An important part of motivation is to always have a reason to keep going. A target that you have to hit, so you can justify those early starts or late nights.
With that in mind, here’s a guide on how to set up a timeline:
Visualise your end point
What does your end goal look like? Be as specific as possible. Starting at the end might seem odd, but before you get started, you need to know where you’re going. There’s no point making “learn Japanese” your first task on your timeline if your goal is to be an Olympic triathlete for the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo. All that will get you is the chance to say “I wish I trained harder” in perfect Japanese when you’re puking on the side of the road in the running leg.
Set a deadline
OK, so we’ve got our finish line, now we need to know how soon we need to get there.
It’s important to have a deadline because without it, you’ll always feel like you have “plenty of time” when you might really be badly behind schedule.
You also need to create a sense of urgency. No matter how far in the future your plan is, you’ll always wish you had more time to do it, so make sure you’re on top of it early.
List the things you need to do
This means everything. Say if your goal is to finish a triathlon within two years, you’ll need to plan a diet, training plan, buy the gear (shoes, bike, helmet, swimwear) get a swimming coach to look at your stroke, join a cycling club, make sure you can complete all the legs of the event, separately and together, make sure your health insurance covers any injuries you might have, do you need to stock up on Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass
and protein bars
… The list goes on and on. The more precise your list, the better prepared you’ll be, and the better prepared you are, the better your chances of success!
Make this list a plan
Sort the list into time and priority. For example, if the swimming leg is your weakest, learning how to improve that is a higher priority than getting a new bike. You may have to do both, but if you have to choose, go for the higher priority.
Every day, there should be something you can do to bring you closer to your goal. Even if it’s just “Eating right” or “getting enough sleep". Aim for constant improvements.
Make a record of it
When you write it down, it’s there forever. Post it up somewhere so that you see it every day. Put it on your fridge, or behind your front door, whatever suits you, but make it part of your world, and put it somewhere that it will constantly remind you of your goal, and where you should be to achieve it.
Plans are great. They let you know what you should be doing, and when, but you still need to actually DO something. Without that, you don’t have a plan, you’ve got a wish list.
Know that there’ll be setbacks
There will be things that come up that will hold you back. You might get injured, or have to take time off because of work commitments. These things happen, but it’s no reason to give up on your timeline completely. You have to know that you won't get everything go smoothly, so include some slack time in your plan. If you end up ahead of schedule, then that's even better!
Try to get back on track asap
Once you have a setback, the best way to recover is to get back on track. If you need to revise your timeline, then do it, but make sure that it’s still doable, and you’re not pushing yourself too hard. If you need to take time off because of injury, emergencies or other unavoidable circumstances, that's fine, but reset your schedule asap. If you leave your return to your timeline opened ended, it's easier to put it off for another day. Then days become weeks, months and even years. Plan to get back into it, and you'll be more likely to do it sooner.
Keep track of your progress
Make a daily record of how you’re doing. Are you improving on last week, last month and last year? How much closer are you to your goal? After you’ve been at it for a while, you’ll see that you’re closer to the end than you are to where you started, and this can be the biggest encouragement of all!
Enjoy the ride
Don’t forget that the purpose of all goals and plans is so that you can have the life you want to live. It doesn’t matter if the goal is a personal, sporting, work or even relationship one, if you can learn to give your maximum effort and enjoy yourself while you do it, you’ll find that the road is so much smoother than you might think.
So that’s the basics of making a timeline, and sticking to it. It's a fluid thing, and it may not turn out exactly as you expect, but you will get there eventually. It’s not an easy task, but when you get it done, when you look back and realise how far you've come, it makes it all worth it.