When thinking about long-term goals and how to make a scheduled breakdown of all of the tasks you need to accomplish, life can become pretty overwhelming. Well, it doesn’t have to be quite as overwhelming as you think. Unlike planning daily tasks, it may be better to plan long-term goals by breaking larger tasks down into weekly or biweekly segments of time, and once these weekly or biweekly tasks are known, breaking them into smaller, “bite-sized” tasks.
I’m going to give an example of how to break down a long-term goal with a personal example. This particular example is about the arduous process I went through for getting into graduate school. I was on a mission, not just to get in to a top graduate school for my degree, but to attain a research position in which I received a monthly stipend and tuition fully paid for. I did end up achieving this, and I wouldn’t have stood a chance if I hadn’t made an organized schedule, or if I hadn’t followed my “pyramid” process which is discussed toward the end of this post.
So, now that I knew what my goal was (getting into graduate school), I had to make a plan. I first thought about what I needed to have to get me in. I made list, and this was an impressive CV, which is basically a resume for graduate school. This means I needed to have research experience, possibly some extracurricular activities/internships, and a respectable GRE score. Without these, my aspirations of getting into a top graduate school would dissipate fast. Therefore, tackling these tasks is what I needed to start scheduling for. As a result, I made a breakdown of larger, biweekly goals I wanted to accomplish for each of these. I contacted a couple of my professors and found myself a research position within the first two weeks. I found myself a position in an honor society I was accepted into within the following two weeks. Then, I made a two-month long study schedule for the GRE exam. The most difficult of these to breakdown into smaller “bite-sized” tasks was studying for the GRE. So what did I do? I signed up for the exam two months in advance, and I set aside 1 hour each day for studying. I studied vocabulary for 15 minutes each morning and mathematics for 45 minutes each evening. For mathematics, the first two weeks of studying would be arithmetic, the next two weeks algebra, then geometry, and finally data analysis. For vocabulary, I would study 10 new works each day.
By knowing what I absolutely needed to do, I was able to make a schedule and stick to it. Again, these tasks were the ones that had to be done for me to even start thinking about the next steps in the application process. After the completion of the needs, it was time to organize and reflect. By reflecting, I mean making sure that I had absolutely accomplished all of the initial tasks. Then, organize the “middle-ground” tasks and schedule accordingly.
The “middle-ground” tasks for attaining a full-ride, research position were as follows:
- Research university programs and find the best fit for me.
- Read through all of the professor profiles for the schools I had condensed into my top 10.
- Find between 1-3 professors at each school and send them a personalized email explaining my past research experience, GRE scores, and my desire for becoming a research assistant.
- Write my statement of purpose.
- Ask 3-4 professors if they would write me a letter of recommendation.
- Complete my CV.
- Actually apply to the schools.
Now that I established my “middle-ground” tasks, I organized a schedule for myself, again, breaking tasks down into one or two week intervals. For example, the first week: find the most fitting schools and corresponding professors. The second week: complete my CV so I could attach it on the emails I sent to said professors. The third week: send out emails and follow up with any responses I received, and so on. The most important part though, was NOT cramming each task into one day, since that’s how mistakes occur. By spending around 1 hour each day on these tasks, I was able to take my time and properly finish my work.
Finally, after all the emails and applications were sent out, the last major step in the process of getting into grad school was “following through”. Just because the hard work is over, doesn’t mean that you can slack off. Quite the opposite really. This is the time when you need to look back and make sure every single task was accomplished 100%, with 100% of your effort put into it.
All in all, I like to think of long-term project scheduling and organization almost like the classic pyramid diagram, where located at the bottom of the pyramid are your needs, the tasks you must complete before your goal can even begin to look like a reality. The middle of the pyramid being the “middle-ground” tasks, which are essential tasks you can accomplish after the needs for them are met. And the top of the pyramid being the “following through” of everything you have completed to assure yourself that you are absolutely finished.
My concluding thoughts for you:
Break larger tasks into manageable daily tasks, no longer than an hour or two long.
Make a schedule and stick to it!
Look back every week or two to make sure you are on track.
Follow the “pyramid” process that I mentioned in the last paragraph.