Hola from Ecuador! That’s where Michelle and I have intentionally stationed ourselves for the months of January and February. Why? More on that in a future post because today on my to do list is to finish this post, ironically, all about productivity.

If you’ve made pronouncements in your life to make a change, learn something new, or be more productive and you’ve succeeded, then this post isn’t for you. This post is for those of us that have said time and time again that we’ll do something and then didn’t complete those goals (i.e. Me). Here are some of the things I’ve said in my life. Maybe you can relate:

  • I’m going to get healthier: I will lose weight. Eat better. Go to sleep earlier. Get in shape.
  • I’m going to save more money than I spend
  • I’m going to learn a new language
  • I’m going to travel more
  • I’m going to waste less time doing mindless things (e.g. watching TV and internet surfing) and spend more time doing more life-enriching things (learning something new, exercising).

All those pronouncements I’ve said above I have repeated for years. I’ve said it to family and friends. I’ve posted it on social media. I’ve said it to myself, because these things are important to me.

The Elephant

The truth is that though these things are important to me, I could never quite get myself to work towards actual change. It wasn’t motivation or a lack of desire. I knew I needed and I wanted to make these changes in my life. I think the big, fat elephant in my life was the simple fact that I didn’t know what to do next. How do I make changes in my life? So instead of taking action, I just talked about it. I talked about all the things I wanted to do but NEVER did anything substantial about it.

I finally got annoyed with myself to the point that I had no excuses. But it really came down to this quote (which Michelle shared with me awhile back and it has stuck with me).

If something is really important to you, you’ll find a way.
If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse”

I needed help.

How to Make Changes in Your Life

Step 1: Ask Yourself the Big Question

Is the thing that I want to change in my life really, truly important to me? Try to be completely honest with yourself.

  • Why is this important to you?
  • How will it benefit your life? (there needs to be a reward, whether it’s intrinsic or external)
  • Will you sacrifice to make it happen if that means giving up time, money, and relationships?

If you can’t answer these questions, then maybe the change you want to make isn’t that important after all. Move on. Find something that is important to you.

Here are the three things that are most important to me that I’m working on in 2016:

  1. Learn Spanish (mind)
  2. Get ripped and in-shape (body)
  3. Grow in my faith (spirit)

Step 2: Use the S.M.A.R.T Framework to Set Goals

So now that you’ve read my 3 goals you might be split into two different groups of thought. If you are like me, you might read that and think those goals sound good. If you are like Michelle, you’ll look at those 3 goals and think, “What does that mean?” And she’s right.

Though my aspirations and intentions are good, there is a huge problem with the goals I listed. They are not S.M.A.R.T. and therefore, they will be extremely difficult to achieve. It’s sort of like the equivalent of saying, “I want to go to Mars!” (we just watched The Martian recently). You may really want to go to Mars, but that’s not going to help you get there. You need to create smaller, achievable goals and steps that help you get closer to completing your overall goal.

S.M.A.R.T is a frame work to helps people set those smaller goals that can actually be achieved. It helps you get done all the steps you need to make progress. How? All you need to do is take the goal you set for yourself like, “I want to learn Spanish” and ask the following questions. Is your goal:

image credit: Wood Counsulting

After going through the S.M.A.R.T. framework, I realized that if I wanted to learn Spanish, I need smaller S.M.A.R.T. goals to help me get there. Using the S.M.A.R.T. framework, here are some of my smaller goals that will help me to learn Spanish.

For the year 2016 I will:

  • Pass Spanish CLEP test with a score >50 by end of 2016
  • Setup a weekly Spanish chat with someone in-person or online by April 2016.
  • Meet or video hangout with someone to chat in Spanish for at least half-an-hour per week.
  • Finish Level 2 of Rosetta Stone Spanish by December 2016
  • Practice Spanish for at least half-an-hour a day
  • Write at least 10 new sentences in Spanish three days per week
  • Get 80% or higher on my monthly Spanish vocabulary quiz (set up by Michelle)

Notice that each of these specific items have a deadline and can be measured/tracked. But most importantly they help me work towards my overall goal. It helps me make progress, to actually take action and move forward.

