I’m not much of a planner. It’s true. I’ve often joked that I’m more a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-kind-of- gal.” It turns out this isn’t such a good quality to have, especially when trying to accomplish a goal.
One day I realized my lack of planning was hindering me from reaching a primary goal in my life. On April 1, 2014, I took the first step in what would become a longer than anticipated journey. My destination? To complete an intensive biblical counseling training course so I would be better at bringing care to hurting souls.
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The program was self-paced (code for procrastinators, take heed) and designed for roughly a 2-year track. But for this self-proclaimed dilly-dallier, it took three years, eight months, and 16 days to complete–not that I was counting or anything.
I started out strong and with good intentions but then the unexpected came. You know what I’m saying. Those things that crop up in life you weren’t anticipating. It happens to us all. The surprising twists along the way with a dash of idleness mixed with a lack of discipline created the recipe for my delay.
As I ponder the time it took and the enormous lessons I’ve gained along the way (too many to mention in one article), I wanted to share with you some steps that helped me reach my goal. There’s nothing special or earth-shattering about them, but for me, they were the difference between throwing up the white flag in surrender or pressing ahead and finishing the task. Praise God! I chose the latter (Philippians 3:13-14).
Now, of course, your goal may be much different than mine. The one I had was more academic, not to mention utterly transformative. Yours may be something else altogether. Maybe you want to get healthier in the New Year. You might want to be more organized with your time. Perhaps you want to pay off some debt. Maybe there’s a big project you’ve been working on for what seems like forever that you just can’t complete.
Depending on your particular goal, you may need to tweak some of the specifics of these six steps. But the underlying principles are universal and will help you get on the right track, whatever you’re trying to accomplish.
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1 – Make a Plan
A friend of mine once said, “Fuzzy goals equal fuzzy results.” Boy, she wasn’t kidding. If you don’t have a solid plan on how you’re going to finish a task, more than likely you’ll get discouraged and quit. That was my problem. I had this massive project in front of me with no practical steps of how I was going to get it done (Luke 14:28).
I realized my usual laid-back approach to life wasn’t going to work this time. I’m far too undisciplined to stick with a fuzzy goal. I needed to get serious and use some reliable wisdom (Ephesians 5:15-16). I had to come up with a plan if I wanted to succeed.
After a time of prayer and seeking the Lord’s guidance, I decided to print out on paper every Sunday my plan of what I wanted to accomplish in the coming week (Proverbs 16:3). I would write down beside each module of assignments the dates I wanted to get them done.
Every week as my supervisor filled in the completed homework on my syllabus, I printed out a copy and posted it on the bulletin board in my office. This visual gave me clarity on how far I had come and how much I had left to do. Seeing the paper filled in a little more week after week was the motivation I needed to keep up the pace. Make a solid, practical, step-by-step plan. Write it out. Post it where you can see it every day.
2 – Make it Pretty
Okay, if you’re a guy, you can either insert the word “cool” for “pretty” or skip down to the next step. Even though I was quite the tomboy growing up, I’m still a girl, and I like pretty things.
I enjoy decorating and having a home that’s inviting and cozy (Proverbs 24:3-4). The problem was my office was one of those rooms I hadn’t spruced up very much. It was dull and sort of a mismatch of things. I’m guessing you have a room like that in your house too.
I wanted to make my workspace prettier but didn’t want to spend much money either. So I had to get a little creative. The first thing I did was get rid of all the clutter. That alone made a huge difference. It only cost me my time which paid off in the long run. I switched out some of my accessories, so everything matched and I added a couple of live plants (Tip: if you have a brown thumb like me, look for ones that say “plants of steel” or “low maintenance.”)
One of my favorite things to do for inexpensive decor is to purchase downloadable artwork from Etsy, print it at my local discount store, and then buy a cheap frame to display it on a wall or shelf. You can look for images that inspire you such as Bible verses, quotes, or beautiful landscapes. Surround yourself with things that encourage and entice you to get to work. It does make a difference.
3 – Make It Practical
If your space isn’t practical, pretty won’t get you very far. It may look nice but the lack of functionality will soon become frustrating, and you will hinder your progress.
Create a comfortable environment (for me that was a better office chair), good lighting, and the right tools to get the job done. Investing in these things will set you up for success in reaching your goal.
Another no-cost tip that helped me was to clean up my workspace at the end of each day. I put everything away in its proper place when I was done working. That way the next morning I had a clean slate. The new day was a fresh start to get back to work again (Proverbs 14:23). Evaluate what you need to accomplish your goal and take the time to make your space clean and practical.
