“Don’t dilute your goals” is excellent advice from Lynnae over at BeingFrugal.net. She points out the power of focus: focus on your emergency fund first instead of spreading your efforts between that and debt reduction, and you’ll see success sooner. And one success often leads to another.
I totally agree with this idea in theory, but in practice I have a terrible time focusing on just one thing. I try and try, but find it incredibly difficult to do. In case there are others out there in the same boat, here are some of the coping methods I’ve used to achieve my goals despite their diluted state.
Scan for urgency. If there’s something that you’re much better off accomplishing on an urgent schedule, put it at the top of your list. An emergency fund would fall into this category.
Break the most urgent goal into a large number of much smaller tasks. Taken together, these smaller tasks will help you achieve the main goal. (But you’ll still be able to flit happily from mini-goal to mini-goal.) I might break a goal like “build my emergency fund” into subtasks like these:
1. Write mini-goals on calendar.
2. Open high-yield online savings account.
3. Link checking account.
4. Send $x to account on Tuesday.
5. Send $y to account each payday.
5. Photograph silverware to list on ebay.
6. Write ebay listing for silverware.
7. Post silverware ad.
8. Send $$ from silverware sale to emergency fund.
9. Go through house to find additional items to sell.
10. Photograph couch.
11. List couch on Craigslist.
12. Send $$ from couch sale to emergency fund.
If I do even ONE of these subtasks each day, it won’t be long at all before I’ve reached my real goal. But nothing on the list takes more than a few minutes to accomplish. And there are lots of opportunities to cross things off my list, giving me a sense of progress and accomplishment.
Organize the remaining goals. Next, I take my remaining goals and list them in the order I think is best. I try to intermix easily-completed goals (like “increase my 401(k) contribution”) with goals that will take significantly more time (like “have at least $300,000 in liquid funds”). This serves two main purposes. When I get bored with my #1 goal (in this case, “build my emergency fund”) I can scan the list for other things to do. I’ll be reminded that I want to have a large amount of money in liquid funds, which will serve to reaffirm that goal and make it more likely to come to pass. I’ll also see that “Oh, I could go increase my 401(k) contribution right now while I’m thinking of it. Lemme go do that…” Regardless, I make progress.
Rinse and repeat. Once you’ve accomplished your most urgent goal, you can rinse & repeat the steps for the next most important goal.