To do lists and goal setting: when created and done correctly, both can help to keep us on track, stay motivated, feel a sense of productivity and accomplishment, and help us to get to where we want to be in life, relationships, and our careers. When to do lists and goals are created and done incorrectly, they can overwhelm or demotivate us, increase procrastination, cause additional stress or anxiety, or lead us to give up entirely. To do lists and goals are extremely valuable tools to utilize, but they need to be done in a way that supports our efforts rather than deters them.

Some of the major issues with to do lists and goals start with how they are initially created; the items or goals are too general or vague, unrealistic, or too large in scope. Those aspects are usually the main contributor to unknowingly self sabotaging ourselves, setting us up for failure, and not completing the to do list or reaching the goal. If you look at an item on a to do list or a goal and it seems impossible or too hard to achieve, you don’t know where to start, or how to finish or accomplish it. You will most likely get discouraged or avoid it. Although the initial intent was to be helpful, it can often have the opposite effect. If there are concerns or issues with anxiety and/or depression, feeling overwhelmed or like a failure can make the situation much more difficult or worse.

Take for example a few to do list items and goals I often hear from my clients: to improve my financial situation, to go back to school, to find a job, or to be happy. Those are all great to do list items and goals, but how do you know when you have finished the item or reached the goal? What does the end result or achievement look like? How do you get there? And most importantly, what does it mean to you or why is it important for you to complete or achieve it? Just looking at those items or goals seems daunting. In order to be able to finish a to do item or reach a goal, you need to know how to get there and what the end looks like. With a few tips and techniques, you can create successful to do lists and goals. The following are a few steps, each with an example to help illustrate the process:

  1. Determine the to do list item or overall goalExample: to improve my financial situation
  2. Define what it would look like to complete or accomplish itExample: I would no longer have any credit card debt and would be saving 25 percent of my annual income
  3. Clarify why it is important or what it means to youExample: I don’t want to constantly be worrying about my debt and I want to make sure that my family is taken care of
  4. Break it down into small, achievable stepsExample: 1. meet with a financial planner, 2. set a budget, 3. make the minimum payments on each card monthly, 4. pay off all credit cards, 5. open a separate savings account, etc.
  5. Set realistic time frames and expectations for each stepExample: schedule an appointment with a financial planner by the end of the month; have credit card with the lowest amount paid off by the end of the year
  6. Understand and accept that setbacks and failures may, and probably will occurExample: frequent difficulty or inability to stay on budget; unexpected medical bills create more debt
  7. Readjust or create smaller steps if neededExample: research financial planners in the area, talk to friends or colleagues for recommendations, schedule an appointment, prepare financial informationmeet with a financial planner
  8. Track your progressExample: create a spreadsheet or graph to show credit card totals and the decrease in debt from month to month
  9. Complete your item or goalExample: all debt paid off
  10. Create new items or goals and start again!Example: start saving for a family vacation

Goals and to do lists are fantastic tools and assets to help us achieve what we want in life when created well. If you need assistance in creating, or if you are feeling overwhelmed or unmotivated with your own to do lists or goals, please contact Symmetry Counseling to schedule an appointment with a therapist who can help you learn tools and techniques and to reach your goals or accomplish your to do list.