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How to Set Your Goals (and Reach Them)

Most people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions by January 19th. If you are one of those people, perhaps the feelings of guilt have crept in by now. While you should never feel guilt at not sticking to certain goals, those feelings are hard to deny and can often lead to a sense of feeling overwhelmed at starting again.

That’s why it’s important to set goals in a manageable way, no matter the time of year. I am by no means an expert. In fact, there are many times I get off track, but I find that following this routine helps me orient myself throughout the year. It gives me a plan to come back to if I am floundering.

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I plan with and use a paper planner. In the past, I worked in a Passion Planner, which lays out the process I had already been using but with additional prompts. I’ll share those here as well. I recently made the switch to a Hobonichi as it offers more space.

Here are the steps I take to make my goals and how I use those to make plans to follow and reach those goals.

Brainstorm

First things first: get a piece of paper and start writing. Write down any goal that comes to mind. Maybe these are goals you can’t achieve in just a year but write it anyway. The Passion Planner suggests thinking in terms of the next three months, one year, three years, and lifetime. If it helps, set a timer and word vomit on the page. Think high level.

Don’t put restrictions on yourself. Dream big. Don’t worry just yet on how you’ll get there.

Categorize

To further assist in the brainstorming, I like to think categorically. This is also really helpful if you are struggling to think of goals beyond something like “lose weight.” Here are some example categories.

  1. Health (physical, mental, attitude)
  2. Personal Development (reading, writing, language studies)
  3. Financial (budgeting, savings, spending)
  4. Career (business goals)
  5. Education (self-study, courses)
  6. Household (repairs, cleaning, organization)
  7. Family (helping children reach goals, relationships)

These categories can stretch to mean whatever you want them to, and you don’t have to stop there. In the past, I have used categories such as Artistic, Pleasure, and Public Service. Create categories to suit your needs and brainstorm again, moving goals into categories, which will come in handy later.

Prioritize

Look through your list of goals. Within each category, choose the one that you are most inspired to reach. Maybe it’s the one you feel is most easily attainable, and that’s okay. Maybe it’s the one that would have the biggest impact on your life right now. Or maybe it’s the one you’ve been dreaming of for years. Circle them.

Now, each person will be different, but remember that these are the goals you will be striving to achieve throughout the year. Try to get it down to a manageable level. Most professionals, Passion Planner included, recommend four. However, it really depends on the goals you are trying to reach. And only you can know how full you can make your plate. You don’t want to overload or overachieve. We want to reach these goals.

I find it beneficial to then further prioritize the goals you’ve chosen for the year. This helps for those moments when you feel overwhelmed and need to pick a focus. Or perhaps you focus on one completely before moving on to the next most important. This ensures tasks are getting done rather than everything partially done. Let’s look at an example.

Karen’s goals for the year are to gain additional clients, write a book, lose weight, and learn Spanish. She struggles with choosing how to spend her time because she is passionate about each of these projects. She really needs to up her income, but she’s also worried about her health. Her book has been sitting partially written for years. She wants to learn a new language to help in future travels.

She decides that for the next three months, she will focus on finding clients, as the added money can really help with expenses, which are getting out of control. It’s the goal that will have the biggest impact right now. But at the same time, she’d like to make some changes in her habits to lose weight. She’ll keep her book on the side for now and switch her focus in three months. After that, she’ll focus on Spanish.

This timeline is high level right now, but we’ll get to it later. This step is about figuring out what goals are the most important to you right now.

Get Specific

Take a few moments to hone in your prioritized goals. Sometimes it helps to have a generic goal, but when you think about how you’ll reach that goal, you need to get specific or how will you know you’ve ever achieved it? Let’s look at Karen again.

Karen knows she can’t control if she actually lands clients, but she can control what she puts out there. Her new goal is to contact fifty potential clients. As for her health, while the number on the scale is a factor, she wants to focus on getting down to a size 10.

And while she knows these are on the backburner for a bit, she thinks about her writing and language goals. She decides that her writing goal will be 80,000 words. And after doing some research, she wants to have a Spanish vocabulary of 2,500 words.

While some of these tasks might take much longer than others, we aren’t thinking timeline just yet. That comes after the next step.

Segment

Take your prioritized goals, one at a time, and break them down into smaller goals. The idea here is to take a high level, overarching goal and turn it into manageable tasks. Think of this as a second brainstorming session, looking for the smaller steps to get you to the main platform. Keep coming up with steps that you can achieve on your way. This helps us look at this huge, intimidating goal and realize that we can get there one step at a time.

Karen focuses on contacting fifty potential clients first. She has a list of old clients she can reach out to as well as some marketing strategies she can employ to target new clients. She breaks these down into emailing old clients, posting on social media, creating a budget for purcahsing ads, and reaching out to local businesses.

These tasks are broken down further to tasks such as writing the email, creating images, purchasing an ad on Facebook, and curating a list of businesses. These can be broken down even more: drafting the introduction to the email, downloading stock images, choosing which post to boost, etc.

This is a difficult step to do because it requires you to think of every step you need, but I find this incredibly beneficial for people who have trouble starting. Rather than seeing a huge task like writing an email, you only have to think about drafting the first paragraph. Or even the first sentence.

Set Deadlines

Now that you have manageable tasks, put them in the order that they’d need to be done. This will help you create a timeline of events on the way to reaching that big goal. This might be easier for some goals than it is for others. Even if you can’t give a specific date, you can get an idea. Put things in some semblance of order (you have to lose 5 pounds before you can lose 10), and some things can be done simultaneously.

The big thing to remember is that things can change. I like to do a mid-year review where I adjust and tweak goals as needed rather than stumble through the whole year.

Plan Along the Way

Some places, like Passion Planner, will have you put those deadlines in your planner right away. It might work for someone who needs a little more structure. Input all of your new tasks into your paper planner, phone, calendar, or wherever you keep track of your schedule. Make sure to account for other deadlines, holidays, and vacations.

As my life is constantly in flux, I like a little more flexibility. I use a different approach.

  1. Overarching Timeline
  2. Monthly Plan
  3. Weekly Plan
  4. Daily Plan

I write my timeline and plan somewhere in my planner, a page easily accessible and very visible. As the month approaches, I make a monthly plan for what I can achieve within the timeline. Then, before the week begins, I set tasks I want to get done. I often try to assign something for a particular day. Then, every morning, I look over my planner and determine what I can get done that day.

No matter what you choose, make sure you still have a note of your big deadline: the day you want to reach your goal. This will help you stay on task.

Adapt and Overcome

I like this way because it allows me to see, in real-time, how I can fit my goals into my current schedule. It also means I can further break down tasks as they come up. For instance, maybe Karen’s goal for the month is to lose three pounds. This week, she wants to lose a pound, and daily she can set exercise tasks.

Remember that life happens. Things change. These changes may affect your ability to reach a goal in a set amount of time. Or at all. Be as flexible as you are able. Recognize your weaknesses and adjust your plan and behavior accordingly. No one can force you to get something done if you don’t want to, but you’ll never get there if you don’t try.

Procrastination and stagnation happen to the best of us. It’s about how we react to those challenges that determine if we’ll get where we want to go. Or be the person we want to be.

I believe in you! Now set those goals and reach them!

Let me know your thoughts below. How have you planned your goals in the past? If you are interested in my planners or why I switched to the Hobonichi, let me know in the comments, and I can put together a post about it.

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