4 – Remove Distractions
Sometimes it’s difficult for me to stay focused on the task at hand, especially when it gets hard. Distractions abound in our modern age of technology. Social media is a big one for me. If I were working on an assignment that was stretching my brain a little more than I enjoyed, I would pop over to Facebook or email as a way to escape my work.
One thing I found helpful was to silence notifications or merely close out all applications on my computer and phone that didn’t pertain to my task. That way I wasn’t as tempted to abandon my project and get sucked into mindless scrolling through cyber-space (Hebrews 12:1).
If your goal is something that will require a good chunk of your time, you might want to consider some of your other obligations. You may need to say no to some good things to focus (for a time at least) on the better something (Luke 10:40-42).
This move made a big difference to help me reach my goal. I backed away from other commitments and concentrated primarily on the one thing I wanted to get done. At first, it seemed a little selfish. But I realized my longterm objective was so I could help people. This program wouldn’t be forever. I needed to take the time for myself now so I would be better prepared to help women in their struggles later (Galatians 6:2; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
It’s similar to when you’re on an airplane, and the flight attendant instructs parents about what to do if the cabin suddenly loses pressure. Parents are told to put their oxygen mask on first before they attempt to help their children. I had to take the time I needed to put on my breathing apparatus before I could adequately assist others with theirs (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
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5 – Reflect Each Week
This step is necessary; you don’t want to skip it. I realize in our fast-paced environment we often run from one project right into the next. But I think that’s an error. You need to spend time thinking about what you’ve completed so far.
- What worked for you that week?
- What was a disaster?
- What changes can you make to be more productive?
Take time to celebrate those small achievements too. Praise God for seeing you through another week and providing everything you needed (Philippians 4:19).
- What lessons did you learn along the way?
- How do you depend on the Lord’s power to help you in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)?
- Are you doing your part and working in cooperation with God’s sanctifying work in your life (Philippians 2:12-13)?
- Think about these things during a quiet time of reflection. Then you will be more prepared to set your plan for the following week.
6 – Prepare For Interruptions
Okay, of all the steps I’ve shared so far none is more important than this one. You can and should set goals for your life. You ought to take the steps necessary to make it happen. You must work hard and do your part. But the bottom line is while you can make your plans, God is the one that directs your steps (Proverbs 16:9).
He is Sovereign over your life and may write something into your day you had not anticipated. It may come like a mighty hurricane that rocks not just your day, but your entire world. But here’s the good news: God knows what He’s doing, and He knows infinitely more than you do (Isaiah 46:9-10).
You can trust Him with the bumps, the twists, and interruptions along the way. He is always good, and He is always working good for your life (Psalm 119:68).
I had a significant family crisis that derailed my course of action. No doubt, it threw me for a loop. I had no choice but to step away from my goal for a season. There were more pressing things that needed my attention. And while this might have come as a complete surprise to me, it was all part of God’s providential plan. He wrote that exact chapter into my life at that precise moment (Psalm 139:16).
The disruption probably won’t make sense to you when it happens. You might begin to question yourself, your calling, or maybe even God. But dear believer, your life does not belong to you. The Lord bought and paid for your life with the precious blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). The Lord is King over all He has made, and He has the right and authority to decide what happens to you (Romans 9:20).
God’s goal for your life supersedes yours. His designs for you are higher and of greater importance than what you have on your agenda. His ultimate goal for you is to mold and shape you so that you look more like His Son (Romans 8:28-29). What more important objective could you have for your life than that?
So when distractions come (and they will) and you’re tempted to get discouraged (and you will) remember God’s plan for you is far superior to your own. Lean into your loving Father and trust what He’s doing, even when it doesn’t make sense (Proverbs 3:5-6). That giant monkey wrench thrown into the middle of your plans may be the very tool God uses to get you where you need to be (Psalm 119:71; Isaiah 14:27).
I can tell you with complete confidence that’s what God did for me. Sure, I had my goals, fuzzy as they were. Then the unexpected came, and I was thrown off course (at least from my limited perspective.) But it turns out, that was exactly what I needed.
Our Father is always at work, and He promises to bring about His excellent plan even for a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-kind-of-gal like me (John 5:17; Philippians 1:6). So go ahead, (1) make a plan to reach your goals. (2) Make it pretty and (3) keep it practical. (4) Get rid of those things that are distracting you.
(5) Regularly reflect on your progress–it’s good for your soul. And finally, (6) be prepared for those interruptions along the way. They will happen. And even if your planning skills are severely lacking like mine, you can count on God accomplishing His purposes in your life. He is the Author and Finisher of your faith (Hebrews 12:2)!