I am a firm believer in the importance of setting goals. Some people believe that creating personal goals is boring and stifling, but I find it to be a liberating experience:
- Goals provide a sense of accomplishment. It is truly satisfying to cross a goal — no matter how small — off a written list! At the end of the week, month, or year, you can see just how far you’ve come.
- Goals give you purpose. Have you asked yourself, “What should I be doing right now?” or “Is there something more important or more urgent that I should be doing right now?” Know that what you’re doing is exactly what you truly need or to be doing at that moment.
- Goals reduce your stress. Write down your goals — and the dates by which you want to accomplish them — and you don’t have to worry about keeping it all straight in your head . . . or missing something.
- Shared goals bring people together. Setting goals with your spouse, your kids, and your peers unites you in a common purpose and establishes you as teammates working together.
Getting all of this traction out of goal-setting requires keeping a few things in mind . . .
Know the difference between a goal and an activity.
A goal is the dream: Earn a college degree; be in an exciting marriage; teach my child to read; run a marathon; start a business; buy a home; contribute to my community; create a comfortable retirement; get my affairs in order; and more.
A set of activities is what gets you to the goal. To achieve a goal of earning your college degree, your activities will probably include getting your high school diploma or GED, applying to schools, seeking out scholarships and financial aid, buying books, scheduling classes, setting up a study schedule, etc.
You may want to run three times a week (an activity), but the goal of your doing that could be to get in shape, prepare for a marathon, socialize with a jogging buddy, reduce stress, or a combination of those.
Write it down.
You probably have more goals than you realize. Some of them are time-sensitive — like saving for a house by the time you’re 30 or getting ready for the 5k next month. Writing down your goals helps you to see everything on your plate so that you can prioritize and balance those activities.
Consider goals for all areas of your life.
Too often we might think of goals in terms of just our careers or finances or things with solid deadlines. (You might be well aware that you need to finish your taxes by April 15th, but the task of organizing your family photos never quite seems to get done.) You don’t want to spend all of your time and energy in isolated areas.
Break your goals into categories. I find goal categories to be very specific to the way you think and the type of life you lead, so be creative. Some examples to get you started however might be self, faith, marriage, family, friends, career, home, community, and finances. You might want to split your career goals into the job you have and the business you want to start. Do what works for you.
Notice what areas are lacking in written goals as you go along. Contemplate what your desires for those areas really are — or whether they even apply to your life — and write it all down.
Estimate the time you need.
In my experience, there’s no such thing as “spare time.” I know I can’t plan to call a friend or read a book in my spare time; I need to block out time to make it happen and then follow through.
In order to make the time you need for your goals’ activities, you need to know how much time you need to make. Write down the number of hours, days, months, etc. you think you’ll reasonably need for each goal. Maybe you estimate that you’ll need five hours for your taxes, twenty hours to organize the garage, a half hour each day to tidy the house, etc.
Prioritize your goals.
My husband and I have a two-page list of goals for our home. (All of these land under the larger goal of having a welcoming, cozy home.) We simply can’t accomplish all of those goals at once. Additionally, some of them are built upon other goals that must be accomplished first. We might also need resources that we don’t have yet or are limited. (For instance, we likely won’t want to spend money on landscaping and on purchasing a dining room set in the same year. Likewise, we won’t be looking to do either if we’re faced with a a possible layoff.)
Put must-be-done-by dates down on your goals where applicable. Then, pencil in a ranking of your goals using one for the goals that should be accomplished first, two for the next set, etc. These priorities may well shift over time.
Make goals manageable.
If you’re looking at a 9-month goal of getting ready for your bundle of joy’s arrival, you might be too overwhelmed to make any headway. Break your goal into monthly, weekly, and daily activities. For instance, in Month 1, you’ll read two recommended books and research car seats (before buying the car seat in Month 2). For that month, you can create weekly goals of reading half a book each week and then determine that you’ll spend 30 minutes each day reading in order to accomplish that.
Plan manageable tasks that together will get you to your goal when you want to get there.