Why Writing Down Your Goals Improves Productivity
Setting Goals Helps Productivity
Writing down goals helps productivity by giving an element of structure to hopes and dreams that might otherwise prove ephemeral. Taking the next step and writing these goals down further improves your chances of achieving them in a variety of ways, including:
- Enhancing visualization
- Providing you with a how-to guide
- Making goals easier to analyze
- Reducing procrastination
These four benefits are explored in detail below.
While the saying “practice makes perfect” has been known for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, more recently performance coaches have championed visualization as a way to practice without “practicing.” The benefits of this can easily be seen in the case of athletes, who can only perform the same routine so many times before it begins to be counterproductive, risking injury or sapping energy needed for a game.
The same phenomenon is true for almost any endeavor that requires skill. A musician can only play an instrument for so long before fatigue sets in; a speaker can only rehearse a speech so many times before becoming hoarse. Visualization gets around this by conducting practice in your mind. While performing an activity mentally is not the same as doing so in reality, of course, it can nevertheless make it easier to perform an activity in real life, as it is the mind that will direct your performance.
Because of this, sports psychologists and performance coaches of all types often encourage people to combine both physical practice and visualization to perform to their full potential. When it comes to goals, if you write down your goals, it gives it a degree of reality that doesn’t exist when it’s just in your mind. This, in turn, supplies you with a stepping stone for visualizing the goal.
If you attempt to visualize performing the steps needed to attain a goal without first writing it down, this is analogous to trying to perform an activity while limiting your practice of the activity solely to mental run-throughs. For example, imagine the likely less-than-stellar results of a basketball player who has visualized shooting the ball in the hoop but never actually done so. By the same token, simply thinking about or conceptualizing goals without writing them down is unlikely to be the optimal method of achieving them.
Writing down your plans provides an added impetus that can help you accomplish them. It gives the goals a sense of solidity that doesn’t exist when they are merely visions. It also makes it easier to outline the process by which you intend to achieve your goals. To use visualization effectively, try the following:
- Write down your goals and the steps necessary to achieve them
- Form a picture in your mind of yourself taking the action necessary to accomplish each of those steps
- As you start to actually perform these actions, adjust your visualization procedures to take advantage of lessons learned from actions taken
Once these actions have been ingrained in your mind through the visualization process, it should enhance your ability to perform them in the real world and achieve your goals.
Providing a how-to Guide
The process of writing down goals entails selecting a desired outcome arising from your actions. It should come as no surprise that if you set goals you are more likely to achieve them. Even more, if you put these goals into printed form, broadly speaking, you have a higher chance of successfully attaining them than if you don’t.
Not all written goals are equal, of course. Goals that are accompanied by clearly written steps specifying how they can be achieved are more likely to lead to internalization of the process needed for their attainment. Thus, when writing out your goals you should always include the steps to achieve them once those steps have been identified. Knowing the required steps to achieve before starting a project helps improving individual and team productivity.
To optimize your efforts, you can divide your goals into two main types:
- Procedural goals, which focus on strategies that enable you to achieve a goal, for instance mastering a language or learning a skill of some sort such as painting, playing a sport, etc.;
- Result-oriented goals, which are focused on particular tasks, for instance, saving a certain amount of money, winning an athletic competition, attending a business conference, or mailing out brochures to prospective customers.
To improve your chances of achieving your goals, start with your procedural objectives and then turn your focus to outcome-oriented objectives. For instance, if your goal is to invest money wisely in the stock market, you would first investigate the various types of investment vehicles and opportunities, and then, once you were satisfied with your knowledge of general market dynamics, move to the result-oriented goal of selecting specific securities in which to invest.
The combination of your knowledge and skill with a clearly identified objective provides you with the best means of achieving your goals. Make sure that you try to be as precise as possible when recording your goals to avoid any confusion when you read them over later.
Getting your plans on paper can help you cut down on procrastination. When a goal is nebulous, existing only as a thought or a wish, its completion is easily delayed. Writing down that goal serves to make it concrete, at least in your mind. The result is that you are more likely to finish it in a timely manner. While writing down a goal may seem like a small thing, it helps overcome the natural tendency of the mind to resist working towards objectives that don’t seem tangible.
The tendency to procrastinate can be stronger than you might think. It stems from human nature and the natural tendency to conserve energy. Given a limited amount of time and physical capacity, it makes sense to only pursue those goals which strike us as offering a payoff that is worth the effort invested in attaining the goal. When it comes to longer-term goals that can’t be successfully brought about in a short period of time, this natural inclination can become counterproductive.
Writing down objectives helps to overcome this natural tendency by letting the mind know that these are important goals worthy of time and effort, even if it may take some time before you benefit from them. It also serves the purpose of elevating the goals you record above those that you have not, helping you to prioritize them.
Writing Down Goals Makes Them Easier to Analyze
When your goals are written down, they are easier to analyze. Humans are a species that relies on visual cues, making it easier to evaluate your objectives if you can view them in writing. It is also easier to monitor your progress towards achieving goals that are in writing. Task management become much more effective when you can actually view the tasks that need to be done.
Using pen and paper to notate your goals is often recommended, as it slows down the process and gives you a chance to contemplate the words you are writing. Make sure the goals you record are measurable so you can analyze the success of your efforts to achieve them.
To evaluate your goals, prioritize them once you have them on paper (or computer screen) and divide each goal into distinct steps to take. Identify a timeframe within which each segment of a goal should be achieved. Use calendar reminders to help you keep track of important milestones. As your skills improve, you can track your increased ability to achieve your objectives. Don’t be too hard on yourself when goals go unaccomplished. Use your increasing skill to improve your plans to increase your chances of achieving your objectives.
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