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Adult Learner

The unconventional guide to long-term focus

December 21, 2016 by Lindsay Racen

It’s easy to identify the benefits of applying your attention to short-term tasks and feel a sense of accomplishment by checking items off a set list. However, sometimes the more challenging scenario arises when you try to fit those and other responsibilities into a long-term focus. Discover some ways that can help you develop this extended perspective.

Tips for finding your focus

For many short-term goals we vacillate between whether multitasking or monotasking fits the situation the best. Although both have their own value, by seeking quick fixes or only looking a few steps ahead, we may lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. Mind Tools, an organization that helps professionals gain essential skills for their careers, shares the following simple tips to help you find your long-term focus.

Identify meaningful long-term goals

One of the most obvious but most important factors to remember is that long-term goals might take many years to complete. Although life and priorities may fluctuate between setting and achieving your goals, there is one area that generally stays consistent through it all – your values. Leverage this common constant and align your goals with them and follow the process below:

  • Set specific long-term goals – Begin by segmenting goals for the important areas of your life such as career, family, finances and education.
  • Review these goals – Are you excited when you think of them? Do you feel strongly enough to endure them over time? Do you find the type of work involved with them interesting?
  • Evaluate and revise – If your answers to these questions lean toward the negative remove them from your list or revise them so they move you towards something that really matters to you.

It takes passion and a strong sense of purpose to stay focused on long-term goals which are why this process is so important to laying the foundation before pursuing them.

Write down tour goals

It’s great to know what your goals are, but it’s even better to visualize them. The best thing to do is to word them in a way that communicates why they are important to you, and place them in a location where you can see them regularly.

Mind Tools provides the example of writing them on index cards that are kept in your wallet or purse, or print them on a sheet of paper and tack them near your workstation. Don’t be afraid to get creative with this step. Those that are artistically-driven may create a photo montage or painting to frame and display nearby, similar to an inspiration board. The more analytical individuals may construct some sort of table or graph within Excel that they can reference that speaks to them. Take advantage of your strengths and mold your goals around them.

Once you have constructed your form of visual representation for your goals, set a reminder to spend a few days reviewing them so that you can keep them in focus.

Strengthen self-regulation

According to researchers Thomas Bateman and Bruce Barry, self-regulation, or the ability to control your emotions and impulses, is the single most important factor in achieving your long-term goals. In their 2012 study, “Masters of the Long Haul” they explore the different elements that go into developing self-regulation including:

  • Self-Discipline – This trait helps you keep moving forward and working hard, even when you don’t feel like doing something.
  • Self-Efficacy – This is your belief in your personal abilities to accomplish your goals.
  • Self-Confidence – This sub-category represents the pride you feel for committing to personal improvement.
  • Locus of Control – A person who has an internal locus of control believe they are responsible for their own success.


These are just some of the many qualities that you can work on to help motivate yourself to keep on pressing. Start with these basics and expand to find additional traits that work well for your situation.

Make time for your goals

This part may be the most challenging step throughout the process, especially when you have work, school, family and social commitments. Like many regiments that improve healthy living, long-term goals require regular workouts. This means balancing them with the many short-term objectives and urgent tasks.

To do this, determine which tasks you must or should do, and which you can delegate or eliminate from your list. When using this method, you are able to free up time to focus on activities that directly contribute to your long-term goals. Similar to many work projects, you can create an action plan to help integrate each category with one another so that you can move forward reliably on both.

Start with developing positive habits that can help you maximize efficiency and take action to overcome the bad habits that are sucking up your much-needed time. Find a time in the day that allows you to be free of distractions to work on your long-term objectives to minimize the interruptions that may derail you from the path.

Stay on course

It’s easy to stray from the path and get distracted by everything life throws at you. To avoid losing focus you can keep a record of new ideas as they arise but resist taking any action on them immediately. Wait until the time comes to review your current goals and determine if those ideas contribute to your long-term objectives. If they do align, then set them as sub-goals within the bigger picture and if they don’t, keep note of them so you can analyze them properly when you set new goals.

This cycle helps prevent you from changing direction impulsively and makes you consider each one in-depth. It is also important to develop resilience and to maintain positivity so that you can stay on course when you experience setbacks.

Recognize progress

You might achieve your long-term goals years or even decades into the future depending on the nature of each. This long stretch is why it’s important to recognize and celebrate the small steps along the way. You created a visual representation of your goals for a reason. Remember to take a few minutes daily to look at your progress towards your goal, and pat yourself on the back for what you’ve done, even if you haven’t produced meaningful results. Rewarding yourself for reaching large milestones can take go a long way. Mind Tools says:


Research shows that it's easier to stay motivated if you see your goals as an opportunity to learn something new, rather than as a means of doing something. To use this to your advantage when you review your progress, think about what you have learned, rather than about what you have achieved.

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