7 Ways to Make Real Progress with Goal-Setting

Mike Vardy

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Making real progress with goal-setting is not always that easy to quantify and measure. For instance, there are many paths towards learning a skill, and many means in which to make that skill something you can turn into a profession. Someone may find that they have a taste for photography, post a few Instagram pictures of their cousin’s wedding, and suddenly get booked for a real, professional gig. From there, a career may snowball, as they dive deeper into their skillset and make their name known.

This can happen. It’s never out of the question. This is why it can be hard for us to make a path towards our goals without worrying about which direction we should take. Should we sit inside and study our books for twelve hours a day, or should we be getting out in the world and failing in entry-level positions to build experience, building what Cal Newport calls “career capital” along the way?

Well, if you’re interested in maximizing your opportunities and productivity on the path towards your goals, there are a few secrets you can use. When applying these in combination, you’re sure to make some stellar gains towards the pursuit you hope to make yours one day. For some, this can mean absolutely everything.

Make An Effort Each Day

Making an effort each day helps you move forward at a pace you may not consider possible. Think about it. How many people make an effort towards their goals each and every day? It could be argued that only a rare, motivated few do this. But the secret here is that you don’t have to make major strides each and every day. Some days, you may just read a few articles about your subject, written by leading figures in that industry. It might be networking with other artists over Twitter, or asking them how they achieve a certain result. It could even mean putting an application in for an internship that you know would help you grow. You may not get it… but at least you’ve applied.

Little incremental steps like this really do add up over time. There are 365 days in most years (366 in some). If you make two small steps each day, you’ve made at least 730 small steps towards your goal over the course of a year. That has to be beneficial. Of course, some days you might decide you need a break and so you can make up that effort on other days. Perhaps some days you may study for four hours and practice your paintings with care and attention. Moving forward with this effort in mind can truly help you make your goal-setting a lifelong journey, while also achieving smaller milestones that are broken up into incremental parts along the way. That’s a great path to pursue.

Plan Your Ascent

You need to plan your ascent. It’s crucial to plan the direction you hope to follow. This doesn’t mean charting out the progress of an entire career. It means learning what actionable steps you can take to move forward bit by bit.

Maybe you’re interested in Cybersecurity. You’re applying for a course to gain qualifications. That’s a great step. But you need to figure out what skills you need to become a security administrator and are relevant for a role of this type. How much is the pay? What interview questions could they ask? What roles and responsibilities do they have?

Even if you do not ultimately pursue this path, doing the research will help you gain a little context and understanding. Perhaps if you do find this appealing, you can then start learning the basic concepts that might be fundamental to beginning the course. This gives you a time, a date,’ and a deadline for your ascent. From here you can begin important practical efforts, such as learning to take the next secret.

Craft Your Time

Learning to craft your time is a practical life skill that can push you forward to new heights, no matter which path you take. To craft your time, you must first be aware of time. Breaking up your day into Horizontal Themes can help you provide something of a structure to your overall development each day. Using apps such as Woven or TimeHero can be a fantastic means of achieving this and make your goal-setting prowess greater.

Another great tip for crafting your time is to remove unnecessary distractions. Placing your smartphone on silent mode can help you avoid springing to it for each notification bell you hear. If you work and play from home, making two computer profiles on your desktop or laptop can help you switch from ‘work mode’ to ‘play mode.’ This especially helps if you play games or watch movies on your computer often.

Crafting your time is not restrictive. I believe that frameworks foster freedom and time is really just a framework that we all understand. That said, we don’t always understand how to craft it. Once you start to figure that part out, you’ll find that you’ll have less friction and more freedom. That’s a good place to be.

Chart Your Progress

Charting your progress is important with goal-setting. How can you tell how far you’ve come if you’re not keeping track? Sometimes, it’s very easy to obfuscate just how much progress you’ve made if you don’t take the time to pay attention. Keeping up a mini-journal can be a great idea. (I’m a BIG fan of journaling.)

Simply keeping track of your own timekeeping notes can help you see which lessons you have learned. It will also tell you which skills you need to review. Charting your progress in this manner also helps you review lessons again. This ultimately helps you bring learning from your short-term memory to your long-term understanding. 

Some may decide to ask themselves test questions every couple of weeks to keep old information fresh in their minds. Others may try and find real-life situations in which they have to put their skills to the test to work their creative output.

Goal-Setting Benefits from Mentors

Learning from the best is a great idea because it can help you build your understanding and inspiration at the same time. For some, this can be the necessary starting point of professionalism. Of course, you don’t have to learn from the people who are the most accomplished in the field. Those who can show you the basics or more advanced concepts are often worth paying attention to.

Seeking out a mentor can be a great idea. To use my earlier example of the artist, this may mean attending the talks of an artist you appreciate, visiting their installations, or even emailing them with questions should you find that appropriate. The more you can take on good advice and move forward, the more connected to this process you will feel… and the more excited you’ll become.

Goal-Setting Needs Discipline

There’s no way around good, old-fashioned discipline. Motivation is often temporary and while inspiration can last for a lifetime, if it’s not used to fuse discipline you will struggle to actualize the inspiration. Anyone can be inspired by a musician they love but the time it takes to sit down, strum the guitar, learn the chords, and move through some of the unpleasant early learning phases will require discipline throughout.

Discipline can be built like a muscle. If you regularly follow your routine and keep promises to yourself, before long you will have started to trust your daily plans. Soon, efforts such as going for a morning run to lose weight become non-negotiable. Why? Because you have practiced them that way for many days, weeks, and months. As such, the strength it takes to enforce discipline can reduce over time. This will help you make the right decisions without the strenuous effort needed to enjoy them. (If you want to start building better routines, I’ve got a LinkedIn Learning course that can help.)

Goal-Setting Needs You to Show Up

50% of success is just showing up. If you attend class each week you’ll be making progress. Complete your homework without fail? You’re making progress. Again, making small steps in this way will push you further towards your goal than one, singular, herculean effort ever could. The man looking to build a muscular frame doesn’t lay down and push one rep of a 500kg bench. He turns up three times a week, pressing smaller weights with correct form. Then, over time, results will come.

Now that you have this how-to piece as a guide, you can start making real progress with goal-setting. Then once you start making that progress…. well, that’s where the real fun begins.

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I'm Mike Vardy, better known as The Productivityist, and my goal is to offer ideas, insights, and information that will help you craft your time better and become more personally productive.

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