In my last post, I gave you a bird’s eye view of how I usually set my goals, and how I’m moving things around a bit to make achieving those goals more exciting and easier. Today, I want to talk about my process in detail. It goes beyond just the SMART goals that I set for myself.
I’ll be giving you a sneak peek (with examples) into how I take my goals and break them down into easy action steps. I also want to talk about how I focus on systems and habits rather than keep my eyes only on the big picture.
If you’d like to stick to a no-frills method of setting goals, you can download this worksheet.
Aspirations vs goals
Before I move on to the actual process, I want to reiterate the importance of drawing a clear distinction between aspirations and goals. How do we do that?
Any outcome that we can control is a goal, and anything that is dependent on external variables is an aspiration. Here’s an example:
While the first one looks ‘measurable’, whether I achieve it or not doesn’t just depend on me. However, sending out pitch emails regularly is in my hands and it is an effort I know I can take.
The 4-step goal planning process
Over the last couple of years, I’ve modified and refined my goal-setting process. While it is important to focus on our income goals, it is also crucial that we consider other aspects of our lives. To ensure that I prioritise my goals effectively, these are the four steps I follow:
Step 1: Think about the Why
I know I sound like I’m repeating the same thing over and over again, but I can’t insist enough on the importance of choosing your goals with intention. A good hack to choose the right goals is to spend some time defining why you want to come up with goals in the first place.
Your goals should be aligned to your why or your purpose and not mimic someone else’s goals. This will help you stay motivated even after the initial excitement of a new year has waned.
I have two aspects of my business that I want to focus on this year–my art and my blog. For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to take my art business as an example.
For my art, I am narrowing down on the revenue I earn. These few years, I have worked 20 out of 24 hours to ensure I have built a portfolio of work that I am confident about, without compromising on the financial needs of our family.
This means that I’ve spent all my time on my day job with a content agency and on my fledgling art career. This also means that I haven’t been able to spend much time with my two girls who need a lot of attention from their mother. I’m also almost always in a state of burnout, yet forcing myself to push through each day and not lose sight of the end goal.
The state of affairs is what defines my purpose statement for my art business, which is:
I want to determine my own working hours so that I am available for my daughters and my husband.
Step 2: Think about the What
Goals aren’t always career-specific, so spend some time deciding on the different spheres of your life that you want to consider. However, avoid having too many categories, so that you can be laser-focused instead of grappling for time to meet all of them. These categories could be:
While my purpose statement is related to my art business, I have more than just the revenue to think of. I want to work on a limited number of goals this year to make things manageable. Here are my categories:
business and finance
health and personal growth
Under these categories I like to choose a maximum of five goals each. I also ensure that they are SMART.
For now, here are my business goals for 2023:
Design 1 new collection of at least 3 patterns/illustrations a month
Pitch my designs to 5 companies from different industries each week
Send out one newsletter to art directors every month
Step 3: Think about the How
This is the most crucial step in the entire goal planning process where you list out everything you need to do in order to achieve your goals. I like to call this my action plan. It’s one thing to have a list of goals you want to achieve, but none of that matters unless you have a plan in place to help you get there.
For my goals, here’s how my action plan could look like:
While there are many productivity systems out there and I use a lot of them, there are three that are the easiest to follow and so I’m listing them here for now.
I develop quite a few habits and rituals that are easy to stick to. These routines help me work my way to my end goals. I like using a habit tracker to stay organized. A habit tracker also gives me a visual analysis of what is working in my system and what I might need to rethink. Here are just a few habits based on the goals I shared.
Set aside 30 minutes every day for sketching.
Set aside 30 minutes every day for working on a new design for my portfolio.
Spend 60 minutes every Saturday, researching companies for pitching my portfolio to.
Draft and schedule my monthly newsletter on the 27th of each month.
Once I have my routine planned out, I like to make a list of every task or action step that leads up to that habit. Here are how my action steps might look like for the first habit–set aside 30 minutes every day for sketching.
Set aside 30 minutes the night before for prepping.
The previous night, decide what material I want to use in my sketch.
Depending on the extent of planning I like to do, decide on what I want to sketch the next day. I then write it down on a post-it note.
Declutter my desk and remove distractions if any. In other words, I prepare my workspace for making art.
Keep all art material and reference photos or still-life setup ready the night before. I have only 30 minutes for sketching and I’d rather use all of it for art and not for anything else.
Challenges and solutions
No matter how much you plan, life happens. I like to be prepared for as many hurdles as I can think of. What this means is that I not only make a note of these challenges but also come up with ideas to overcome them. A couple of probable challenges could be:
I might not wake up on time.
The solution here is to keep multiple alarms just in case I end up not listening to or snoozing a few.
I need to attend to my baby at the same time.
The solution here could be to reschedule. Instead of fretting about lost opportunities, I look forward to spending some time with my daughter. I find a later time during the day where I can fit in my sketching for the day.
Step 4: Think about the When
Avoid long-term goals; long-term goals are great to chart your path out but not so much when it comes to staying motivated. Break down a long-term goal into several short-term ones and then divide them further into a one-year goal.
Also decide on quarterly or monthly milestones–this helps review them from time-to-time. Assign a date to every milestone but also be flexible in case of any contingencies. I use a combination of a physical calendar and my Google calendar to track these milestones.
A few tips to help you in this journey
I have already shared some tips for success with goal setting in the previous post. But here are a few more:
As a daily reminder, write down your goals with the due date and stick it somewhere you can see everyday. Make it as visual as you can.
Think about what you have to sacrifice. Success does not come easy. What is it that is holding you back and are you willing to let go of it?
Always have an alternate action plan just in case Plan A doesn’t quite work out.
Write down your schedule, block time on your calendar, batch your tasks.
Rgularly check-in and review your goals and adjust what you need to.
A note on reviewing your goals
Reviewing your goals from time-to-time is critical to understand if you have indeed chosen the right goals to chase after. But how exactly do we review our goals?
Think of your review like a meeting with yourself. Unless you make time for it and schedule it into your calendar, it will never take place. How often you schedule your review depends on your requirements. If you're new to goal-setting, start with every week, then move on to once-a-month reviews and finally transition to a combination of quarterly and yearly reviews.
Write down your goals
Wait, didn't we already do that? Yes, we did, but writing them down just before you review them helps bring back your focus to your goals.
Track your progress
Find a method that works for you. I started with a bullet journal but eventually moved to a combination of a habit tracker and a spreadsheet. Using a spreadsheet can also be helpful if you have an analytical bent of mind. Every review session, your spreadsheet can generate a visual representation of your progress metrics. When using a habit tracker, use colour. Again, visual representation has worked best for me, but you do your thing.
You can also use a basic calendar method, where you take a calendar with enough space for notes and check off the dates as you work through your action steps each day. You can use a different coloured pen for the days you achieve your milestone.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What went well?
- What could I have done differently?
- What are my takeaways?
Lastly take all the information you gathered from tracking and analysing your progress and update your action plan as needed.
I hope that this deep-dive into my process helps you streamline yours when it comes to effective goal-setting. However, goal-setting should be an exciting task and not cause anxiety. If you do feel stressed out with all the things you have to do, hold off on all the planning till you’re comfortable.
Need help with the entire process? Get the FREE printable goal-planning workbook here: