How To Reach Big Goals With Lists of Small Tasks

~Capital “G” Goals~
At Seeds of Literacy, our adult students come in with a pretty big, capital G Goal: to earn their high school equivalency. But when that doesn’t happen right away, some get frustrated. They fail to see all that they HAVE achieved because all they see is the goal that hasn’t yet been met. Sometimes this means they stop coming, and no one wants that.

That word “Goal” can be pretty intimidating. It’s big, it’s scary, and sometimes it is hard to picture. It can seem really far away, unrealistic, or unachievable. And often, our students have the end of the finish line in their minds, but no idea the path they need to take to get there.

We talk a lot about SMART Goals. The idea of SMART Goals is that they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely. To make the Big, Scary Goal all of those things almost always means breaking it into smaller, easily managed steps.

Eating an Elephant

The SMART Goal concept doesn’t make sense to some students, and if you’re one of them, don’t worry.

There’s an old joke that asks “How do you eat an elephant?” And the answer is “One bite at a time.”

For our students, earning an HSE is eating that elephant. We want them to see that each bite matters.

That’s where a basic list comes in, specifically a To-Do-List. There’s a powerful sense of accomplishment that comes from simply checking off a task on a list. Checking just one box makes it easier to move to the next task, and the next, and the next. One bite at a time. (Benefits of Making a To Do List)

Short Term = This Week’s To Do List

New students are asked “What are your immediate and short term goals?” The answer is almost always “Get my GED®.” But, just like eating an elephant, that won’t happen right away.  Students should think about the individual bites, what they need to do this week.

An example might be as follows:

GOAL: Attend 3 classes this week.

TO DO LIST (aka Things You Must Do to Achieve the Goal)

  •  Check work schedule to see what shifts you work
  •  Determine which days/times you can come to class
  •  Look up this week’s bus schedule so that you’re not late for class
  •  Make sure your sister can watch Billy
  •  Attend class 1
  •  Attend class 2
  •  Attend class 3

This illustrates that coming to class requires a few additional steps to make it achievable, such as figuring out challenges like child care and transportation.

When The List Isn’t Complete

If you’ve been unable to check items off of your To-Do List, it might be because the items were too big, like the elephant. Think about the things you HAVE done, those smaller, related steps.

Let’s use the example above and say you only made it to 2 of 3 classes, but you DID practice typing at home and read for 30 minutes. If you have to, add those tasks to your list so you can check them off. Once you see you’ve completed SOME tasks, it will be easier to remain positive and tackle the rest of your list.

How Making a List Can Work for Anything…Including Math and Essay Writing

Math problems are rarely one-step. To solve any problem, like the story problems on the GED, there are five basic steps. As you check off each step, you come closer to finding the solution.

  •  Understand the Question – many students will try and solve a problem before they even finish reading it!
  •  Find the information that you need. Read the equation a second time and pull out the information you need to solve it. Ignore the rest.
  •  Make a plan to solve the problem. Identify the order in which you need to solve things, and which operations are needed for each step.
  •  Solve the problem. Once you have the different math operations planned, run through them and do the actual math.
  •  Check your answer.

The writing process itself has four steps, so there’s no such thing as “just writing.”

Writing this blog has been on my To-Do List for longer than I’d like to admit. I realized I had been avoiding it because it wasn’t something I could check off right away. It was a goal that I needed to break down into specific steps so that I could tackle it, one bite at a time.

  • Concept for blog – Check!
  • Create file – Check!
  • Prewrite – Check!
  • First Draft – Check!
  • Revisions
  • Edit
  • Create elephant artwork
  • Post

Once I made a list of the steps to take to achieve my goal, it was much easier. I was able to check the first three pretty quickly, which motivated me. And if I’m being honest, I just really love checking things off. If you’re reading this now, my To-Do List for this piece is now complete.

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*Seeds of Literacy does not endorse the killing or eating of pachyderms of any kind*