How to Stay Motivated & Achieve Your Goals (Part 1: List-Making!)

Great tips for using motivational lists to reach goals (click through for more)  Hey guys, it's Laura. You may have noticed that we are very goal motivated here at ABM. We love to challenge ourselves to new ideas or ventures and encourage you guys as well to achieve your own “reach for the stars” ideas. While the first step to reaching new goals is deciding on what you want to accomplish (new business idea, read more books, create new art, eat healthier, etc.), the next part is figuring out a pathway to making that dream a reality. Sometimes the steps to that goal are clear, sometimes it’s a learn as you go approach, but either way there is one giant thing that you need to know in order to reach your ultimate goal—what motivates you? By that question I don’t mean, “What gets you out of bed in the morning and drives you to succeed?” but more so the question of, “Now that I know where I want to end up, how do I keep myself moving from point A until I get to point B?” I’ve talked about this question a lot with different people as we’ve shared different strategies (and struggles) to stay motivated, and I’ve learned that there is certainly not one motivational trick that works for everyone. That being the case, I thought I’d ask a few others on our ABM staff to share the ways that they personally keep on track when working towards a goal, and hopefully, if you’re struggling to stay on track you’ll find that one of these ways will work for you too. Emma is up first to share what works best for her! Take it away, Emma!

Great tips for using motivational lists to reach goals (click through for more)I'd like to say that staying motivated is only tough in the middle of a super hard task. But the truth is way worse. Staying motivated is ALWAYS tough. Whenever I'm dreaming up my next big thing, I'm usually daydreaming about the end result. We all long for that moment when you cross the finish line, when you launch that new website, when you publish that book, when you land that promotion at work, etc. The end of the story is so exciting; it's what you are striving for! But all the rest, which is basically 99% of the task, is sometimes really tough to get through. 

You want to know my secret to staying motivated? It's simple, and it doesn't have to cost you a penny. It's this: to-do lists! That's right. Make a list and watch your dreams become reality. Really! It is amazing how much you can get done when you employ the simple act of writing down everything you need to do. Why does this work (other than being plain ol' black magic!)? Here are my three theories on the magic of list-making:
 
1. Making a list keeps you from getting distracted. 
 
I am convinced that most dreams in life don't get discarded because of failure or lack of drive; I think they fall by the wayside most often simply because we get distracted. I mean, I can't speak for you, but I often feel like I'm being pulled in a million directions every day. Having a to-do list (whether it's for your day or a list of your big goals for the next five years) can bring focus to your life. It can help you to know when you need to say no to a good (but not great) opportunity. It can help you to cut the time-wasting activities out of your life, unless watching a million hours of TV this year IS one of your goals. Especially if I'm feeling overwhelmed, like I have way too much to do, if I take a moment to list everything out and see what's most important and pressing, this will save me so much time. And I have a greater chance of completing my most-important-to-me tasks. 
 
2. Making a list keeps you going.
 
Have you ever been guilty of what I like to call the half-finish? See, if you are half done with something, then you actually aren't "finished." Right? Yet for some reason I'll get halfway done with a task or goal and feel either accomplished or overwhelmed and think, "Well, look how much I already got done," and then promptly pat myself on the back.
 
Half-finishing is not finishing. And that's the sad truth. And a solid to-do list can help remind us of this. If I have ten things written down on my to-do list for the day, and I only have five marked off by 3 pm, then I know I better not spend ten minutes congratulating myself, because I'm actually behind! Move it, Emma! You've got five more things to get done today! 
 
A good to-do list can, gently, remind you to keep going. A clear finish line lets you know when the race has been run.
 
3. A fully crossed-off list is one of the best feelings in the world. AND it's addictive.

I love that feeling of accomplishment. I know I keep sort of throwing in running analogies here, but it just seems to fit. And here comes another, although this is more of a personal story. Did you know that last year I ran my first half marathon? I am NOT a runner. I am pretty un-athletic all around. But Elsie and I wanted to run a half marathon, so we trained for months and months, and then we did it. My time was nothing to brag about, at all. But I remember crossing the finish line with a few tears streaming down my cheeks because I felt SO proud. I know I was so glad I had sunglasses on at the time because I was really embarrassed of those tears. But there were moments in the race when I didn't know if I could do it. There were so many times during training when I thought, "What am I doing? I can't run this far!" But I did it. And crossing that finish line was such a great feeling. 

And marking off a final item on a big to-do list is really very similar. It's a moment to be proud of. And believe me when I say, it's totally addictive! You'll want to do it again and again once you feel that first rush of success. 
 
