The term “dreams” brings to mind something fanciful or impractical, a wistful longing, or flight of the imagination. Maybe it’s that kind of connotation that makes it difficult to dedicate the resources and time necessary if our dreams are to ever become reality. Dreams don’t have to be vague, romantic notions; given the same kind of attention and focus we put into the practical areas of our lives—our jobs, for example—we can have our cake and eat it too. We can work and be practical, prosperous “responsible adults” —very exciting stuff, right?— while keeping our dreams alive.
Here are a few tips on achieving that balance.
Staying Focused on Your Dreams When You Have Bills to Pay
1.) Identify milestones
Dreams often start off with a monolithic goal. Monolithic goals are hard to manage, progress can be hard to track, and it is easy to become discouraged as the goal post seems to move further and further away. Break your larger goal down into smaller, more manageable milestones. Instead of saying“My goal is to write a book” and leaving it at that, create smaller goals that will lead to that outcome, such as “My goal is to complete one chapter a week” or “My goal is to take a writing class.”
Once you’ve created smaller, manageable goals, write them down. Seeing your goals in print helps to make them real and gives you something concrete to refer to. Goals that are only in your head have a tendency to get adjusted on the fly. It’s hard to know how far you’ve run if you keep changing the location of the finish line, and doing this defeats the purpose of creating goals in the first place. One of the great benefits of documenting is the act of checking things off when you’re done, which can provide a tangible sense of progress.
It is also helpful to review your goals daily. Make reading your list of goals part of your morning routine.
3.) Create deadlines
Waiting for inspiration to strike to write that hit song you’ve been wanting to create, or for the perfect time to sit down and fill out that small business loan, gives you every excuse to not get it done. It may not be “romantic” to think about creating deadlines for dream goals, but it’s a great way to ensure that you make progress. Setting deadlines keeps you moving forward through your goals, bringing you closer and closer to where you want to be.
Be realistic about those deadlines though! It’s common for people to be overly optimistic about setting deadlines. Have you ever told someone, “Oh, I can get that done in a couple of days” only to have a couple of days pass and realize you didn’t have time to do it after all, or that some complications arose for which you hadn’t accounted? Try not to do that to yourself. You’re your own boss in this situation, so give yourself time. Be realistic about what else is going on in your life. You’ll probably be excited about making progress on your dream! That’s awesome, but don’t try to rush everything.
4.) Schedule time
This is closely related to the preceding point. How many times have you said you’d do something when you have the time, but the time never seems to make itself available? In the long list of daily practical tasks it’s far too easy to neglect dream-related tasks when time is short. Set a schedule and stick to it! Whether it’s an hour a night or two hours over the weekend or first thing in the morning; you know what works best for you, when your energy is at its peak. The most important thing is that you dedicate time to your goals instead of leaving them to be done “when you get around to it”. It’s far too easy for other things to creep up and occupy whatever free space you had, pushing your dream tasks to the side. Block some time off and protect it.
5.) Be accountable
Accountability can be hard, especially when you’re pursuing something that’s supposed to be pleasurable. How can I even put “accountability” and “dreams” in the same sentence? If you actually want to make progress on your dreams, you have to hold yourself accountable. Just as missing a deadline for work would likely result in a reevaluation of your priorities and planning, so should missing a deadline you set for yourself when working towards your dream. Why did you miss the deadline? What could you change to help make it easier to meet the next deadline?
Use others to help you be accountable. Something as simple as posting a status on Facebook saying, “I will have x done by x time” can be enough to help keep you motivated and moving in the right direction. Join a forum or online group related to the area you’re dealing in. This can be helpful in fueling your ambition by aligning you with like minded people, and seeing their success stories and accomplishments can be a great motivator for staying on track.
6.) Celebrate accomplishments
When you meet your deadlines, reward yourself! Take time to acknowledge your accomplishment, and share it with others! We sometimes find it much easier to give attention to the things we feel we didn’t do well than to pat ourselves on the backs for accomplishments. Change that!
The idea behind these steps is simple. In a world where our practical obligations take up an increasing amount of our time, leaving the pursuit of our dreams to happenstance will almost assuredly result in them staying just that: dreams. Purposeful planning and consideration will help to ensure that our dreams aren’t relegated to afterthoughts. By giving them the focus and discipline they deserve, you can maintain the balance of practical living without neglecting your dreams.