Typically the start of a new year brings a renewed enthusiasm for setting goals. You’re looking ahead, refreshed and ready to pursue your dreams and plans.
But this new year feels different. Last January, we never could have imagined what would transpire in 2020. You likely saw plans changed or canceled or put on hold.
And the rest of this year is still uncertain.
It’s understandable that you might balk at the idea of setting goals for 2021. But before you dismiss the idea in light of all the uncertainty, hear what I have to say.
As a time management coach, I’ve found that setting goals is actually more essential right now to maintain productivity and sanity.
Here’s how to set goals while we continue to face uncertainty.
Last year, I saw more people fall into hopelessness about their present and future. Inevitably, this curtailed goal-setting.
But that is the biggest mistake you could make.
Despite the unknowns of 2021, setting goals still has great value. Having them gives you a sense of self-determination that you have the autonomy to make choices for your life and the competence to achieve them. This is a key component of mental and emotional health.
Goals provide a sense of focus so you aren’t drifting through your day without purpose or motivation.
Goals provide a sense of accomplishment, which can give you a hit of dopamine, a brain chemical that makes you feel happy.
And goals can be an excellent distraction from thinking about all the things in the world that you have no control over.
Setting goals for 2021 is worth it for all of those reasons, and you also get the reward of being more likely to achieve the things that are truly important to you.
Types of goals
Types of goals
A type of goal that you could set is one oriented by a schedule.
One of the biggest themes I saw last year were schedule “slips,” that happened when people didn’t have things like going into the office or hitting the gym consistently available.
Two of the biggest areas of “slip” have been sleep schedules and work start times.
People may stay up later than they would prefer due to kids who don’t have in-person school being up later, as well as extra hours spent online or in front of the TV. This leads to sleeping in later, skipping morning routines and, in some cases, starting work much later than they would like.
If you find yourself in this cycle, set a goal for when you’ll go to bed, when you’ll wake up, and when you’ll start work. Then aim to be as consistent as possible with those targets.
For schedule goals, as well as the following types of goals, a habit tracking app can help you measure progress.
Another goal category that’s within your control is the “process” goal, or focusing on a standardized routine that will help lead to the results you want.
For example, I’m a big advocate of daily and weekly planning. Those are habits I encourage all of my coaching clients to develop, because of their dramatic impact on peace and productivity.
If planning is not your favorite thing, you could at least make it a goal to write down what you intend to do for the day.
Other process goals can vary depending on your job and personal circumstances.
An example for a profession-specific process goal would be for a sales person to aim to follow up on a certain number of leads each week. You can’t guarantee sales, but you can choose to practice consistency in a measured process that can lead to the outcomes you desire.
While process goals follow a system, action goals are focused on doing what you say you want to do.
For example, you might make a goal to exercise four times a week. So, if your typical gym or class studio is not available these days, you can still follow through on that goal and find ways to work out at home or outside.
An action goal at work might include tackling a project that has long been gathering dust on your to-do list.
To start making progress, pick one or two of these key projects each month to focus on and accomplish.
Stretch goals are the icing on the cake. These are more than routine accomplishments, and the feeling of reaching these goals is even greater too. But this year, certain achievements may or may not be possible.
You might be able to travel, or you might not. You might be able to go to concerts, or you might not. You might get that promotion at work, or you might not. It’s acceptable to think about what you might want on these uncertain fronts, but I wouldn’t make them the only goals that give you something to anticipate.
Instead, come up with some stretch goals that you can do even if everything is closed, like learning a new language.
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