How To Reach A Goal When You Feel Overwhelmed
Six Concrete Steps To Get There
I have three close friends who are looking to make a career change.
All for different reasons. One recently closed her small business and is looking for something more corporate. One was laid off, but looking for something like what she was doing before. The other is looking to leave a corporate position. And find something more entrepreneurial.
And all three of them are stuck. Overwhelmed. Confused. What should they do next? Who should they talk to? Their responses vary. One is equally excited about every opportunity that comes her way. Without a good vision of whether it will fit her needs. Another avoids any talk of career because she doesn’t want to come off as wishy-washy to other people.
I have done so much research into goals for the past six months. So I offered to help one of my friends in her career thought process. It has been gratifying to apply my knowledge to a real-life situation.
So, from the mountains of research that I have read, I decided to break it down into six steps. Six steps to get her from overwhelmed and confused. To applying for exactly the jobs that she wants. And I am shocked at how effective the process is.
Step 1: Write down your specific, measurable, and time-bound goal
She has avoided applying for jobs because she is unsure what she wants. So she has procrastinated starting the process or even updating her resume.
So first, we created a specific goal for her: apply to 10 real job opportunities by a certain date. She wrote it down. And now she knows exactly where she is going, and when she needs to get there.
Step 2: Break down all the steps to get there into tiny tasks
There are a lot of small pieces to applying for new jobs. And this, too, can feel overwhelming. Especially when you aren’t exactly sure what you want.
So, she broke all the tasks down, one by one. With the first task as: on a piece of paper, make three columns of red/yellow/green. In the red column, write down nonstarters for any job. Things like commuting farther than X. Or accepting pay that is lower than Y. Yellows are a maybe . And greens are ideal situations.
When you set these parameters in advance, it keeps you laser focused once you actually look at real jobs. So that you don’t waste time applying to jobs that won’t actually meet your needs.
Other tasks included updating a resume, writing a cover letter, and making a list of people to network. Even spending time online researching local companies. She needed to write down tasks like these too.
Step 3: Remember that everything takes longer than you think it does
This refers to planning fallacy. I have written about planning fallacy in the past:
First proposed by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. It is the well established phenomenon that things always take longer than you think they will.
(So don’t feel alone or ashamed if you are not great at estimating how long something will take.)
For this step, she and I talked through how long each task will take. We took a hard look at the estimates. And then I had her do a few tasks with a timer on. So she could double check.
That way, we could make a realistic plan for how long each task would take her.
Step 4: Schedule every single task
Once we had a list of each task and how long it would take. We looked at her calendar. And when she could do each specific thing. Tuesday from 10–12pm she would research local companies. Wednesday from 3–4pm she would update her resume. And so on.
Step 5: Plan for obstacles
Dr. Peter Gollwitzer has done fascinating research on the power of planning for obstacles. He calls is creating “if-then plans.” He found that people are much more likely to reach a goal if they plan in advance for what to do when things go wrong.
So, my friend and I went through all the mental and logistical obstacles that could come up as she applies for jobs. Like, posted jobs filled by the time she applies. People agreeing to coffee and then not having an opportunity at their company. But also, interviews that go well and then do not result in an offer. And she thought through and wrote down exactly what she’d do or think as each thing came up.
Step 6: Keep an accountability partner updated.
This is where I came in. I recently wrote about the research that supports the power of accountability.
According to work by Dr. Gail Matthews, people who wrote down their goals and action steps. And then kept a friend updated on their weekly progress. They were almost 2x more likely to reach or make progress toward their goals. Compared to someone who simply thought about their goals. Powerful stuff.
So, I have given my friend deadlines every week to send me her updates. And if she doesn’t, she owes me a tea from Starbucks. For each deadline she misses.
My six step process has been extremely powerful for my friend. She doesn’t have a job yet. But she no longer feels overwhelmed. And she is making real progress toward her goals.
It’s been so effective that I am considering using it to help others. There is nothing better than using your own knowledge to support the people around you.
So if you are feeling overwhelmed. You have a big goal or dream. Follow this template. Step by step. And find a friend to keep you accountable.
Because as the Indian businessman Shiv Nadar said:
If you are calm about your ambitions, you become confident of achieving what you set out to do.