Careers

A bestselling author's 3-step strategy for making your goals achievable

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook
Photo by Bloomberg
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook

At Facebook's offices, the walls are emblazoned with quotes capturing how co-founder Mark Zuckerberg views the workplace.

Among them: "Done is better than perfect."

The statement emphasizes completing projects over striving to build pristine products that never come to fruition. According to bestselling author and career coach Jon Acuff, that way of thinking is what sets successful people apart from others.

Conventional wisdom says success is just a matter of hard work, but as Acuff writes, that's wrong, and potentially even damaging. In his recently published book, "Finish," Acuff argues that what prevents people from completing goals isn't laziness, it's the desire for perfection.

"Perfectionism messes us up by making us aim too high," Acuff writes. "We tend to set goals that are foolishly optimistic."

Building relationships is key to advancing in your career, says Jon Acuff (pictured).
Photo by Jeremy Cowart
Building relationships is key to advancing in your career, says Jon Acuff (pictured).

Using data from a survey of 1,000 people enrolled in an online course he taught, Acuff developed a three-step strategy to help people be more productive. Here's how it works:

1. Set realistic goals

The biggest mistake most people make, Acuff says, is setting a goal that's just unrealistic.

"Cut your goal in half," Acuff writes.

By this he means, make your goal smaller than what you initially envisioned. For example, instead of aspiring to run a marathon, aim to run a 5K. If you want to start a company, try getting 100 customers to buy your product first.

To test his theory, Acuff surveyed 1,000 people from his course. More than 60 percent of respondents said they achieved more when they made their goal manageable. What's more, 90 percent said reducing their goal made them feel happier about working toward it, because it seemed doable.

If you can't realistically cut your goal in half, try giving yourself more time to complete it.

2. Prioritize

According to Acuff, there are two main options for ambitious people. The first is to
"attempt more than is humanly possible, and fail."

The second is to cut back on your work in other areas of your life in order focus on your goal. In Acuff's words, "choose what to bomb."

For example, if you want to compose music at night but usually fold laundry then, get comfortable with doing a quick, shoddy job that takes you half the time. Or if you go out every weekend with friends when you would otherwise work on your blog, get more comfortable saying that you can't meet up.

Being strategic with your time and prioritizing your goals can make a big difference.

"You have some things that can wait," Acuff writes.

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Granger Wootz/Getty Images

3. Have fun

Common goals, like exercising daily or waking up earlier, aren't inherently enjoyable. But if you want to see more success, Acuff writes, you have to create incentives for yourself.

For example, if you've woken up early for three out of five days of a workweek, buy yourself
a cup of artisanal coffee to motivate yourself to do the same next week. Have a workout buddy you go on jogs with twice a week to make it more fun, and hold yourself more accountable. Light your favorite candle only when you're working on your personal project, to create a positive association, as Acuff did.

"Fun not only counts," he writes, "but it's necessary if you want to beat perfectionism and get to the finish."

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