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How to set realistic goals and tackle your to-do list

to do listBy Stephanie Castillo for

You have the best of intentions when you make goals—Productivity! No more guilt! Fitting into your old jeans!—but the way you’re going about it is all wrong, suggests a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

The key? Hitting the right balance between no planning and over-planning—something most of us don’t accomplish all that well. According to study authors, being successful with a goal requires planning the specific steps you’ll take to achieve it, essentially the how, what, when, and where.

The problem comes in when you try to apply this strategy to multiple goals, says study co-author Amy Dalton, PhD, an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

“Imagine you have six things to do today—should you plan out exactly how you can get all six things done?” she says. “No, because when you start planning it all out, you quickly realize how difficult it will be to do it all.” In other words, too much planning can make you more apt to get overwhelmed and toss all the goals.

So what’s a busy gal—with multiple goals—to do?  Here are the key steps for realistically tackling your to-do list…

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