When setting personal goals, we usually create self-imposed deadlines to manage our time spent working towards them. But because they're self-imposed (meaning there's no real consequence if we don't complete them, besides disappointment in ourselves), achieving those individual goals so elusive. We frequently either fail to set a deadline or blow right past the one we set.

In early fall, I set a goal to revise the look and feel of my website. The self-imposed deadline was Thanksgiving. My thinking was that this reasonable date would get this task out of the way before the business of the holidays really kicked in. Good thinking, right? Well, it's January, and I've made no progress on the website. I completely disregarded my self-imposed deadline.

We do this because we put ourselves second after other people in our lives (such as clients) who set external deadlines for us--it's much easier to let ourselves down than to let somebody else down. We might also miss deadlines when we lack an actionable plan or don't know the first step to get started towards our goal. Lastly, self-imposed deadlines go unmet when we don't reach out and involve others as a way to get help and create some external accountability.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution for overcoming our tendency to miss self-imposed deadlines. However, here are six strategies that could help you get some momentum towards that goal.

  1. Ask someone who stands to benefit from your goal (or just cares about you) to set a deadline for you. This way, you'd be letting down somebody you care about if you miss your deadline, not just yourself--that's potent motivation!

  2. Tell someone about your goal and deadline and ask if they'd be willing to get (and ask for, if necessary) weekly progress texts or emails from you.

  3. Create an actionable plan that accounts for other busy periods in your life. Be bold, but also be specific and realistic.

  4. Set smaller goals--daily, if needed--that each move you in the direction of your larger goal. For example, if your goal is to win new work this year, start by sending two cold emails to business prospects each day.

  5. Don't underestimate how much you can accomplish in a short period of focused, dedicated time. If possible, dedicate a couple of days or a week out of your normal routine to make a more significant step forward.

  6. Establish rewards or consequences for your actions. I was talking with someone yesterday who holds off on watching Stranger Things until she's completed all of the actions on her daily goal list. I've been tempted to up the ante by creating negative consequences for my inaction using a site like stickk. (From what I hear, this approach of having to donate money to a cause you despise can be a tremendous motivator to get moving.)

In an ideal world, we'd set deadlines for ourselves, create a plan, complete the steps, and continuously reach our goals--on time, every time. Of course, life rarely works that way. Increasing our ability to stick with the dates we give ourselves can not only improve our progress towards our goals, it can also increase our confidence that we'll be able to tackle other challenges. Once we begin exercising that stick-to-it muscle, it only becomes easier to accomplish more goals in the future.

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Published on: Jan 17, 2018