Great tips for using motivational lists to reach goals (click through for more)Go forth and achieve great things, you guys. You totally can! I'm rooting for you. xo. Emma.
 
Credits // Author: Emma Chapman and Laura Gummerman.  Photography: Sarah Rhodes. Photos edited with Lillian from the Lightroom collection of  A Beautiful Mess actions.
  • i’m the same!! NOTHING like an old-fashioned handwritten list. i’ve tried phone/browser apps (Todoist.com is a good one), but for me there is just no substitute for the feeling you get when crossing off accomplished items!

  • This couldn’t come at a better time, my motivation has been lacking a bit. I think to-do lists could help a lot! Can’t wait to hear Part 2.

    Totally off subject, but I love Emma’s outfit in that photo! So cute.

  • I love this list, especially deep cleaning one room! Whenever I clean I feel like I need to clean the whole house and I always hold if off until we have guests coming over, and it takes my whole day and all of my energy! I need to start getting more organized, perhaps I should make a list of my Days Goals! Very inspiring, thanks for sharing!

    http://www.passionandparanoia.com

  • I love this list, especially deep cleaning one room! Whenever I clean I feel like I need to clean the whole house and I always hold if off until we have guests coming over, and it takes my whole day and all of my energy! I need to start getting more organized, perhaps I should make a list of my Days Goals! Very inspiring, thanks for sharing!

    http://www.passionandparanoia.com

  • I was a list person but then I found it too easy to ignore the lists. They can disappear under a book or a magazine or get swiped onto the floor by a curious cat and poof, they’re gone.

    Now I write on brightly colored index cards each thing I have to do and tape them to an empty wall in my bedroom. They’re impossible to ignore! I get more done because I’m constantly reminded of my goals.

    http://www.beautyofwhatyoudo.com

  • I love that idea! I like the idea of a to-do list but I always seem to misplace them or my curious toddler steals them and shreds them. I’ve got a good spot for those index cards. I’ll put that on my to-do list. Ha.

  • I love a good list. I have notebooks all over with lists. I just seem to have trouble keeping one with me. I recently started using EverNote on my phone. Sometimes I leave the completed tasks crossed off but visible so I can see what I’ve accomplished. Other times, I feel satisfaction from seeing the list shrink.

  • A lovely inspiring read ladies… It’s good to know that everyone struggles with staying motivated from time to time.

    I’ve recently taken up list writing and find that it takes the emotion out of the tasks… there’s no time for panic and insecurity when there is a task waiting to be completed and crossed off!

    Looking forward to Part 2 x

  • As I read this, I am totally procrastinating on my assignments (grad student)! I am going to make a list and will look forward to crossing everything off! Thanks for the tips Emma!

  • To do lists rule! I don’t want to know what my life would be like without them haha! Also, couldn’t help but notice the orange filing cabinet and coordinating beanie?! Me want! Haha xxx

  • Haha I started my morning list ritual and then opened my Bloglovin reader to find your post on list making! I totally endorse this method for motivation. I love the Wunderlist app too for people who arent so pen and paper anymore. Great post!!

  • I am a huge believer in the power of to-do lists, and to your point, Emma, I think your bullet #1 is the KEY aspect. Just making a to-do list isn’t necessarily going to help you, because if you fill it up with lower priority tasks or chores then you’re wasting your time, even if you are “checking off the list.”

    Every single morning when I wake up, I sit down on a meditation pillow with my coffee and ask myself this question: “What are the 5 to 7 PRIORITY action steps I can take today that will help me achieve my most important goals?” I’m honest with myself, I keep the list small (too long of a list can induce the old ‘aw, screw it’ attitude!), and I learn to let go or delegate other things that just aren’t that important.

    Thanks for the insight, Emma! Keep up the great work ABM team!

    saramcevoy.com – A Lifestyle and Creative Writing Blog

  • This was so helpful. Thank you, Emma! I am definitely guilty of half-finishing things. I have several half-finished projects sitting on the shelf just waiting to be completed. I’m making my list now! Can’t wait to work hard to check off all the completed goals.

