Day 80:How to Get Ahead (And Never Fall Behind)

Imagine that you’re on vacation. This couple told you about an awesome little spot. While they give you a general idea of where it is, the directions are vague and you’re completely unfamiliar with the area. How likely is it that you’d be able to find the place without a map of some kind?

Probably not very.

Yet many of us erroneously feel that we should be able to achieve our goals without making a plan or “map” of some sort to keep us on track. Trying to achieve goals without writing them down is a sure way to get lost along the way, or worse, never getting to where we need to be.

Identify your destination & map your route

When you’re looking at a map, you look first at where you want to go, right? Then you chart your course from your current location. The same is true for goal-setting. Begin with the end in mind and work your way back to the start, writing down the necessary steps to fulfill your goal. (I’ll get to benchmarks in a bit.)

Map alternate routes

Identifying potential obstacles ahead of time is a great way to be prepared when they crop up. And something always seems to pop up, right? Identify things which can go wrong and either prepare for them in advance, or compile a list of people who can help you, if needed. Having a team of people on the standby can be a life-saver when disaster strikes close to deadline.

Set benchmarks

You will find that staying on path, or even ahead of the game, is much easier when you give yourself benchmarks to ensure that you’re making adequate progress towards your goal. In fact, these benchmarks can help spur you on, as many of us are naturally inclined to work harder when we are able to set our sights towards specific, attainable goals.

The converse is true as well; in the face of vague or overwhelming goals, it’s difficult for most of us to maintain our motivation and assess our progress.

How to set benchmarks

Remember those steps you wrote down? Take those steps and break them down into actionable, manageable, logical goals.
You will also need to know the deadline for completion or set one yourself if working on a self-directed project. Be sure to be reasonable and don’t push yourself too hard or allow too much ‘just in case’ room as neither lends itself to working efficiently and effectively.

These are a couple of ways to set benchmarks:
    Have a specific day every week where you will check on your progress and list the things that you expect to have done by that date.
    Decide on a completion date for each individual task.

Either will work and it might be beneficial to try both out and see which works best for you.

The beauty of benchmarks

The absolutely gorgeous thing about benchmarks is that they naturally appeal to the competitive streaks that many of us have.
At the same time, by breaking the project down into manageable pieces, it’s possible to make real progress and meet those benchmarks without getting frustrated or discouraged.

Keeping yourself accountable to smaller benchmarks helps ensure that you’ll never fall too far behind that you can’t catch up in a reasonable period of time.
By setting each benchmark a bit in advance of when it absolutely needs to be done, you can actually get ahead in a project and allow yourself a bit of wiggle room for disasters.

Many people find it helpful to make some sort of visual representation of their benchmarks, such as a time-line, so that they can see at a glance how much they’ve achieved. Some people also find mind-maps help them in the goal-setting process.

Keep your pace

When you set tangible goals, and prepare for setbacks, it’s far easier to stay the course and keep motivated. Knowing where you are in the process at anytime also helps you when deciding whether to begin new projects. When you have a map, it takes emotion out of the decision-making process and allows you to reach your goals without falling behind.


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Tracy O’Connor blogs about ghostwriting and blogs about living a better life. Follow her on Twitter


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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