If you’re reading this, you have goals. Maybe you have fitness goals or goals for your family. Maybe you even have writing goals.
But how do you write goals that actually work, that actually help you accomplish the things that you set out to do?
In this post, I’ll share my comprehensive goal writing process, the same process that has helped me finish twelve books, publish over 2,000 blog posts, and reach over twenty million people with my writing over the last eight years.
When I Write My Goals
Each year, around New Year’s Eve, I block off three days, get out my whiteboard markers and Evernote app, and start to reflect on how the last year went and what I want to accomplish in the year ahead.
New Year’s resolutions sometimes get a bad rap, but research backs them up. In fact, you are ten times more likely to achieve your goals if you make resolutions than those who don’t.
This time of reflection and goal setting is the best part of my year. More than Christmas candy and New Year’s champagne, it helps me relax and refocus. In just two or three days, it sustains my work for the following year.
But for you, you don’t have to save this kind of process for the New Year. If you can carve out a few hours—or even a few minutes—to think about your goals, it will be worthwhile.
Goal Setting Worksheet
To make this process even easier, I’ve created a downloadable and printable goal setting worksheet for you to use as you go through this process.
You can download the goal setting worksheet here.
It’s free, it’s printable, and I believe it will help you make your goals happen over the next year.
The 4 Types of Goals
Before I get into the process I’ve found works best, what types of goals should you set? I believe there are four main types of goals, and each of these goals builds on each other. After I explain each type, I’ll ask you questions that you can use to think about your goals.
1. Lifetime Goal
What is on your bucket list? What are the things that you want to accomplish before you die or else feel like you’ve missed something important? What will you regret if you never do?
Maybe it’s writing a book or launching a business. Maybe it’s flying first class or starting a family.
Whatever they are, take these goals seriously. Write them down in a safe place, and keep them updated as you go through life.
2. Project Goal
Over the next year, what projects would you like to accomplish? A project goal will probably also appear on your lifetime goal, but it’s something you could conceivably accomplish in the next three to twelve months.
The idea is that you can’t accomplish everything all at once. Instead, break up your lifetime goals into smaller chunks so that you can think through the steps it will take to make your dreams actually happen.
Here are some examples of a project goal:
- Write the first draft of your book
- Get something you’ve written published
- Get 100 rejection letters from agents or publications (hat tip to Sarah Gribble)
- Go on a family vacation to a national park
- Make $1,000 off of your side hustle
What Can You Control
As you’re thinking of these project goals, think of them in terms of what you can control and avoid goals that rely on things outside of your control.
In the above example, for instance, what if we changed the goal from “Make $1,000 off of your side hustle” to “Create a new product (e.g. a book) and pitch it to 100 people”?
You can’t affect whether people will buy your product and how much money you’ll make, but you can focus on how many hours you work and how much effort you put into something.
When you focus on what you can control, you not only set yourself up to actually accomplish it, but you avoid feeling frustrated and resentful if that goal doesn’t come true.
3. Weekly Goal
Once you have your project goal, go one step further down by thinking about what you can accomplish each week to make that goal happen.
Here are some goals I’ve set in the past:
- Write 5,000 words on my book
- Publish one blog post per day
- Send five people pitches for guest posts or articles
- Email twenty people to share about my book
Again, as you’re thinking of weekly goals, consider simple things you can accomplish within your control.
You can’t control whether other people will do the things you want them to. But you can control how much time and effort you spend accomplishing your weekly goals.
4. Daily Goal
Having a daily goal is especially helpful for writers, but it’s good for anyone who has long term projects that require daily effort.
Whenever I’m working on a book, I create a daily word count goal, usually around 1,000 words, so that I can make my larger goals more manageable.
How to Actually Meet Your Goals: The 5 Steps
Now that we’ve explored the four types of goals, let’s talk about how to actually accomplish them.
In the past, what has worked for you as you’ve set goals and tried to do what you’ve set out to accomplish? At the same time, where did you struggle?
You reflect for two reasons:
- Reflect to help you learn how to make your future better. By thinking about where you’ve succeeded and fallen short in the past, you refine your process and improve your chances at making your future efforts work.
- Reflect to appreciate what you’ve accomplished. Reflection is also an end in itself. As Roy Bennet said, “Be grateful for what you already have while you pursue your goals. If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more?”
Take time to reflect on your previous goals. Evaluate any goals you set the year before, and write a few sentences about any event you can think of.
