Making a plan is the easy bit – sticking to it is another matter entirely. Whether it’s a New Year’s resolution, a personal / professional development plan or some other plan you’ve created, how often do you actually stick with it long enough to reach your goal? There's no need to beat yourself up about it - 25% of New Year's resolutions have fallen by the wayside by 8th January and less than 10% are kept for a year. Sticking to your plan is possible though, just follow the steps below.
I think a lot of it comes down to why you created a plan in the first place. We’re much more likely to stick with something if we really want to achieve the goal. If someone else has got us to write the plan, we’re less likely to fully implement it. That’s not the only thing though - science says it’s because we view the present moment more importantly than our future. That’s why, despite being totally motivated on a new diet, it’s so easy to say ‘oh go on then’ when you’re offered a slice of cake. So it’s really important to keep in mind why you’re doing this. What made you write a plan in the first place? You might like to keep a visual prompt such as a picture or an object close by to remind you of your longer term goal. That could be a photo of family to help you remember your goal to spend less time at work and more at home. It could be a souvenir from somewhere you’d love to visit that sits on your desk to remind you to earn that promotion so you can book that holiday. Whatever your reason for creating your plan, keeping it in mind at all times will help you stick to it.
Sometimes plans are so hard to stick to because there’s simply too much on them. It can be really easy to get overwhelmed and end up not doing anything simply because you don’t know where to start. Revisit your plan and break it down. Break it down even more until you have just one thing to focus on at a time. Maybe there’s one simple thing you can do every day to take you further towards reaching your goal. For example, lots of people tell me they’d like to master Excel. Instead of focusing on this (pretty woolly) objective, break it down and focus on simply using a spreadsheet every day. This might mean you ditch your calculator and rely on a spreadsheet to learn the formulas you need each day. It might mean that you decide to improve every spreadsheet you open – so each time you open a spreadsheet, you find one thing to automate or improve. Perhaps your goal is to communicate better with your team. Your one thing could be to start a conversation with one different person each day or tell one person what they’ve done well that day. Whatever your goal, break it down until you’ve got just one thing to focus on at a time.
Systems and processes can be really helpful in reducing the amount of things we need to remember to do. Create a system to help you implement your plan. It doesn’t need to be a sophisticated system – just something like ‘if this happens, then I’ll do that’. The point here is that you don’t need to keep thinking about it – you just do it. So, in the above examples, it might be that as soon as you switch on your computer, you open Excel first. It could be that every morning, in your team meeting, you speak to whoever is on your right. My system for sticking to writing blogs regularly is to start typing as soon as I’ve switched on my computer – before checking emails or doing anything else. I knew that if I had decided to blog ‘whenever’, it would rarely get done. I also know that my brain feels fresher in the morning and I find it easier to write early compared to trying to do it at night. So, I designed a ‘system’ that suits me and that would help me to stick to my plan. It’s even becoming a habit. Without thinking about it too much, I sit at my desk and open my blog before I open Outlook. Having some kind of system in place helps you embed the habit so that it becomes a natural thing to do. Before you know it, you’ll have practiced your ‘one thing’ every day and you’ll be so much closer to your goal.
Lastly, make sure you stop to monitor your progress often. Evaluate how far away you are from reaching your goal. Evaluate whether your ‘why’ is still the same and if it’s still as important to you. Evaluate your ‘one thing’. Is it time to move on to your next thing? Is that ‘one thing’ helping you reach your goal? Evaluate your system. Is it working? Is it becoming a habit, or do you need to rethink it. Perhaps you need a back-up plan. So, in the days when you’re not at your desk first thing, perhaps you need a plan B so that you can still do your ‘one thing’. Think about how you’re tracking your progress. Do you need a ‘reward chart’ so that you can see how many times you’ve done something? Would you prefer an app or some other way to see how you’re doing? Find a way that works for you, but do keep track as it’s an important way to keep you motivated to stick with your plan.
What do you do to stick to your plans? Let me know what works for you in the comments.