In January, many of us set up goals to achieve throughout the next 12 months. Whether you believe in New Year Resolutions and the concept of “New Year, New Me” or not, there must be something you are striving for yourself. A new calendar year can feel like a blank sheet and act as a catalyser for changes we have been wanting to implement in our lives for a while now.
The key to reaching targets is making effective plans. It is easier said than done, of course - after all, we are all familiar with the concept, yet very few can actually apply it to their lives. No worries, at Europe Language Jobs, we are here to cheer you on, and we will tell you all about what steps are necessary for an effective planning process.
Perhaps, before we start discussing ways for how to make planning effective, we must first focus on why we should plan at all. After all, we can go through life powered by random bursts of energy and sheer luck.
Of course, that is one way to live your life, but effective planning is there to make said life easier. A plan is meant to avoid situations where you deal with an abundance of tasks some days, and feel like there’s not enough to do on others - it aids you in distributing the workload evenly.
Creating a plan of action can also limit the time you would spend on procrastination. It can save you a lot of energy to organise your steps, rather than keep you running in circles without a map, wondering which direction to take.
There is no need for a plan without a strategic goal. As we all have things we want to achieve in life, it shouldn’t be hard to determine your objectives. Making them specific is where it gets tricky.
First, you need to keep in mind that there are two main types of goals:
Long-term - these are the milestones. You should establish them first, based on what you want to achieve.
Short-term - approach them as little steps leading the path toward your long-term goal. Imagine your long-term goal being the top of the mountain, and the short-term ones being the steps on a staircase that will take you there. Design them in a way that will ultimately help you reach your long-term goals.
There are a few things a goal needs to be:
Time-bound - if you don’t set up a deadline, you won’t get anywhere (and you know it). Of course, there will be different timelines for long-term and short-term goals, for example when your long-term deadline is 3 months, you can measure your short-term steps by weeks or even days.
Specific - don’t be vague. For instance, don’t say: I want to learn French this year. What does “learn a language” even mean? Are you aiming for full fluency? This is not possible to achieve over just a year. Would you like to reach a communicative level? This is more realistic, but still not precise enough.
A good long-term goal would be: “I want to reach the level of A2 in French before the end of December”. Your short-term goals could be: “complete a specific online course by June”, “complete a lesson in a language app every day”, “watch a film in French without subtitles by October”.
Realistic - as we have mentioned in the previous point, some things are just not possible. How to plan effectively? Stay down to Earth! Being ambitious is great, but you can’t lose 20 kilos in 2 months or represent your country in the next Olympics if you start training now.
Knowing yourself and your strengths and limitations, set up goals that will be challenging enough to keep you going, but not so much that you will get discouraged quickly.
Flexible - the fact that a goal must be precise doesn’t mean that it has to be rigid. On the contrary, you need to make sure there is some wiggle space. Circumstances change and since you can’t control everything in your life, your situation might be a bit different halfway through reaching your target than it is now.
For example, imagine if somebody’s new year’s resolution for 2020 was to lose 20 kilos by October by attending the gym three times a week. Already in March, the world has gone into lockdown and the gyms were closed. In order not to give up after just 3 short months, they needed to come up with adjustments to stay on track despite the sudden disturbance.
Of course, it is not always possible to predict all the ways things could go wrong. Unless you have superpowers that Marvel hasn’t found out about yet, you will have to base on your assumptions, which may or may not prove to be true.
But even without the ability to see into the future, it is important to assess the potential threats to your plan that could pop up along the way, and come up with possible solutions for them.
Yes, you won’t be able to guess all of them, but think of how much easier it will be when a certain obstacle does appear, and you will be ready for it. Instead of losing time to deal with it on the spot and pushing back your ultimate goal, you will jump over it smoothly and power on with your plan as though nothing has happened.
It will improve your management skills, increase productivity, and develop the ability to think ahead, if you tend to focus on the here and now. It will also ensure that you won't risk ruining your plans when the first obstacle appears.
