Of the many, many articles I’ve read and written about setting goals over the past few years, the one thing that’s stuck with me, that’s worked in my own life, is to focus on small actions you can accomplish today.
You should absolutely set long-term goals and plans, but to be successful in accomplishing them, you need to take it step by step.
In a way, it’s the opposite of “don’t miss the forest for the trees.” You don’t want to get too caught up in meaningless details that you can’t finish anything. But by zeroing in on what you can feasibly do in any given day, you’re lessening the stress of thinking about all of the things you must do, and just, well, doing them.
This is particularly true of financial goals, which almost always seem overwhelming and actually make a difference in our lives each and every day. Right now, for example, I’m working on ratcheting up my emergency fund. If I think about the total number I want to reach — $20,000 — it’s overwhelming and can even be a deterrent. But by breaking that down into daily or weekly actions, I’ve been able to make some headway. Not much, mind you, but some. And it feels pretty good.
Now consider something like retirement. If you’ve read an article that says you should have $1 million to retire comfortably, you might be put off from saving all together. It seems like such an enormous, out-of-reach figure, one that’s even a little hard to comprehend fully.
But if you can put that aside for a moment and think about a small, concrete step you can take today — say, open a savings account and invest $100 to get started — you’re closer to reaching that goal than you were.
That means forgiving yourself when and if you mess up, or if it’s taking you longer than you’d like to get started progressing toward a goal. So maybe you don’t have nearly enough saved, or invested—who cares?
If you focus on what you can do today to get to where you want to be, and you keep doing that day after day, you’ll accomplish what you set out to. If you slip up one day, well, it’s not the end of the world. You can just pick back up tomorrow.
Today I’m focusing on finishing up my work, tidying my apartment and setting the groundwork for a more-structured budget. I won’t have $20,000 in my savings account by the end of the day, but that’s OK for now.
For today, focus on today. Then, when tomorrow comes, focus on tomorrow. You can only take it one day at a time.