After studying how successful people and other designers spend their time and after looking at their schedules hour by hour, I established that it might not be enough to create a bulletproof plan for achieving my deeply desired goals. Things like routines, habits, deep work and self-discipline appeared at least just as important as planning for the process of achieving goals.
Do you remember when you started learning a new design-related topic, spending additional hours to sharpen your design skills and after some time, you couldn’t stick to it firmly? Most of us have experienced failure at achieving our goals. Today, I will share with you my key insights on this issue.
People often confuse setting goals with the process of achieving them. A bulletproof action plan to achieve long-term goals requires a good strategy. Your goals can either be focused on your behaviours (I’m going to design for an extra hour three times a week) or on the outcomes (I’m going to publish ten shots on dribbble in one month). For me, it’s easier to break down a goal into simple, repeatable actions with behaviour-focused tasks. The cherry on top is that it’s the more motivating option.
But when you crave the results so much that the work itself is not so important, your attention should be directed straight at the outcomes you want. Result-focused goals are better in a short-term perspective. Start with why and the how will take care of itself.
The motto that keeps my motivation high is “most of the things that happen in your life are consequences of your decisions”. Our lives are shaped not by our circumstances, but by our decisions. If you look back on the past five or ten years of your life, I bet that you will recall a decision or two that truly changed your life. Maybe it was a decision about which school to go to or what profession to pursue.
The daily grind can easily overshadow your passion project or other personal priorities, such as your healthy habits and physical activity goals. You have to consistently improve, reorganise and make conscious decisions to become a better version of yourself.
“Remember that if you don’t prioritise your life – someone else will.”
You are the only one that can make this decision for you. Take your life and your priorities seriously, because no one else will. The key is to make a decision and overcome every excuse that might draw you away from executing this decision. You need to stick to your decisions no matter what happens. Create the most likely “excuse” scenarios and build alternative responses to them. For example:
If someone offers me a new project that will require working late hours, I will politely decline.
Remember that when you make excuses, you are simply saying, “I’m not in control.” Many people make excuses because they fear the unknown. Others are afraid of change, rejection and embarrassment. Fear locks you up in your comfort zone. We are all only human, but in the end, our self-discipline is what makes us great.
The biggest problem many people have is finding the TIME to actually put their ideas to work.
One popular idea is that we'll shave little scraps of time off our everyday activities, add them up, and we'll have more time to do meaningful things. You can use the microwave to save time in the kitchen: three minutes and, voilà, your dinner is ready. Is that all there is to it? No.
I’m sure that if someone asks you the following question: “Can you find four hours to focus on sharpening your design skills?”, you will respond: “I don’t have enough time.” Recall an urgent situation, such as a power failure when you were working remotely or an accident at home. The key to successful time management is treating your priorities as equivalent to an emergency situation that needs to be dealt with. It always used to be a struggle for me to be assertive about my time. The following rule of thumb saved my working life.
Whenever some decision comes up and tasks need to be delayed, look at the new request from a different angle:
I don’t have time = It’s not a priority for me now.
It’s easier to manage events and actions if they are a matter of your decision. This is what assertiveness brings to your life – conscious decisions and confidence in implementing them.
The trick is to turn your goals into habits. What you do every day before work or every night after work can be life- and career-changing.
One of the most important things is to plan and schedule your actions. It is the first step to sticking to them firmly. Another thing to keep in mind is to identify your peak cycles of productivity and schedule your most important (and most creative) tasks for those times. Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
The best time to plan is on Sunday evening or the night before. For me, it also works as a part of the morning routine. I can review my tasks and plans and take immediate actions.
After a few years working as a designer, my calendar became my biggest ally in achieving my goals. You can create certain blocks of activity in specific time-frames. It’s a clear message to yourself about how much you can do during the day and when. And if you struggle with overcoming procrastination, I would highly recommend reading this article.
There is so much focus on quick and easy lifehack-type tricks that we forget that true, deep, authentic, and meaningful work derives from deliberate, consistent practice. The same applies to your goals. Purposeful practice over time gets you closer each day to the success you crave. If you are not making the progress you expected, try tweaking your working patterns. There is no single path that will lead you to achieving your goals – it all depends. Just don’t give up and you’ll eventually find your own way.