How to Set the Right Goals to Avoid Professional and Personal Overwhelm
With my extreme anxiety, I suffer from overwhelm more times than I’d care to admit. Almost as a contradiction, the more work I have on my plate, the more useful I feel! For several years now, I’ve tried my best to strike a balance between being a workaholic and managing my overwhelm. One trick that’s always worked? Setting SMART goals.
I always start off with identifying 2-3 things that I want to accomplish, say five years from now. Then I identify the ‘why’ behind those goals. There are a million things I want to achieve but unless my motivation to achieve them is strong, they don’t make it to my priority list. At least not immediately.
I then move on to breaking each of these five-year goals down into 2-3 short-term goals. Now, you could always have separate short-term and long-term goals but I like to base my short-term goals on the bigger picture. I also work on one goal at a time.
How do I decide which goals to start working on?
Here are a couple of things that I like to consider:
What are my aspirations?
What is important to me?
What do I want my career to look like in the next five years?
How do I want my relationships to improve?
What makes me happy?
What does success look like for me?
Based on my answers to these questions, a long-term goal could look like this:
I want to quit my day job to pursue a career in art. I want to be able to work from home, decide how many hours I want to work, and spend more time with my daughters.
Based on my long-term goal, some of my short-term goals could be:
Crack at least 3 art licensing deals by the end of the year.
Sign up with an art licensing agency of my choice.
Get my portfolio website up and running
Each of my short-term goals can further be broken down into actionable steps. I mean, unless we do the work there’s no way we’ll achieve our goals, right? It’s always helpful to note down what that work would mean for us.
Set yourself a deadline. I’ve noticed quarterly deadlines work better for me than yearly ones. For starters, quarterly deadlines mean quicker gratification. I’m also someone who gets bored of doing the same task every day for a long period of time. Hence, a shorter deadline helps keep me on track without leading to more anxiety (which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid here).
Now, each of my actionable tasks is treated as a goal. Here’s where I ask myself if I’m following my SMART goal checklist.
What does SMART mean?
Specific: Is the scope of my task narrow enough?
Measurable: Can I quantify my task or its result? In other words, can I measure my progress?
Attainable: Is my goal achievable? Is it too difficult? Is it too easy?
Relevant: Is my goal relevant to my ‘why’? Will it help me in my personal and professional life?
Time-bound: Have I set myself a deadline to achieve my goal? Is this deadline enough to achieve the goal?
Here’s how a SMART goal might look:
Am I saying “I want to complete a few fabric collections by the end of the year and pitch them to my dream companies”? Or am I saying “I want to complete 3 fabric collections with 6 designs each by 25 September, 2022 and pitch them to Moda Fabrics, Cotton and Steel, and Windham Fabrics by 31 December, 2022”?
See what I mean by SMART goals?
Sometimes I break this further down into tasks such as:
Sketch daily for 30 minutes
Jot down at least five ideas for a fabric collection
Dedicate two days to creating one hero pattern from sketch to final design
Tips for making goal-setting a success
Always remember to make your goals manageable. Smaller goals are easy to achieve and make you feel good about yourself.
Find an accountability partner. For instance, you’re more likely to stick to a fitness schedule if you work out and follow the same deadlines as, say, a friend. This way you not only check in regularly on each other’s progress but can also celebrate milestones together.
Tell the whole world. Or at least a small circle of friends. The more people know about your goals, the more motivated you will be to work towards them.
Track your progress. This is of utmost importance when it comes to setting yourself up for success. Unless you track your progress, how would you know if your goals are SMART or not? How will you know what to change or continue with the next time around?
I also like to brainstorm a couple of challenges that I might face as I work through my goals. This helps me come up with probable solutions to overcome those hurdles when the time comes.
A few other things to consider:
Rigid goal setting can lead to overwhelm.
Too many goals can take the fun out of goal setting
It’s okay to fall off the wagon. You can always pick up from where you left off.
Just as goals shouldn’t be too difficult, they shouldn’t be too easy.
Finally, for some of us the process of setting goals itself might seem overwhelming. The key is to go easy on yourself, and perhaps try it again sometime in the future.
To help you make the most of this smart (yes, pun intended) process, I’ve prepared a workbook that you can print out and fill in or use as is.
Have fun setting some great goals!