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Breaking Up Long-Term Goals

Alana Garcia


Thinking about heavy, long-term goals can be tough. The temptation to take on more immediate deadlines, send emails, tidy-up, or anything else is hard to resist. Whether you’re working on a research project, writing an 80-page paper, or developing your next big project – here are some tips to break things up.

1.     Start small

If you think about running 26.2 miles you’ll never get out the door. Instead, what is the next step? The teeniest, tiniest, next step. Is it downloading that paper you’re supposed to read? Is it going to the application website? Is it writing for 15 minutes today? Commit yourself to a goal today that doesn’t feel daunting and enjoy the feeling of moving forward.

2.      Create a game plan

Take 30 minutes to create incremental tasks and interim deadlines toward the finish line. Take those interim deadlines and put them in your calendar. Give yourself rewards for completing those to-do’s. Here is one grad student’s reward map toward completing her dissertation:

3.     Block out time

Set aside a routine amount of time per week to work on this long term project. Treat it like any other important appointment in your schedule. Avoid multi-tasking, turn off your phone, and put in focused, quality effort. Even 45 minutes a day can go a long way.

4.     Add Accountability

Give a friend or family member some of your deadlines. Have them text you to follow up on whether you completed your task. Create regular meetings with your advisor. Try an app like Goalmigo where a social network keeps you accountable. Are you working on writing your thesis? Join or create a writing group. Sign up for the HUME Center’s dissertation bootcamp.

If you want help with long-term planning, come see an academic skills coach. We work with students regularly to create schedules, enhance accountability, and provide encouragement. Try downloading this worksheet to organize your goals. Overall, remember that everyone who climbed Everest did it with a series of small steps. You can do it!