(UPDATED FOR 2021) As I’ve written elsewhere, once upon a time I was the Queen of Getting Things Done. Then I had kids, and my productivity mojo vanished. It’s taken a long time for me to reclaim it. But now that I have, I can’t wait to share with you the secret of how to reach YOUR goals this coming year.
No, I haven’t magically multiplied the hours on the clock (I wish!). Or discovered some miracle drug (unless you count sleep in that category). But over the past few years, I’ve gotten SO much better at setting long-term goals, working toward them, and checking them off as “done.”
Ready for the secret? Then keep reading for the step-by-step formula that YOU can use to set big goals this coming year, and then actually reach your goals!
Originally published Jan. 1, 2020; last updated November 2020
My Favorite Goal-Slaying Hacks: How To Reach Your Goals This Year
1. Write those goals down!
Even if you’re the queen of digital planning tools, write your goals down on paper.
The act of writing by hand activates different parts of your brain than just typing them. If you haven’t been (say) a college student recently, let me give an example:
Two students are sitting in a lecture hall. One is typing notes on a laptop or tablet. The other has a notebook and pen, and is taking notes by hand.
Who will have better understanding and recall of the material afterward?
According to studies done on this very subject, the student taking notes by hand:
- Because writing by hand is slower than typing, the listener automatically has to filter through (and thus think about) the information, rather than just recording it word for word.
- Using more parts of the brain – the manual dexterity needed to form the exact shape of each letter, versus the repetitive action of typing a bunch of identical keys – causes the brain to process the information differently/more deeply.
- Writing something down helps you remember it better, internalize it more deeply, and at the same time, clear it from your working memory. (This means your brain doesn’t feel so overloaded and cluttered – just what every busy mama needs!)
2. Sort and prioritize your goals
You may find it helpful to write your goals in different categories as you go; or you may find it useful to sort them out afterward. For example,
- Personal goals – health/fitness, spiritual development, etc.;
- Work/professional goals;
- Family/home/household goals;
- Financial goals.
Sorting through your goals will help you figure out
- Which you want/need to start on first;
- Which are most important to you;
- Which are better to put on hold until you’ve accomplished other things on your list;
- Which you CAN’T start on yet because of certain obstacles. I like to call these “sticking points” – the things that STOP you from doing what you want to do.
3. Pick your first month’s goals, and plan what steps you’ll take to achieve your goals that month
Once you’ve sorted through your goals and identified any sticking points, you can decide which goals you want to focus on in your first month. I’d recommend no more than 1-3. You can always add more later, but you want to have measurable progress to show at the end of the month so you don’t get discouraged.
As you’re picking which goals you want to attack first, think about the specific baby steps you’ll need to take to accomplish each goal. Identify those sticking points in your first month’s goals, and figure out what you have to do to overcome them.
For example, say you want to lose weight this year. Related to this, two of your more specific goals for the year are to start a new healthy eating regime, and to train for your first 100-mile (“century”) bike ride. Only you live somewhere where winters are too cold and dark to go on long bike rides.
- The new eating plan is something you can start working on right away.
- The long training rides you’ll need to work up to are something you can’t do yet because of the weather (that’s your sticking point).
- So as a way around that sticking point, you decide to do spin classes 1-2x/week until the weather is better for outdoor cycling.
4. Write down the tiny steps you’ll take this month to work on each goal
Having great big goals won’t get you anywhere unless you break them down into tiny little doable steps, and put the steps into order. Identifying the “sticking points” is part of this process; once you’ve identified them, you can take them on first, so they’re no longer holding you back.
Let’s say you’ve always dreamed of getting your master’s degree. Only problem is, you left undergrad a few courses shy of your degree. So you’ve been letting that hold you back from pursuing your dream of getting that MSW or M.Div. or MBA or whatever.
Sticking point: need to get those last few college credits.
Okay, so how are you going to do that?
- Get a copy of your old college transcript and pin down what you have to finish. See if it’s possible to finish the classes you need through your former institution. (Do you still live in the area, and do they have night classes or online-learning options?)
- Check out other schools in your area, as well as options for completing your degree online.
- Figure out where you’re going to get the money to cover tuition (do you have tuition benefits through your/your spouse’s employer?), and how you’re going to cover childcare for while you’re in class, the time you need to commute and do homework, etc.
- Fill out whatever transfer applications, financial aid forms, etc. you need so you can enroll and get those final credits knocked off.
There! You’ve written out the specific steps you need to take next to help you work toward that larger dream!
Likewise, going back to the previous example, the first steps on “healthy eating” could involve getting a referral to a nutritionist, or researching different eating plans. And you won’t get to those spin classes unless you figure out when they are, and how you’ll squeeze them in around your other commitments (work, family, etc.).
Once you have those little steps written down, you can add them into your weekly/daily to-do lists, and check them off one at a time.
Find yourself avoiding starting on one of those little steps? Maybe the step is still too big and/or will take too long; can you break it down more? Maybe there’s a sticking point you haven’t identified yet. See if you can figure it out.
5. Check back regularly on your progress toward your goals
At least monthly, look back at your goals – both the goals you set for that month (including the sticking points and step-by-step), and your goals for the year. How are you doing on them?
- Are there any goals you can check off as “accomplished” (yay!)?
- Have you uncovered new obstacles that you have to take care of first?
- Do you have any new goals you want to add, that have grown out of the ones you’ve already checked off?
- Are there any that are no longer important to you, that you can cross off the list?
At the very least, take a little time at the end of each month to see how you did on that month’s goals, and figure out what your 1-3 goals for the next month will be.
- Maybe you’ve checked off one goal that was the “sticking point” for another of your yearly goals. So now you can move on to that other goal for the next month.
- Maybe you’ve made good progress on one of your goals, but you haven’t been able to finish all the steps you’d planned to take. In this case, you might decide to move that goal/its remaining steps over to the next month.
It’s also super-helpful to do a bigger check-in at some point midyear, and see if you need to reassess your goals.
- Have you finished all your goals in one area? Maybe it’s time to focus on another area of your life. Or maybe you want to add some new goals to that area.
- Are some goals no longer relevant? (The last two times I tried to train for another century ride, a broken bone quickly put an end to those plans for the year!)
A final note on this writing-it-down thing:
But where/how am I going to write down all these goals and all the steps?
Need a place to write down those goals, and the steps you’re going to take to accomplish them each month? Well, you’re in luck! – I’ve put together a free 30-page printable booklet (updated for 2021!) to help you set, plan, and accomplish your goals this year. ✅Click here to get access to it!
(I personally like to write down my goals in my Bullet Journal. If you’ve never started one before, I have a simple quick-start guide to doing BuJo the easy way that you can read – no artistic skills or fancy accessories needed!)
Here’s to making this coming year the year you slay your goals like never before!
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