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10 Reasons to Focus on Steps, Not Goals

10 Reasons to Focus on Steps, Not Goals

When you want to improve an aspect of your life, it’s important to set goals. This is how you know where you want to end up. However, once you’ve set a goal for yourself, you should focus on the small steps you’ll be taking in order to reach this goal. You should always keep your final destination in sight, but know that it’s the small steps that will guide you there. Here’s what you can expect by keeping the small steps in mind.

1. You won’t feel intimidated

Maybe your goal is to become a master guitarist, but you don’t even know how to play a chord. It can be incredibly intimidating to watch a Grateful Dead concert as Jerry Garcia moves up and down the fret board for hours without breaking a sweat. You’ll most likely get the feeling that you’ll “never be able to do that,” and run the risk of quitting before you even get started. By taking small steps toward your goal, you’ll feel less intimidated when you see others who are above your level.

2. You’ll see progress constantly

If you’re constantly looking at your endgame as your only goal, you won’t think you’re getting anywhere when you make a small improvement in your skills. When you focus on the small steps, you’ll see progress almost instantaneously. Yesterday, you might have set out to memorize the order of the guitar strings. It can be highly motivating to see this goal accomplished. It might not seem like a huge accomplishment, but you’ll know you’re one step closer to achieving your overall goal.

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3. You’ll appreciate the process

When you focus on the small steps, you’ll realize that even the experts have been in your shoes at one point in their lives. It’s hard to imagine a time in which Garcia didn’t know the difference between an E and an A string, but he had to have started somewhere, right? The small steps might be boring at times — do you think Michael Jordan really loved taking foul shots all day? — , but going through them is an absolute necessity if you want to reach your goal.

4. You’ll learn the basics

It might be tempting to skip steps at times in order to reach your goal faster. However, this will only lead to confusion and frustration in the long run. Imagine a child trying to learn multiplication before he or she learns how to add. So much instruction would be lost in this method that the child wouldn’t possibly be able to succeed.

The old saying is true: “You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.” Take baby steps to ensure you can handle the small stuff before moving on to the big time.

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5. You’ll learn more

While you’re learning the basics, you should slow down and try different methods to accomplish your short-term goals. There’s always more than one way to get something done. Going about a task in a variety of ways will lead you to the most efficient way for you to complete the task at hand. You might learn something about the whole process that you would have missed had you rushed through the small steps.

6. You’ll understand the fundamentals

It’s not enough just to complete the small tasks — you have to understand why you completed them. Tuning a guitar might seem pretty straight-forward, as you can just memorize each string’s open note and tune it. However, it’s important to take the time to understand the relationship between the strings, and how each is utilized when forming chords and scales. Go beyond rote memorization and truly comprehend each step as you progress toward your goal.

7. You’ll anticipate success

If you schedule the small goals to be accomplished, you’ll know on Wednesday what you’ll be able to do on Friday. This not only gives you an idea about how you’re moving forward, but it also motivates you to keep up the hard work. If you schedule out your week of practice and growth, skipping a day will set everything back. When you’ve put it all in writing, you’ll be even more motivated not to let yourself down.

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8. You’ll adapt your goals

Then again, some days you might not do as well as you’d hoped you would. That’s certainly alright. By setting mini-goals along the way, you’ll be able to modify them depending on your progress the previous day. While you would most likely feel disappointed in yourself for skipping a day of work, there’s no shame in getting stuck on a previous step as long as you’re making strides to overcome it.

9. You’ll celebrate small victories

When you set smaller goals, you’ll be able to celebrate more. Like I said, making a schedule and anticipating success will allow you set your sights on a short-term goal, possibly a week-long one. Once you reach that smaller goal, you’ll definitely feel much more accomplished than you would if you’d reached that point without considering it a “goal.” Every small accomplishment is reason to celebrate, so don’t downplay your improvements.

10. You’ll keep pushing yourself

If you set one major goal for yourself at the beginning of your journey, you run the risk of becoming complacent once you reach that goal. For example, if your goal was to run a six-minute mile, and it took you months to get to that point, you might just breathe a sigh of relief and consider yourself a success. While that would undoubtedly be a great accomplishment, there’s still room for improvement. If you had spent months improving your time and acknowledging each incremental improvement, you’re more apt to celebrate your milestone and then get back up the next day and work to shatter your own record.

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Featured photo credit: Flickrr via farm3.staticflickr.com

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Matt Duczeminski

A passionate writer who shares lifestlye tips on Lifehack

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

More on the Importance of Taking a Break

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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