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I Cut My Weekly Goals In Half And Got Twice As Much Done

Sometimes being too optimistic and ambitious can get in the way of getting anything done. Setting smaller goals can lead to bigger results.

I Cut My Weekly Goals In Half And Got Twice As Much Done
[Photo: Flickr user danyeela]

We live in the age of  FOMO, which extends beyond possessions and experiences to achievements.

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I like to think that I don’t fall to those traps, but the truth is, I do. When I think about what I want to have achieved by the end of the year, month, week, or day, I always try to do more than what I can realistically handle, and then feel disappointed when I’ve only achieved two out of eight.


Related: Setting This Vague Daily Goal Totally Transformed My Productivity 


But the end of the year is a great time to get rid of bad work habits. After discovering a solution to my procrastination problem, I wanted to find a solution to my tendency to set too many goals. So I decided to cut my goals in half for a week and see how I would fare. It wasn’t easy at first.

Why We Set Too Many Goals

Cutting your goals in half seems to be such a simple concept–but despite being prone to excessive goal setting most of my adult life, I never even thought about doing this. That is, until I’d read Jon Acuff’s book, Finish: Give Yourself The Gift Of DoneAcuff wrote, “our brains are hardwired to be confident about our abilities and chances of success.” This mind-set–according to Acuff–is why people who’ve never run 100 yards decide that they want to start running marathons.

Of course, being optimistic and confident can be a good thing, but the downside of that is that for the perfectionists among us, we get super excited at the start. When things don’t go our way, we get discouraged and stop altogether.


Related: The Secret To Keeping Your New Year’s Resolution

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My issue was not setting too big a goal, but too many goals. I never set out to do more than six tasks a day, but sometimes one of those tasks should really be broken up into four tasks. On Saturdays, I always tell myself I’m going to do all my chores and personal errands in the morning so I get it out of the way. What actually ends up happening is that I don’t start until Sunday evening, precisely because I spend all weekend dreading it and feeling bad that I hadn’t started.

I Was Forced To Be Ruthless And Prioritize

I found cutting my non-work goals pretty easy, because I simply eliminated things that weren’t that important and gave myself double the time to complete a particular task. For example, instead of giving myself two hours to prep my meals for the week, I gave myself four. That week, I had to cancel my credit card because of a mysterious (and unauthorized) charge–which meant some paperwork and updating payment information for various subscriptions. Instead of giving myself an hour, I gave myself the whole afternoon to complete the task.


Related: Why Setting Goals Can Actually Make You Less Successful


When it came to work, however, I found it much harder. After all, there are certain things that I have to do every day, and they make up half of my daily to-do list. So I decided to pick one non-daily task to focus on, and refrained from writing down “optional tasks I should do if I have time” (because let’s face it–I never have extra time, and the “optional” part doesn’t make me feel any better if I haven’t started on them by 6 p.m.) I would then double whatever time I usually allocate to that task. For example, writing an article usually takes me a half the workday when I’m on a deadline. For this article, I blocked out my afternoon to write half an article, and a morning to finish the other half.

I like to think I’m pretty good at prioritizing, but it turns out that being extremely ruthless with your time is really hard. I realized that I’d been writing my to-do list on autopilot, deciding which tasks to attend to based on the deadlines, rather than their long-term importance. In the context of Stephen Covey’s four quadrants, I was doing a lot of urgent and important stuff, but not dedicating enough time to non-urgent and important stuff.

Focusing on one major task a day forced me to really scrutinize the importance of a task and how much time I really needed to dedicate to them. As a result, I was forced to pause before jotting down my to-dos.

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A Short To-Do List Made Me Less Likely To Procrastinate

Last week, I wrote about how scheduling “mini procrastination breaks” helped me get more things done. Because of its success, I was planning to continue with this experiment, but it turns out–with a shorter to-do list, I didn’t need to do this every day.

Some of my fellow procrastinators have told me that their way of conquering this bad habit is to be so busy that they don’t have time to procrastinate. This has never worked for me–all this does is cause stress and leads to me making terrible health decisions. But when I had a shorter to-do list, the work I had to do didn’t seem as scary, and as a result I was less likely to procrastinate. Some days I even had spare time to get started on some of my next day’s to-do list because I didn’t need to take procrastination breaks between tasks.

The Limitations Of Cutting Your Goals In Half

As productive as this approach may be, I acknowledge that it’s not always realistic. After all, work and life are unpredictable, and there are times when no matter how much you wish you can cut your goals in half or give yourself double the time to complete something, things out of your control dictate that you can’t.

But I found that by setting myself to do “less” most of the time, I could do more on days where I needed to stay at the office longer or had more work to finish. Setting fewer goals allowed me to get more done, and this gave me the energy to power through long and busy workdays when the time called for it. For me, there’s no better motivation than seeing tangible progress, and cutting my goals in half for a week helped me do just that.

About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.

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