You may wish to share your targets and plans with someone and complete the path towards it together - for example, if you have a gym buddy and you motivate each other to get that beach body, excuse the rhyme. Or perhaps you prefer to walk this road alone.
Regardless, there will always be resources meant to help you complete your project. In today’s world, we are surrounded by them - all we have to do is identify the helpful ones and discard those that won’t be of any use in executing our plan.
Following our language-learning example from before, the resources you could use to achieve an A2 level of French by the end of December could be:
A language school
A language-learning app
French coursebooks and literature
Films in French
A friend who is a native or fluent in the language and can help you learn
The fact that there are so many various resources doesn’t mean you have to use all of them. You might not have the time or flexibility to attend in-person classes at a language school due to your working hours, or maybe you just learn better at your own pace. In that case, an online language course paired with a language-learning app will be the perfect solution for you.
If you don’t have a friend who speaks the desired language with whom you could practise speaking, you can find a private tutor who will help you achieve fluency. What is important is not to keep finding reasons why a certain resource is not suitable for you, but to focus on which ones might make your life easier.
Again, easier said than done. Ha! If only it was that easy, we would all be fit, successful millionaires with perfectly shaped eyebrows and speaking 5 languages. But wait, don’t move on to the next point yet. Hear me out.
Effective planning requires motivation. So just like with predicting the possible obstacles, you also need to get ready for when you defloat like a balloon when all your enthusiasm leaves you in the process (which will happen at least once or twice). The following methods may seem silly or maybe even childish, but trust us when we tell you they work like a charm to help you stick to your plan:
Make a list - before you embark on your goal-achieving journey, jot down all the reasons why you started. At first, they seem very clear, but they will begin to fade somewhere along the way. Write them down with an extra dose of enthusiasm, in a way that will remind you why it’s worth it to keep going in a few weeks or months.
Write a letter - address your future self as you from today and remind yourself who you were on the day you started. Make it scary if you have to, or awaken guilt like you’ve never felt before in you from the future - whatever it takes to keep you on track with your plan.
Establish benchmarks - this is something you should do while making planning effective, anyway. You should always keep track of both your short and long-term goals and make sure you’re keeping up with them, but you can also do something extra. Write goals you expect to achieve by a certain date on pieces of paper and put them in envelopes.
Write that date on the envelope and ask someone trusted to give you each “letter” on the specific day. Alternatively, you can also set up alarms in your phone’s calendar. The point is to feel overwhelming shame when it turns out you haven’t completed a goal when you were supposed to (and turn it into motivation).
Important: remember to analyse the reasons why this happened and come up with ways to improve so that you can reach your next target on time!
Involve someone else - this can be a friend, a family member, a partner. Someone who will do right in the role of your cheerleader and who will support you in the process of achieving your targets. They should be firm to give you the proverbial “kick” when they see you slacking and close to you enough that you won’t feel judged when they become privy to your progress.
One very important thing to remember? A plan does not guarantee you reaching your goals. It helps you in the process, yes, and allows you to get there with more effectiveness, and much quicker than you would without a plan of action. However, even effective planning is just that when we apply only the theory without the practice - planning.
Each step of the way you write down, whether short or long-term, must find its reflection in reality. Hell is paved with good intentions, but how many of those were actually put into action? Don’t fall into the trap of boasting about your plan to do pilates and go vegan when in truth you spend your evenings on your couch and keep eating bacon.
We’re not saying that you should keep quiet about your progress and the activities you undertake because achievements need to be celebrated, but don’t follow the “all bark, no bite” scheme.
Do you feel more ready now to fulfil all your ambitious plans? The key is to not get overwhelmed before you even get started: set clear goals, turn theory into action, and make the best of your journey!
If you really want something, you will surely get there, one way or another - you just might reach your target quicker with a thought-through tactic.
We wish you all the best with executing your plans, whatever they are!