Every year when January 1st arrives, I follow the crowd and set a handful of resolutions. Like everyone, I start out with the best of intentions… yet, I almost always fall behind and must scramble to catch up. (Turns out, I’m not alone. Only 44.8% of people report maintaining their resolutions past six months.)
This past June, I realized I had been slacking off on my income goals. Spending too much time on low-profit tasks, spreading myself too thin, and finding every excuse to procrastinate had really taken its toll.
One thing was quite clear: if I wanted to achieve my goals, I needed to get serious. And, get some things in order. So, I pulled out my goal-setting books, went back to the basics, and revamped my entire plan into 7 easy steps.
Here’s what I did:
1. Review My Goals
Looking back on my year so far, I could see several issues with the goals I had set. Some of the mistakes I made are also quite common:
Committing to too much. If your goals are too big, you’re more likely to give up. Similarly, if you set too many goals, you’re likely to burn out sooner. Take an honest look at the amount you’re trying to accomplish and make sure it’s realistic.
Struggling to do it all. I finally had to admit, there are some tasks I’m not suited for. By outsourcing my least favorite tasks, someone else can complete them much faster (often better). Now, I can spend the time writing and earning more.
Unrealistic time expectations. We often have overly optimistic views of how quickly we can achieve our goals. As I found out, blocking out too little time is a recipe for panic. Now, I’d much rather block out too much time and finish early.
I decided to start over: set new, more realistic goals, clear my plate of tasks I shouldn’t be doing, make a daily plan I could actually stick to, and delegate whenever possible.
2. Set a “Kick-Off” Date
Goal-setting experts disagree on whether you should select a start date or not. Some say you should jump right in, so you don’t lose momentum or overanalyze your plan. Others say you’re more likely to hit your goal on time if you select a date and prepare. A good start date might be tomorrow… or, it may be the first of a new week, a new month, or a new quarter. The important thing is deciding when you’ll start.
I’m a planner, so I like to have a firm “Kick-Off” date and get everything in order. I selected my birthday (August 18th), because it’s my personal New Year… it’s also near “Back-to-School,” when the world is a-buzz with the possibility of another kind of “new year.” (Bonus: Because I made my “Kick-Off” decision in June, I had a few weeks to prepare.)
3. Set a “Finish” Date
How long are you going to work toward each of your goals? Commonly, New Year’s resolutions are meant to last all year. However, studies show most people lose motivation and momentum quite quickly. In fact, by the end of month one, 41.6% of all well-intentioned people have completely dropped their resolutions.
Because of these statistics — and my own mid-year slump — I’ve been exploring the concept of “90-Day Goals.” Ninety days is enough time to break your goals into monthly, weekly, and daily tasks, but it’s short enough to stay motivated — especially when you set up daily targets.
4. Make Steady Progress
Setting goals like, “make $100,000 this year” or “lose 50 pounds by the end of the year” can sound overwhelming. But, when you break this big goal into manageable pieces and make steady progress, it can feel a lot more possible.
Let’s use the $100,000 annual income goal as an example. First, divide by 12 to get $8,333.33 per month. (There are three months in each 90-day period, making our 90-day goal almost exactly $25,000.) But I want to break this down further…
Divide $8,333.33 per month by 20 (average working days per month) to arrive at a daily income goal: $416.67 per day. With that number, you can calculate how many projects you’ll need to complete to reach your income goal:
Maybe your specialty is writing blog posts. If you charge $225 per post, you can write two per day and you’ll achieve your goal.
Or maybe you write web pages and charge $500 each… complete one per day and you’ll get there.
Or perhaps you’d rather write long-form sales pages and charge $4,000 each… if you can consistently complete them in nine days or fewer, you’ll hit your goal!
5. Measure Your Effort
If you don’t know how long a project will take, try breaking it down by the word count. If the blog posts in the example above should be about 1,000 words each — and you need to write two per day to hit your goal — that means you need to write 2,000 words per day.
So, how long will it take YOU to write 2,000 words?
If you don’t know, the easiest way to find out is to choose a topic and time yourself actually writing 2,000 words. I did a quick Google search and found that most people say it takes them anywhere from one hour and 15 minutes to two hours to write 2,000 words.
If you find the same is true for you, you might be tempted to cram three or four blog posts into each day. But don’t forget to add the time needed to edit your blog posts, find examples and resources, and communicate with clients. (I also like to add a little extra time to account for occasional chaos and writer’s block.)
6. Schedule It
Once you know how much time you’ll need to invest to reach your goals, schedule it on your calendar. After all, there are only 24 hours in the day… if we want our goals to materialize, we must block out time to put in the effort. Otherwise, life happens and we spend the day reacting, putting out fires, or helping other people reach their goals.
I use Google Calendar to schedule pretty much everything. To make sure I dedicate time every business day to reaching my income goals, I created a “Client Work” time block. This “appointment” repeats every day from 1:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. (I use the Pomodoro technique to stay focused and take adequate breaks.)
7. Stay Accountable
This year, one of my biggest mistakes is not having accountability. When I stopped writing the Wealthy Web Writer Reality Blog, I lost the readers (you!) who would call me out if I failed to hit my goals. Without this influence, I’ve been lax… working here and there, putting off projects as long as possible, and passing on gigs because “I didn’t have the time.”
To solve this, I recently started regular chats with an accountability buddy. We talk about our accomplishments from the past week and what we plan to focus on moving forward. Between calls I often think of how it will feel to explain why I didn’t complete the tasks I said I would. I also start thinking about my excuses, and often they’re quite weak. The guilt is usually enough to spark me into action.
So, there’s my own 7-step plan… I reviewed my goals, selected a start date and end date, and decided how much time I would need to spend per day to reach my goals. Now, I’ll focus on my daily effort, stick to my schedule, and stay accountable.
What about you? What would you add? How do you set goals and stay accountable? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.