2. Reconnect With Your Desire
I don’t know about you, but I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions. Why would you want to create goals around things you don’t want to do?
Instead, I like to start the goal-setting process by reconnecting with my desire. What do I really want to do in the next year? What do I really want to accomplish? How do I want to grow, and who do I want to become?
There isn’t time in life for half-hearted dreams. Instead, focus on your deepest desires.
As You’re Doing This, Consider ALL Areas of Your Life
We often focus only on one area of our lives when we brainstorm like this, especially our goals for our professional lives.
However, you are a whole person. If you succeed in one area of life but fail in all the rest, you’ll be miserable. That’s why it’s so important to spend time dreaming about what you want in all areas of your life.
- Work. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your work?
- Writing. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your writing?
- Relationships/Family. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your relationship with your spouse? with your children? with your friends?
- Self. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your personal life? This includes fitness, hobbies, and personal goals.
3. What Will You Quit?
There are always things that keep us from living our best life, whether they’re a job, a bad habit, or a task. What if you could quit? How would that transform your life?
If you could stop doing anything, what would it be? You can’t add more to your life without getting rid of something. What will you quit over the next year?
You might not be able to quit it today or tomorrow (responsibly, anyway), but figure out what you want to quit and then make a plan.
You may not accomplish everything you want to, but I find that when I connect my desire and consider what I want to quit, I am much more successful at accomplishing my goals.
Stop focusing on what you should be doing this year.
Instead, spend time thinking about what you want to be doing. You may learn something new about yourself, and you will definitely have a fuller, more meaningful year.
4. Pick Four Goals (NO MORE)
After brainstorming all the things you want to accomplish over the next year, you will likely have many things you want in one or two areas of your life and just a few in others.
Keep brainstorming until you have at least three things you want in each area of work, writing, relationships, and self. Then do this:
Pick your top four goals, the four things you want most out of this year.
You pick just four because you don’t have time for mediocre goals and aspirations. A year really isn’t very long, especially when it comes to achieving your deepest desires. The more you focus on the few things you most want, the more of a chance you have at achieving them.
When I first tried this exercise in 2012, I tracked each of these four things carefully for a few months. Then I got busy with other things and got out of the habit. However, a year later I found my list again, and I was shocked to discover that I had accomplished all of them. They didn’t look exactly how I planned, but each one was an important part of my life.
So choose carefully! What you choose will change your life!
5. Set a Deadline and Create a Consequence
Now that you know what you want to do, here’s how to actually do it.
Start by setting a deadline. When do you want to accomplish this by?
Hint: Always set your deadline a little shorter than you think you can accomplish.
As Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.”
If your goal is writing a book, for example, I recommend setting your deadline no longer than four months. If it’s longer than that, you’ll procrastinate. A good length of time to write a book is something that makes you a little nervous, but not outright terrified.
But setting a deadline alone isn’t enough. You also have to create a consequence.
What is a consequence?
For example, in 2016, I wrote a $1,000 check to the U.S. presidential candidate I most disliked, gave it to a friend, and told them to send it if I didn’t finish my book by my deadline. I was the most focused I’d ever been and finished my book in time!
Big Deadlines = Big Consequences, Little Deadlines = Little Consequences.
As you’re setting them, remember the four types of goals we talked about earlier. I like to create one big consequence for your project goal and a few smaller consequences for weekly goals.
If my goal is to write a book in 100 days, then my big consequence will be the $100 check, for example, but my smaller deadlines might be deleting my favorite game on my phone or buying ice cream for everyone I work with.
Accomplishing your goals is hard. You need to make it harder to not accomplish your goals than it is to do the work.
What Are YOUR Dreams?
So how about you? Ask yourself the following questions to spur your dreaming:
- What do you want, really want, over the next year?
- What do you want to accomplish this year?
- Who do you want to become?
- This time next year, when you look back at what you did, what stories do you want to be able to tell?
- And how will it feel once you accomplish these goals?
I hope you accomplish all your goals and dreams. Most of all, I hope you enjoy the journey.
Good luck and happy writing!
What are your four goals for the next year? Leave a comment and let me know!
Let’s practice setting your goals for the next year.
When your time is up, take a break and let us know what your four goals that you’ve picked are by leaving a comment below.
Then, if you want to continue you can do that, or continue at another time.
Good luck and let this be the start to a great year!