Every weekend, my wife and I hope to get a lot done. We throw all our goals, from “wash hair” to “file taxes,” onto an informal little to-do list on the Reminders app or a scrap of paper. Managing the weekend’s to-do list becomes an errand itself.
Push ourselves too hard and we’ll burn out; take it too easy and we’ll regret it on Monday. One way we build flexibility while maintaining urgency is to designate a couple of our to-dos as “stretch goals.”
Part task, part reward
On crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Patreon, a stretch goal is an extra fundraising goal after your first goal. If your project reaches the main goal, you deliver the product or service as described. If you hit the stretch goal, you deliver something extra: a black-and-white printing becomes colour, or everyone gets a free pin along with their t-shirt, or you write three extra characters into your RPG. It’s optional, but in a particular way: It depends on meeting the more important goal first. A stretch goal is part task, part reward.
Back to our scrap of paper. When we have goals that we hope to get to, but are less urgent or important, we put them at the bottom, labelled “stretch goal.” This weekend, for example, stretch goals included “Make room in the coat closet” and “Take stuff to housing works.” Another weekend it was “Watch a movie.” Sometimes a task, sometimes a reward—always something we’d really like to have done. But only if we’ve met all, or most, of our main goals.
For me, the “stretch goal” characterization makes a huge difference. I’m easily distracted, so I have a habit of procrastinating on one task by doing another. (I always sort through my email newsletters when I’m on deadline for a Lifehacker post.) So I can ruin a day’s productivity by ignoring the important errands and doing just the easy or brainless ones. By marking some as “stretch goals,” I remind myself to save them for later.
What stretch goals aren’t
Not everything pleasurable or optional is a stretch goal. When “watch a movie” was a stretch goal, that’s because if we ran out of time, we’d be perfectly fine watching a TV show. But on a sunny weekend, we didn’t reserve “family outing to the park” as a stretch goal. That was the fun thing we would do with our afternoon, whether or not we got all our to-dos done.
If we had to put it in terms of accomplishment, it was vital for our mental health. But in normal terms, it was fun and it felt good and cleaning the closet can wait.
“Stretch goal” is just a label that helps you prioritise without a full-fledged priority-ranking system. If you have too many stretch goals on your to-do list, you should probably make a second list. If you keep bouncing the same stretch goal from list to list, it might be time to replace it with a new one.