For more information and better visual description of S.M.A.R.T. goals checkout this link.

Step 3: Find Tools To Help You Achieve Your Goals

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I have my motivation (from my purpose and “why?”) and I’ve set some S.M.A.R.T goals. Now I need some tools to help me accomplish my goals. Tools come in many shapes and forms. Tools can be information that you need, such as step-by-step instructions on how to do something. If you have a goal to eat healthier or get in-shape, you’ll find a ton of information on the interwebs of schedules, workouts, eating guides, etc…

Continuing with my example of learning Spanish, here are some of the tools I’ve been using to help me make progress:

  • Rosetta Stone – Paid language instruction software. It’s ok. I wish they explained the grammar sections in a more detailed way. It is intuitive and easy to follow, though.
  • Duolingo – Free and accessible online using your computer or through their mobile app. Fun to unlock and achieve new levels. Really easy to use and beautifully designed. Language lessons are greatly simplified. Don’t expect to master a language with this app. Great for on-the-go practice.
  • Easy Spanish Step-by-Step book – A really helpful book. It has been the best at explaining grammar to me. Unfortunately it’s still a book (or e-book) which means old school way of learning. You’ll need a paper and pen to actually do the exercises (which are really helpful).
  • Spanish Immersion School – We took some classes at a Spanish school in Ecuador and both really enjoyed the experience. It was a one-on-one session with a teacher for a couple of hours and we both felt we got a lot out of it.

The important thing to take away from this section is to do your research and find what has worked for others, what tools they used, and then how to adapt that to your own life.

Step 4: Create a Schedule with Tasks and Deadlines

This is an area I’ve always sucked at — living by a schedule. It’s really part of my ENFP personality profile. I do what I feel. That being said, if you want to make changes in your life, you need discipline and commitment. You can grow in these areas by learning how to make things become habitual in your life and the only way to do that is to intentionally live by a schedule.

To accomplish my goals for 2016, Michelle and I have created a schedule for me with daily tasks to accomplish regarding my goals.

Google Calendar: This is my go-to-schedule and I use it in a couple of different ways. Using the tasks feature, I can set daily to-dos and assignments I have to check off. I can also schedule in times to practice Spanish, workout, etc… Of course it’s also synced to my phone which is helpful so I can look to see what I need to do for the day.

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wunderlist-logoWunderlist is another to-do/checklist tool, but what I like about it more than Google calendar is how you can organize your tasks. I use it as a reminder tool to look at my calendar and see what I need to do for the day. Yup, having a daily reminder to check my calendar is an actual daily task for me. Sometimes I get caught up in the day doing other things and forget about my daily tasks. Using Wunderlist’s notification options, I get reminders via email or through the mobile app.

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The goal of living by a schedule is to get into a routine. This is an important step in creating behavioral change*. The more you do something on a daily basis, the more likely it becomes part of who you are.

True confession: I was a terrible flosser growing up. It just wasn’t a part of my life (though it should have been. Yes I blame you, little Jedd, for all those cavities). After forcing myself to do it every day for a month, it became part of my daily life. The same with exercise. I used to only do it when I felt like it until I set a precedent in my life — I was going to exercise six days a week. At first it was difficult, especially the days I didn’t feel like it. But after committing to a schedule for 3 months in which Michelle and I varied our activities, working out 6 days a week has become part of our normal routine. No schedule needed.

The schedule is the initial and intentional tool you need to get going. After you’ve taught yourself discipline and committed it as part of your life, it becomes natural. You just do it.

*The Power of Habit is a phenomenal book that talks about how to make behavioral changes in our lives. It’s a great read with awesome stories and really easy to follow. 

Special Section: Rewards (optional)

I love rewards. I think it’s human nature – heck, universal – of all animals to learn behaviors based on risk and reward. So it makes sense that if you are trying to accomplish goals that involve behavioral change, you consider adding a reward element to this process. The rewards you choose need to make sense in that they are WORTH working hard for, and that they don’t JEOPARDIZE any of your efforts.