  • I find that making a list is the most important thing to keep me motivated. I have a little picture frame turned into a dry erase board with a “6 most important things” list for me to write on. I write on it each night with 6 things I need to finish the next day. It’s a feeling of accomplishment to cross those items off!
    xx
    Jenny // http://www.mishmoshmakeup.com

  • Cool method! Another thing I’ve done before is write on my bathroom mirror (and clean with glass cleaner the next day), also a giant white board does the same if you’re at your office. 🙂

    -Emma

  • great tips! i am alll about making lists! xo jillian – stop by! I’m hosting a great jewelry giveaway on cornflake dreams

  • Emma, thank you for sharing! I definitely need to hear this “you need to say no to a good (but not great) opportunity” right now. It is so true about distraction, sometimes I forget what my end goal is because it is so far away. And sometimes it is easier to step off the path and follow that “good” opportunity because it may yield immediate results. But taking a step back and writing down that list is the first step to get you back on track!

  • I’m such a list-maker it’s a little absurd. haha

    My two favorite project management products are Asana.com and especially this little notepad planner from Paper + Oats. I hate bogging my calendar down with little to-do’s so it’s super nice to fill up one page and then just toss it in the recycle bin! Asana has an iPhone app so it’s nice to have it for major projects on the go.

    http://www.paperandoats.com/notepads/notepad-planner-double-pack

  • Love this post! I make lists every night for the next day and it totally helps me unwind. Plus, I feel THAT much more organized the next day! It helps when you have pretty stationery to write on, too! 🙂

  • ADDICTED to lists! Crossing them all off = best feeling ever! I love creating long term lists too, like things I want to do each season, so I don’t forget before it’s too late!

    SundayswithStephanie.blogspot.com

  • You ladies are so knowledgeable and so very talented!!!!! Where did you get your sweatshirt? I love the bottom of it. thanks so much, wanda

  • This is great advice for someone trying to start their own company and always having a million things to do. My biggest problem with lists is it seems so overwhelming with all I have to do, I just stop and end up not doing anything. Any advice for this?

    I can’t wait for part 2 – I really need help staying motivated!

  • I am an obsessive maker but I need to work on actually crossing stuff off. I don’t even want to know of unproductive I would be if I didn’t write them.

  • Oh yes, I live by my lists! A new one each and everyday in my notebook, and it feels AWESOME on those days when I can totally cross them off!!

  • Thank you for sharing the power of the list! I myself make to do lists like crazy and find that’s really the only thing that keeps me organized. I take it one step further since I suffer from anxiety and get overwhelmed pretty easily. I allow myself to work on things for 20 minutes and then take a ten minute break for a few hours. I also now only assign five things a day to my to-do list for that specific day, so I don’t look at something and feel discouraged when I only get five things done instead of 30. Now, I can get all five things done, pay myself on the back and accomplish more if I feel like it!

  • I also love making lists and get a rush checking items off. I’m thinking I need that “today’s goals” notepad in my life; where can I find it?

  • I’ve never been a list maker, but the idea of being able to mark things off a list is luring for me. Productivity can help someone as myself stay positive. This is a great post for me today, maybe I will start my list today, just so I can start marking off things I have already gotten done 🙂

    http://www.akacompletemess.com

  • Great tips! Making lists daily keeps me focused, motivated and helps me remember things too. I always have a million thoughts running around in my head and the only way to stay on top of them is to write them down. It definitely helps me reach my goals when I have things laid out in front of me.
    I thought maybe I was the only one who felt such satisfaction from successfully crossing things off my lists! 🙂

  • List making is essential for me! I love the feeling of crossing things off the list and the freedom of having nothing left on the list for the day. It definitely keeps me motivated!

  • Great post! Thanks for the reminder to put it in writing. Sometimes there is so much swirling around in my head. 🙂

  • Have you tried a bullet journal?? It’s like a list on steroids! First thing in a while that keeps me organized!

  • List making is something that I love, but don’t practice often because my mind is usually set on go, go, go! But there is something entirely satisfying about crossing off those lines written down on paper.

  • We recently started with the Wunderlist and it works! Already the name Wunderlist is much more positive than to do list 🙂

  • The only problem I find with list making is that I use them to procrastinate from doing the things on the list that I actually should be doing! haha. x

    poundingyounghearts.blogspot.com.au

  • I completely agree with these tips. I have been doing them for a while now and they really do work. It is all about them lists!!

    Aniqa Dreams

  • I LOVE Lists! Maybe a little TOO much;) But seriously, they do help me find focus, and I like seeing a whole day be filled with to-dos that keep me on track! Do you ever write down silly things you have to do just to cross it off? I love that trick. I start either from the hardest item first and then everything else seems less tricky, or I do a ton of the little things so then I have energy to say to myself “see?! You did ALL that! Keep going!”

  • I love this posts, thanks ladies!

    I believe 110% in lists – I create and use them everyday – I believe it is what has gotten me where I have gotten to in my career. When I was a General Manager of a five star hotel for four years, the ONLY thing that kept me on top of “everything” were my daily lists – electronic, and on paper to match.

