The alarm goes off and another day begins. You trudge into the kitchen or head to the shower.

Do you know where your goals are?

Relax. This isn’t going to be another motivational productivity post. (If that’s what you want, though, there are plenty of those online.) At the risk of sounding like one of those posts, if even for a moment, I’ll share with you two meaningful quotes that have to do with goal-setting and planning:  

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

“If it doesn’t scare you, you’re probably not dreaming big enough.” – Tory Burch

One is from a legendary statesman circa 1776; the other is from a modern-day CEO and philanthropist.

Yet both of these statements are helpful in answering that big question—the one likely nagging at you after the dust settles from the morning rush or in the quiet hours of the evening. “Is what I’m doing today actually getting me to where I want to be? And just where is that, anyway?”

  • First, you must plan, and plan well. You have to know where you want to go and be able to measure how to get there. (Gulp.)
  • Second, you must regularly and deliberately shatter your own personal limitations by doing things that seem scary. (Double gulp.)

What Running Has Taught Me About Goal-Setting

Building Actionable Plans

Maybe you’re like me in that your goals have been more than elusive; they’ve been blurry at best. Perhaps they continue to be. In the more isolated environment of remote work, it’s easy to find yourself wondering how you can advance in your role or lose focus by mistaking being busy for being productive. In the course of struggling with goal-setting in my professional life, I’ve accidentally mastered it. Like sneaking in through a side door, running has helped put me on the fast track toward my goals. This occurred totally by chance.

Runners are generally of stubborn ilk. Few people possess a masochistic desire to exert themselves on uneven terrain, in uncomfortable weather, or, generally speaking, when they could be relaxing or working with a latte (extra whip). I used to raise an eyebrow at weekend warriors or night joggers I’d pass while driving. Now I see them and feel a kindred spirit; I see them and wish that it was me pounding the pavement or hitting the trail.

So it happened that four years ago, I—a stubborn person who’d run the mile back in middle school track—stumbled reluctantly back into running. I was lured in by the appeal of a “Couch to 5K” program.

Sprinting Toward Your Goals

Four years, 12 races, a few minor injuries and 1,500-plus miles later, here are the principles that I’ve successfully applied to my remote work:

  • Think quantitatively about progress. Measuring and tracking my weekly, monthly, and yearly mileage moved me from the 5K to marathon training. Gradually increasing from 10 miles per week to 15 has brought me to over 650 miles this year. I use an app to manage it all, but it’s I who makes sense of the data and adjusts accordingly. This didn’t happen overnight. It took time, patience, and, above all, tenacity to overcome the excuses and inevitable sidetracking that happens in day-to-day life. Now that I’ve had the experience of what it means to persist at all odds, I can apply that mentality to my work.
  • Setting, meeting, and exceeding goals is possible. How better to stay motivated than to glance over your shoulder and see how far you’ve come? Every incremental step forward gets you closer to that big, elusive dream. (Completing a half-marathon this spring made a marathon suddenly seem within reach.) Previously, I was coasting through my remote work with a few punctuated successes and failures. Now I see how the smaller projects I prioritize today can move me toward where I want to be in five years.
  • Be accountable, no matter what. Life is tough and unpredictable. You might be taking care of a sick parent, young children, or a spouse with a disability; you might be dealing with none of these things, and still struggle to build work and a personal life into a 24-hour period. When you commit stubbornly and don’t cut yourself slack, you build a habit toward maximizing the hours you have. You don’t take the easiest course, but the muscle you build prepares you for more. (Predawn and late-night runners, I salute you.)
  • Focused effort leads to big results. When you narrow your focus to only those tasks that make an impact on your goals, you do better quality work. And guess what? You wind up dedicating your efforts and attention toward sharpening your own abilities. Over time, you learn how to handle your unique energy peaks and valleys, and can manage your reserves more strategically. As a result, you move forward faster, suffering fewer setbacks along the way.
  • Flexibility is a privilege. How’s this for a win-win catch 22: remote work has enabled me to become a better runner; becoming a better runner has enabled me to be a more dedicated remote worker. Having a flexible job means that you can easily build fitness activities into your morning, day, or evening. Moving around makes you healthier and improves your mood and cognitive health. You’ve been given an opportunity to bring athletic activity into your life, on your terms. Don’t squander it.