In other words, if you are trying to eat healthier, you might want to consider rewarding yourself with something other than food. For example, if you meet your goal, maybe you should buy yourself something you’ve wanted that you withheld yourself from. But don’t go buy something to eat that would cancel out all the efforts you made. I’ve heard of people who will eat healthy for a week and then reward themselves by binging on food they’ve withheld themselves from. That’s a step backward.

I’m not saying everyone needs rewards as extra motivation to make changes in their lives. Some people, like my better half, have incredible discipline and will power. When Michelle believes something is important to her, she will dedicate whatever it takes to make it happen. No external reward is necessary. I only wish I had 1/4 of this gift. I need rewards.

Step 4: Tracking Progress

This might be the most important element to be successful in achieving your goals. Why? Mainly because tracking progress does two very important things. 1. It keeps you accountable. 2. You can actually see progress taking place, which is further motivation to keep going.

There are so many ways that we have built in accountability to help guide our actions and behaviors. From parents, to teachers, police officers, to politicians, religious leaders to friends, all these people play an important role in shaping our actions and our lives. It’s a proven system that generally works (unless you really dislike someone). But what happens when you need to keep yourself accountable? That’s the beauty of tracking your progress.

Tracking your progress simply means documenting whatever action or task you are doing. It can be as simple as clicking a checkbox on a to-do-list, like the ways I mentioned above. Or it can be as old school as writing in a diary, listing exactly what you’ve done. The most effective way to track progress however (and for me the most rewarding) is to use quantitative tracking. In other words, use methods that you can tangibly count and measure. Here are two examples of how I’ve been tracking progress towards my productivity goals:

  1. Push-ups: Using google sheets* (spreadsheet) I simply track the number of push-ups I do daily. I have specific categories for the maximum amount I can do without resting and the number of push-ups I do in different sets.
  2. Reading: I’m working towards reading a book every month and to track this, I simply track how many pages I’ve read each day. I do this as well by simply using a spreadsheet*.*You can see both spreadsheets and how I track my progress currently here (Google Sheets)

You can see that I’m not using an app and it’s nothing fancy. It’s actually really easy to create and keep track of. Because it’s on Google sheets, I can access it on my computer or my phone, making the ability to input pretty easy. And yes, you could go old school and just use paper.

By inputing my activity each day I can start to see if change is occurring and if progress is taking place. This is SUPER important. Being able to see progress is a reward unto itself.

I’ve noticed that with push-ups, seeing the increase (though slow) has made me more confident and believe that my goal is achievable.  By documenting your activity you can also see whether or not what you are doing is working or whether you need to make changes to your system. One observation I made about my current progress is that I need to be more consistent on a daily basis. It’s not easy, but I’ve seen that when I’m not putting in the effort, no changes are being made in my progress. It makes sense, but it’s even more helpful to see this visually.

Step 5: Find a Partner

Unless you are naturally inclined to be disciplined and self-motivated you need help. I needed help. If you know me, you know i’ve said this at least a thousand times…I don’t know if I could have accomplished or made changes in my life if it weren’t for Michelle. She is my life-partner, not my “accountability” partner. It’s important to note that if you depend to much on someone else to hold you accountable, you don’t learn how to hold yourself accountable or how to be responsible for your own actions and behaviors. That being said, a good partner is someone that will support your challenges, and if you are lucky, do them with you. Eating healthy, exercising, learning a new language, budgeting, etc… all of these things are easier when someone else is doing it too. And it doesn’t have to be a significant other. It just has to be someone who understands and values what you are trying to accomplish in your own life, and also has their own personal goals and challenges they would like to accomplish.

The point is that you don’t technically need someone else’s help or support, but I guarantee that your chances of accomplishing your goals goes up significantly with the help and support of others.

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It was a long post but I hope this is helpful in some way. I’d love to hear what you are working on this year or what tips you might have to making changes in your life. I’d also love any support or advice you have for me with my personal goals and aspirations. Till next post…

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