Here’s a little exercise to help get your creative juices flowing.
Take out a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. At the top of the left-hand column, write today’s date. Take a few moments to think about your life. Write down several areas you want to improve. It might be making more money, paying off debt, losing weight, getting a different job, taking a special trip, writing a book, or finishing an important creative project. This part of the exercise shouldn’t take too long because you already know the areas of your life you want to change.
Now at the top of the right-hand column, write the date one year from now.
Close your eyes and clear your mind. Take a few deep breaths and block out everything around you. Don’t think about what you have to do today or all the distractions happening around you.
Imagine what your life could be like one year from today. How could it be different? Would you look different? Would you have more energy or a better income? What about that book, blog, music, or other project you’re working on? What would it feel like to have it finished?
In the right-hand column, underneath the date a year from now, write down what you see—your appearance, energy level, success, and the other items that are important to you. This is what your life could be like a year from now.
A year is both a short time and a long time. It can seem short because it feels like it goes by so quickly. One year ago doesn’t seem like such a long time ago, does it?
But a year is also a long time to accomplish something great, if you use your time well. In the business of our day-to-day lives, we overestimate what we can accomplish in a day. But we underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.
Let’s do a little math.
What if you spent just one hour each weekday working on a major goal or project? Over the course of a year, that adds up to over 250 hours, or over six 40-hour workweeks.
What could you do with the equivalent of an extra six weeks over the next year? You could write a book, start a business, get healthier, learn a new creative skill, plan an overseas trip, write a musical, start a podcast, or any of a hundred other things.
So how do you use a year to its full advantage? How can you make your vision a reality? These five practical strategies have helped me the most:
1. Set goals that will stretch you, but are realistic.
When I think about my annual goals, I try to aim for 25% more than what I think is realistic. This way, the goal is still in the realistic range, but it will stretch me beyond what I think is possible. (For a great book on goal-setting, check out Ready Aim Fire! A Practical Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals by Jim Woods and Erik Fisher.[i])
2. Write down your goals where you can see them often.
A goal is not tangible until you write it down. I keep a list of my goals in the Evernote app (evernote.com). I have a separate note for each goal, where I include the specific goal (i.e. “lose 20 lbs. by June 30”) as well as my motivations for achieving the goal (i.e. “Because I will feel better, look better, and have more energy for my work and family”).
I keep a list of all of my goals in an Evernote notebook called “Goals” (pretty creative title, eh?). I also have a shortcut to this notebook so I can quickly access it on my laptop and phone.
The tool isn’t important. Use what works for you. The important thing is that you write down your goals and why you want to achieve them.
3. Track your progress and adjust as necessary.
Every week, either on Sunday evening or Monday morning, I do a weekly review of my goals. I don’t make progress every week. In fact, sometimes I fail miserably. That’s okay because at least I know where I stand in relationship to the overall goal.
Each week I have a specific target for most of these goals. (I don’t work on every goal each week.) For instance, it might be losing 2 lbs., writing a certain number of words, or having a date night with my wife Melanie. I write this down in Evernote so it’s a concrete target.
I also review my goals several times a week and make adjustments as necessary. I also establish targets one or two months in the future for specific projects such as a book launch or online course I need to finish.
4. Get support and accountability from friends.
You will reach more of your goals if you share your progress with others. Being a part of a mastermind has been very important in helping me make progress toward my goals. Every week when we meet, I walk through the goals I set for the past week, any progress I made toward them, and what I plan to do the coming week.
It’s important to have a supportive team who will encourage you to be your best, but will also challenge you to reach higher than you would on your own.
5. Make a little progress every day.
Darren Hardy, publisher of Success magazine, wrote a great book called The Compound Effect. The essence of the book is that successful people make positive incremental changes, and over time those changes produce huge results.
Success doesn’t happen overnight.
When you look at others who have been successful, remember that they have worked for years to get where they are. They have put in the time and are reaping the rewards of their effort.
Don’t get discouraged when you see the distance between where you are and where you want to be. Remember that success isn’t a destination that exists in the future. Success happens every day when you make good choices that propel you toward a better future.
Every single day counts. In fact, all you have are days. Your life is just a collection of years, and a year is just a collection of 365 days. Make every day count.
So, what is stopping you from doing something extraordinary over the next year? Could this be the best year of your life? It all begins with being intentional about setting goals and using your time.