Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

How much would your life change if you knew that achieving your wildest dreams could take as little as 12 minutes a day?

Think of the unlimited possibilities that provides! Most of us believe that we simply do not have time to accomplish the goals we secretly wish to achieve. Instead of setting out to tackle our dreams, we whittle away the minutes complaining that there is just not enough time in the day.

In actuality, you do not need a lot of time to achieve your dreams, and you do not have to take a sabbatical from your busy life to achieve a long-term goal. Anything you wish to achieve—large or small—can be completed in tandem with numerous other important life tasks, such as spending time with family and friends, working a full-time job, maintaining your household, and engaging in the hobbies or activities that you love.

All you need is persistence, effective time management . . . and at least 12 minutes a day.

Step 1: Break Down Your Goal into Small, Manageable Tasks

Whether it is learning a new language, losing weight, or writing a book, some goals seem so daunting that you simply do not know where to begin. To get started, break down that huge goal of yours into a to-do list of smaller, more manageable tasks. Create a checklist of every item you will need to complete to take you closer to your goal.

I always advise graduate students to break down their thesis projects into 12- to 15-minute tasks. Something as simple as typing a title page or reading a research article will move them closer to their overall goal. Small tasks are less overwhelming to tackle, and they can easily be accomplished in a day. Presto! You are well on your way!

Step 2: Create Daily, Weekly, and Monthly To-Do Lists

Your checklist of tasks is likely to be lengthy. Try not to overwhelm yourself by dealing with the total list. Instead, focus on a schedule of hourly, daily, or weekly tasks that you would like to complete.

For example, I was determined to run a marathon on my 40th birthday and mapped out a six-month training program to prepare. I posted a weekly schedule on my refrigerator so I could easily refer to what I needed to accomplish each day, for example, running a specific number of minutes or miles. I focused only on the accomplishment outlined for the current day and did not look any farther down the road. When the week was over, I posted another schedule for the upcoming week. I knew that if I did exactly what was posted on the refrigerator each day, I would be ready for the marathon when the time came. That removed any fear I might have had of not being able to complete my goal.

Step 3: Make a Commitment to Work Every Day

Clearly, accomplishing goals like writing a thesis, losing weight, or running a marathon takes a significant amount of time and effort. As such, it is critical to keep the momentum going by making a commitment to work toward your goal every day. On some days your commitment can be as little as 12 minutes; on other days you may log hours. The point is that every day, you need to take some time and some action . . . even if you do not feel like it.

Each morning, start your day by asking what action you will take to move toward your goal. Refer often to the checklist you made of all the small items that must be completed in order to make forward progress. Resolve yourself to work on one of those items each and every day for a minimum of 12 minutes. No task is too small, and no item is too insignificant; every action will move you closer to your goal. End every day by reinforcing your to-do items for the following day.

Step 4: Use Rewards as Motivators

When you meet a deadline or complete a significant accomplishment, reward yourself by doing something you enjoy, such as shopping or sharing coffee with a friend, renting a movie, or indulging in an ice cream. Having a tangible reward, however small, can provide added motivation to get work done.

Tell yourself that you will not allow yourself to enjoy these special “luxuries” until you have completed your daily task. For example, I wrote my dissertation during the NBA finals. I would not watch the game unless I had finished my daily checklist items. This allowed me to write with purpose and afterward watch the game without a sense of guilt.

Step 5: Always Have a Backup Plan

It is easy to jump out of bed and accomplish your scheduled task when you are filled with joy and enthusiasm or have nothing else planned for the day. But what about when you are rushed for time or your enthusiasm has waned? For those times it is important to establish routines to help motivate you and also to plan ahead of time what type of alternative solutions you can fall back on should conflicts arise.

When I was training for the marathon, there were many days when I did not feel inspired to jump out of bed and into my running shoes at 5:00 A.M. The toughest moment was when the alarm clock sounded; I was always tempted to hit the snooze bar and void my training for the day. Knowing this, I set a routine to make getting out the door easier. Each night, I laid my workout clothes at the end of my bed so that I could reach them as soon as I awoke. After dressing, I called my sister and stayed on the phone all the way to the track. By then, there was no turning back.

Sometimes routines alone will not cut it. There will always be circumstances when the openings you have faithfully scheduled to complete your daily tasks are interrupted, be it by family emergencies, impromptu meetings, or an injury that needs treatment. Despite your best intentions, conflicts such as these can force you to reschedule or abandon your plans.
Take heart: Every day and every 12 minutes provide another opportunity. When you are waiting in the airport, grocery line, or dentist’s office, revert to a backup plan. For example, if you are writing a book, carry a tape recorder to record ideas while you wait. The most important thing is to just do something.

When lack of motivation is the issue, turn back to your trusty checklist. If your scheduled task was to write a key point for a thesis but you just do not feel up to it today, find and complete another—smaller—task. You do not have to complete every item on your checklist every day . . . but in order to be successful, you do have to work at least 12 minutes each day and complete at least one thing on your checklist.

Go Achieve Your Dreams!

Following these simple steps means that there is no need to procrastinate pursuing your goals any longer. Come on, you can work for just 12 minutes a day! So set your watch, cell phone, microwave, or timer and see what you can accomplish in that time frame. Those minutes will eventually add up to the realization of your dreams!

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways3.html

Author's Bio: 

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways.html

Dr. Wendy Carter was raised in a home challenged by poverty, alcoholism, and abuse; the statistics said that she would not graduate high school or attend college. Ignoring those statistics, she earned four postbaccalaureate degrees from Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, even after becoming a single parent. That 50 percent of all graduate students fail to graduate prompted Dr. Carter to develop an interactive CD-ROM, TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished, designed to alleviate the high attrition rate among graduate students. As a motivational speaker, Dr. Carter continues to be an inspiration and invaluable resource to students and educators.