You don’t get anywhere without a goal
If you know me, you know I’m a big believer in announcing things once they’re done, or at least mostly done. I don’t usually publish my goals or talk about them, unless you’re someone whose advice I need in order to accomplish them. There is now science behind this strategy, showing that if you talk about your goals, you get the same rush (and social congratulations) as if you actually accomplish them. So shhh.
I’m not doing an about face with regards to telling you my goals. Instead, I’m going to share my strategy for goal planning and how it works. I’ve tried a bunch of different systems but I think I’ve finally stumbled across one that works for me.
I learned at one point that while long-term goals are nice, they don’t really make it easy to break down into actionable, daily steps. So I have year goals, three month goals, weekly goals and daily tasks. Yes, that sounds like a lot but the system is simple once you understand it. Let me explain.
Just because January 1st has come and gone doesn’t mean you can’t start your yearly goal setting now. I actually do my annual assessment and goal setting on October 1st because it has personal significance.
Yearly goals are where I dream big and plan to conquer the world. For me, these are pie-in-the-sky publications I want to write for and a certain number of clients for my SEO agency, Legal Green Marketing.
For you, it could be finishing that book or having enough of a side hustle to quit your job. It could be getting down to a certain weight or being able to bench x number of kilos/pounds. It could be reading 50 books or visiting 5 new countries. Dream big and write it down somewhere. I emblazon it at the front of every notebook I use, all year long. Find somewhere you’ll see it every day and put it there.
Three Month/Quarterly Goals
This is fun. It’s where I break down my big goals into smaller goals that lead to the big ones. If I want 20 new clients, that means I’ll need 5 new clients each quarter. If I want to be in the New York Times (which I would, if they’d like to let me pitch them), I’ll need to figure out which publications I can get into that are progressively more prestigious over the year and break them down into 4 tiers of difficulty with the New York Times at the top.
If you’re planning to write that book, perhaps the first quarter is research and outlining and the next two are all about writing and the fourth is when you focus on editing. If you’re trying to read 50 books, that’s 12.5 books each quarter (or 13 if you like to round up) and if you’re trying to visit 5 new countries every year, 1-2 new countries per quarter. Breaking goals down like this makes them feel a little more manageable.
It’s also helpful for tracking progress and being able to adjust accordingly. If I’ve done better than expected and have landed 6 or 7 or 8 new clients this quarter, do I want to adjust my goals up or do I want to take extra time next quarter to focus on another goal? If the editor I’m pitching at Forbes still hasn’t responded to my pitches, do I keep trying and simultaneously pitch Entrepreneur or do I move on entirely?
The beginning and end of each cycle is a great time for me to make plans and to assess what worked and what didn’t. There are various systems you can use for your quarterly goals and I’ve tried several from a spreadsheets to notebooks to moleskines. I have finally settled on one that I believe works best for me, the Best Self Journal (not an affiliate link.) You do have to use four per year as they’re set up for 13 week sprints, and despite not being cheap, I find they’re worth it to me. If you don’t have the budget for one, I recommend printing out a few pages of the free PDF version. (I’m lazy and just buy them so no recommendations from me about how to use the PDF version.)
BestSelf has a weekly goals section and reflection but I use that for habits, like trying to maintain a yoga practice and writing daily. For actual tasks, I am really fancy and get a post-it note I stick on that page with the major goals for the week. It can be revamping my website with a breakdown of what that entails (rewriting the landing page, buying access to the new opt-in, mapping out what I want the layout to look like, finding a theme that works, etc) or planning the logistics of my trip to Cuba (book plane tickets, book housing, confirm I’m eligible for a journalists visa, research and prioritize activities, etc)
For you, this could be researching cities in countries you’re considering visiting and what flight prices are like between where you are now and where you want to go next. It could be reading 1 book or writing 2 chapters of your book.
I often have more than one weekly goal, although they’re all reasonably accomplishable in one week. I do not try to take on things like reading 7 books or getting from pitch to publication with a new publication in just 7 days. Taking on goals that aren’t feasible in a week just sets yourself up for failure. Don’t do that.
This is one you’re familiar with conceptually : it’s your daily to-do list. You’re probably jotting this down already, whether it’s on a scrap of paper or on a program like Trello. It’s satisfying to check off a dozen small things you’ve accomplished every day. However, the more effective way to write a to-do list is to choose the three most important things you need to accomplish every day, whether it’s writing that article or finishing that book, and list those. Once you accomplish those, you can move onto all the other little things that need to get done.
Keeping your to do list short will help you focus and limiting it to important tasks that help you move forward towards your goals every day will enable you to make steady progress instead of doing so in awkward, unpredictable sprints.
My strategy with this is to list everything I’d like to accomplish tomorrow and then rank the three most important. When I finish those things, I can think about the rest of the list. The items that don’t get done today but still should stay on the daily list until they get done or aren’t important anymore. Laundry eventually becomes urgent. Unpacking a suitcase eventually doesn’t when it needs to be repacked. Prioritizing my time and energy is incredibly important to me and it should be for you too. You only get so much of it, after all.
This isn’t a perfect system as I’m still human and things can fall through the cracks. That said, major goals do get accomplished on this system so if you’re struggling to find a way to break your dreams down into actionable daily or weekly tasks or to see where you’ll be in three months or a year, this system could be a good fit for you too. It might seem like a lot of paperwork but once you get the system in place, it takes only a few minutes a day and about an hour for goal planning each quarter.
Do you have a goal setting strategy that you like?