If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that our level of productivity does not define us as people. Our worth cannot be measured by any output standard because circumstances can easily change from one day to the next. Surviving this year in history is more than enough for one person. It’s okay, take a moment to celebrate that.
If, however, you need that extra dose of discipline or you’re wondering why your goal of “read more” amounted to you reading books for a few weeks to later picking up a book once in a blue moon, then this post is for you.
What are actionable goals?
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” It’s not enough to just want something, each goal must be accompanied by action, lest it sit in your brain with no way of materializing into your life.
Let’s say your goal is to “run more.” If that’s really what you want, that’s fine, but it’s also an extremely vague game-plan. Say you ran 0 miles in 2020, running “more” in 2021 could mean running a total of 100 miles or a total of 1 mile. Where’s the action in this goal and how do you measure if your action has satisfied your desire to run?
Allie Miller, named LinkedIn’s #9 Top Voice in Data Science and AI, says it best. In her IGTV on setting new year goals, Miller breaks down the daunting task of goal setting into a streamlined process. She recommends starting with giving the year an overarching “mantra”, brainstorming (on paper!) a list of goals, grouping your goals into different categories, and then examining your list, line by line, to give them measurable elements. A goal can be a one time only event (e.g. a desired job change) or a longer trackable event.
Creating an actionable goal can be as simple as transforming your “I want to run more” phrase into “I want to run x amount of distance this year which means I will run every week on Wednesdays and Saturdays.”
Adding a measurable element to a goal is vital. Take the #100DaysofCode challenge, which has become popular on social media as a way to build coding as a habit. Countless people worldwide have used the challenge and achieved the results of coding for 1 hour daily. The reason why something like that has widespread appeal is because it reduces the daunting and abstract task of learning how to code or gaining new programming skills into a smaller attainable task within a clear set amount of days. There’s no guessing there; #100Days gives a person concrete evidence of whether or not they’ve achieved their goal. In the same way, you must identify what it means to you, and what it feels like, when you reach your goal.
Simply put, each goal needs to be actionable and measurable, but equally as important, goals need to be obvious and visible.
Keep your goals in sight
Continuing from the previous example: great job! You now have a clear and measurable goal to help you become the runner you want to be. Let’s face it though. Life isn’t always perfect and it’s never predictable. How will you keep that motivation going on the hardest of days— when the furthest thing on your mind will be putting on running shoes and heading out the door?
The trick is to remind yourself. A lot. In as many places as possible. It doesn’t have to look pretty and you don’t need to spend any extra money to do it, but you do need to keep a copy of your list in a place you cannot avoid reading it. Create a simple design on a place like Canva and save a copy of the image as a phone background. Write it out on a post-it (or several) and place them on the wall beside your bed, or on the bathroom mirror. Don’t be afraid to hype yourself up and get creative with it.
In my case, I’ve typed out my list onto Notion and will soon be transferring the list onto a customized PDF to save on my phone, laptop, and to print out for various parts of my home.
Another key component in goal setting is accountability. If at all possible, find someone else on the who’s creating their own actionable goals or get someone you trust to remind you of one, several, or all of your annual goals. Writing down your goals in total privacy can be too comforting for some. Sharing your aspirations can raise the stakes and make it even more obvious if you don’t stay consistent.
Stay realistic, be considerate of yourself
At the end of the day, you’ve set goals for yourself because you want to improve some aspect of your day-to-day life. Not reaching any one of your goals could mean you didn’t plan enough and it should motivate you to learn more about yourself, what makes you tick, and what would absolutely give you the greatest pleasure to know you could achieve. It should not give you an excuse to believe you cannot do better. You can! It’s not about the will, but rather, the plan to execute it.
When writing your goals, don’t write for a fantasy persona in mind. Don’t write goals for an idealized version of yourself. Trust yourself enough to know what you can and cannot achieve in a day or even a year.
If you’re a full-time student with a job or projects on the side, recognize that a day only has 24 hours and there’s only so much you can fit in one week. If you’re a working mother studying late nights for a career move, be kind to yourself and write for the person you are today, not for the person you were when you had more free time. Regardless of who you are, remember that sometimes it’s not about “doing more.” It can also be about focusing more deeply on a few aspects of your life.
Don’t write goals for an idealized version of yourself.
Putting it all together, when creating actionable goals, remember to keep them realistic, measurable, and memorable. It’s easy to get carried away and expect the new year on the calendar to inspire dramatic changes in yourself, but feelings of inspiration are fleeting and only clearly defined goals remain.