Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to meet your financial, fitness, and writing goals: Five strategies that work

Have you ever lost weight, saved money for an important purchase, or met a writing deadline?

If you have ever met any fitness, financial, or writing goals, there is a good chance that you have developed skills that will allow you to meet other goals.

Goal Setting

The strategies for meeting very different kinds of goals are surprisingly similar. In this post, I will focus on these three areas – as these are some of the most common goals that people have.

If you have never set or met any goals, then this post might also be helpful for you to decide if goal-setting is an appropriate strategy for you.

So, what do money, fitness, and writing have in common?

1. Set reasonable goals.

With saving money, it will be hard to meet your goals if you try and save half your income. Likewise, losing five pounds a week is setting yourself up for failure, as is trying to write 3,000 words a day. Instead, set reasonable, achievable goals. These goals will vary by individual, but it is important to set goals that are both reasonable and achievable. Here are some examples of reasonable goals.

Writing: Write for 30 minutes Monday to Friday. Write 300 words a day. Take notes on one article or book chapter a day.

Fitness: Walk or bike to work once a week. Go to the gym three times a week. Avoid meat on Fridays. Avoid sugar on Tuesdays. Lose one pound a week.

Money: Only buy fancy coffee once a week. Put 10 percent of earnings in a savings account. Use 10 percent of earnings to pay off debt. Cancel cable television. Eat out only once a week.

2. Keep track of your activities.

Knowledge really is power here.

If you really want to take control of your finances, one of the best things you can do is to track every penny you spend. If you are not ready to do that, however, you can at least make a budget and track spending in certain areas. Mint provides a free tool for you to do that. For example, if you set a budget of $100 a month for eating out, it will tell you when you’ve reached that limit, and you can eat in for the rest of the month.

The same goals for your fitness goals – keeping track can do wonders for you. There is a free app called My Fitness Pal which allows you to track everything you eat and even add your exercise so that you can keep track of calorie intake and expenditure. This application works, but requires a high level of commitment. However, even writing down the food you eat once a week or writing down the exercise you do daily can help you meet your fitness goals. I haven’t tried them yet, but many people recommend the FitBit - which tracks your activity.

For writing goals, there are also different levels. Some people find it useful to write down the number of new words they write each day. Others keep track of the hours they spend writing. If you want to go all the way with time management, it can be incredibly revelatory to track your time for a full week. In this article, Kerry Ann Rockquemore draws parallels between tracking your money and your time.

3. Get a buddy involved.

Getting friends involved can help you achieve these goals. There are many ways to do this, from joining support groups to simply asking a friend to check in on you daily or weekly. There are online forums you can join, or you can make your own. Many of us are uncomfortable sharing personal information with others, but , if you can find a trusted person who will keep you accountable, it can do wonders for meeting your goals.

4. Celebrate your achievements.

It is crucial to not only set goals, but also to reward yourself when you achieve them. Depending on your personality and your goals, you can either give yourself a small daily reward or promise yourself a larger reward at the end of the week, month, or year.

It can be hard to think of rewards, so I will offer a few productive examples.

  • At the end of each week, if you meet your writing goals, catch up on one of your favorite TV shows.
  • At the end of the day, if you meet your fitness goals, call one of your friends and catch up.
  • At the end of the month, if you meet your financial goals, allow yourself a small splurge such as downloading a movie or getting a fancy coffee.

5. Make your goals a priority

It would be very difficult to make fitness, money, and writing goals your priority at the same time. For this reason, I would suggest thinking about one area of your life and deciding where you want your priorities to be. In what area are you most committed to change?

I have made different areas of my life priorities at different times. Prior to going to graduate school, my priority was to travel the world, learn new languages, and have a great time. To meet my goal of traveling the world, I worked as a waitress, and saved nearly all of my tips.

Once I began graduate school, as a new mother of twins in a very low-income household, I had to track every penny we spent to make sure we could pay rent at the end of each month. My financial goals were to avoid getting into debt, and I made that a priority.

When I was lucky enough to secure a tenure track job at a research university, I made writing my top priority, as I was sure I wanted to be in academia, and I wanted to build a solid case for tenure.

Now that I have tenure, I continue to write. It still is a priority, but writing has become such a habit that I no longer need all of the mechanisms I once had in place to make sure that I made progress on my writing projects. This has allowed me to focus on other areas of my life. With three children headed for college, I have to think about saving for their education – thus bringing me back to examining my finances. As I just turned 40, I have also realized that my body is not getting any younger, and it is important for me to pay attention to my fitness.

Over the past month, I have recommitted to my fitness goals. It was actually through this process that I saw the parallels and was inspired to write this post.

Finally, I know it has been a while since I have posted here. One of the reasons for this is that I have been focused more on writing opinion pieces. I also have just finished writing a textbook called Race and Racisms that has taken up quite a bit of my time. You can check out the website for that here.

I am grateful to all the readers of this blog and hope to post here more often.