. Check her out at Life Before 30 and Beyond Borders Travel Photography, or follow her on Twitter @_LifeBefore30.More from this Author