    Love this!

  • Totally unrelated to to-do lists but I must know where to find that “I’M VERY BUSY” clutch/bag!

  • I am exactly the same I need to do lists! But I hardly ever finish ever single thing thats on there because of over-planning.. its quite hard to make a realistic to-do lists for me I wonder if anyone has tips on that?

    Liefs,
    Yara

  • Haha, I like making lists BECAUSE it’s a distraction. Making lists takes time in which I don’t work. And then the list is getting fuller and fuller and I’m just feeling worse.

    So I’m making a new list with the most important things and everything starts again… 😀

  • Thanks for this, Emma! I’ve been stuck in a rut lately with my art shop and I think that this will really help. I can’t wait to see the next motivation post! This was so helpful. <3 Keep being awesome, guys!

  • I started to make lists this week ! I was lost ! I wanna make so many things in the same time that at the end I forgot everything ! The lists works! I feel you more zen in my brain and this week is easier ! Now my goal is continue to doing this 😉 Thanks for your always great conseils 😉

  • Nothing is truer than this!! You guys keep Lillie and I on our toes and inspired everyday. Together, us girls are pushing forward, fearlessly, taking leaps of faith, and when I read words like this, it makes us want to push forward in our business even more. Thank you for being AWESOME!!!!

  • I love making lists they really inspire me to finish the tasks as soon as possible xx great tips thanks for sharing xx

  • It’s so great to read your tips, Emma! And also to see how everyone who has commented makes lists (or not) – I’m a serious list maker too. Anyone else do that thing where you do something and then realise it’s not on your list, so you have to write it on just so you can cross it off?! Just me…? Here’s to feeling motivated! 🙂

  • Ahhh seriously though, why is list making so addictive. I started writing daily ‘achievement’ lists about three months ago because I always found myself to be a real scatter brain and I would get annoyed at myself for getting side tracked and when I started writing daily lists of what I wanted to achieve that day, it made me so much more focused!

    thisandthatplease.co.uk

  • Definitely! I love a good old fashioned to do list, I always list at least 3 things a day and don’t finish work until they are complete – great feeling!

  • I love making lists – colorful ones at that! It is such a simple method to stay organized and feel effective. I do notice, however, that excessively long lists can get cumbersome and more stressful leaving you wondering where to start. I read a wonderful tip in how to be more effective to make daily lists that are a subset over your overall list. To do this, you would pick a manageable number of tasks that you believe you can accomplish to that day and stick to those. This forces you to prioritize what might be a very long list of things to do, kepe you focus and feeling effective.

    Thanks for the post!

    – Sugar & Roses
    http://www.sugarandroses.net/

  • I love making lists – colorful ones at that! It is such a simple method to stay organized and feel effective. I do notice, however, that excessively long lists can get cumbersome and more stressful leaving you wondering where to start. I read a wonderful tip in how to be more effective to make daily lists that are a subset over your overall list. To do this, you would pick a manageable number of tasks that you believe you can accomplish to that day and stick to those. This forces you to prioritize what might be a very long list of things to do, kepe you focus and feeling effective.

    Thanks for the post!

    – Sugar & Roses
    http://www.sugarandroses.net/

  • What a great post! I am an avid list maker so I totally agree with Emma on the benefits of a structured list. I also ran my first half marathon in 2012 and was a sobbing mess when I crossed the finish line! Congrats on your accomplishment and thanks for sharing this.

  • Emma, ah well let me know what you think! I love the interface. And me too, but its funny I only use the notepad app because it literally reminds me of writing with pen and paper for the pure sake of the lines. I’m a purist at heart I guess 🙂
    xxL

  • Thanks for the list-making tip! After I read this I went home after work with my what-to-do-after-work list and got everything on my list done! I usually get home and feel scattered with things I want to do in my free time so making a list kept me on track and it was actually very enjoyable! Great post!

  • I love a list too, and you’re right that they really keep you on track. I’d love to see a post about MAKING the goals, if that makes sense. Not in the sense of making a list, but more in the sense of setting out to work out exactly what it is that you really want to achieve? That would be really helpful and interesting.

    Owl Girl | A London lifestyle blog

  • I LOVE lists! If I’m having a particularly un-motivational day, I often write things on that I’ve already done or that are super easy just to get me going haha. Todoist.com is great for lists and gives you points as you complete each task 🙂

  • I have always believed in lists and they have kept me moving forward most of the time…. until I have too many… then I have to rewrite them