When I was a little girl I was very good at keeping track of things. I was well organized, kept a calendar and a tidy list of tasks. School was on a schedule, with a start and end date, dividing life into subjects, and then into tasks (homework, quizzes, big tests, and a final grade) and it was really simple to see how the small things laddered up into a final result. I didn’t have trouble working hard on each step because I had a great awareness of how things fit into a bigger picture, and so that was why each small task mattered.
That same general mind-tidiness got me through college and the next 10 years afterward too. But somewhere in 2012-2013 I hit a slump. I was working a fast-paced job with little personal time and what I would describe as lots of mental fatigue! I’d come home really tired, and in need of relaxing, simple activities that let me replenish as much as possible. But if you’re a planning, thinking, list-making nerd like me, then you just know that you can organize your way into creating more time and space just for you!
These days there are tons of resources out there for goal setting. Productivity apps, reminders, list trackers, even project-management tools that can help you with a complex goal. I recently starting following more personal organizing experts on YouTube and one of my favorites is Alejandra Costello, who has been featured a ton in the last few years. Her obsession is organizing and she’s amazing at tackling a space, process or project, and she’s a total sweetheart! If you want a full on course in this then her Power Productivity Program is really great. She also has great printables that you can purchase on their own here.
This year I also got myself an Erin Condren life planner, which I use for daily tasks, but also to document fun experiences, so it doubles as a mini scrapbook for me. I expected it to be functional, but what surprised me is how fun it can be to decorate it each week with a theme. There are tons of YouTubers out there who show you how they decorate these things every week! At first, it seemed very silly or childish to me, but then as I got into it, I realized that it’s kind of a simple, easy and quick creative outlet. It’s fun to have a little weekly canvas to play with, and automatically built-in time for your imagination to play, which is really good for you by the way. Effectively it’s a grown-up coloring book!
Prior to the Erin Condren one I have been using weekly-monthly planners from Target for years. They are wonderful because they’re affordable, they come out before a new year and also back to school timing, and they really get the job done. On top of that they always have fun new styles that I love. These work really well for work, personal or both if you prefer to use one for everything. (which I used to do!)
I use both my planner and some checklists form Alejandra to stay on track. But you don’t need anything fancy at all. At the end of the day, it’s all about setting a goal, giving it a real timeline, and then breaking it down into smaller and smaller steps. If you can focus on just today, and then do the same thing tomorrow then you will very quickly have a string of many “good days” in a row.
My approach to goal setting, here’s how I do it:
- Set all your goals, for all areas of your life. Yep, that’s right, just go for it! Break it out into categories, like: career goals, family goals, spiritual goals, community goals, personal development goals, creative goals. Add whatever other categories you like, or remove the ones that don’t apply in your life. I think to think about 2-3 concrete goals per category. This can be draft 1 of your goals.
- This is draft two. Make each goal really clear and describe the final outcome you want, so that you can easily see if the goal was me or not. Think about it as a “yes” or “no” question. For example, “Spruce up and launch my blog”, this is something you can easily say, “yes I did that” or “no I didn’t” to. Something less clear would be, “Be nicer to my siblings”. After a length of time, it might be much harder to answer “yes” or “no” to whether you achieved that. An easy modification could be, “Being nicer to my siblings by emailing each of them once a week”. See how that became a clearer mission with a “yes”/”no” response? Good!
- Set a timeline. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. A goal without a timeline is simply a great idea. There’s nothing wrong with a great idea, but setting a timeline give that awesome idea a space to live in, breathe in, and exist in! Notice, I didn’t use the word “deadline”. This is not about giving yourself pressure, in fact don’t set a deadline, that will only feel some looming due date! The point here is to give yourself a realistic space to take that goal and make it come true.
- I use to set my goals at the start of each year but now I find it more manageable to do it quarterly.
- Break it into steps. Along the same lines of giving your goal space to exist within, in addition to giving it adequate time, you also need the right tools. Is there a book you need to read on the topic? Someone you ought to connect with? Or how about carving out quiet time to work on that goal? Whatever those action steps are, they are the building blocks of your mission and they are what bring you closer to that goal each day.
- I like to break my quarterly goal into a monthly one, then a weekly one, and even a daily task. This way I know that each and everyday I am taking one more step, however small, toward my goals. You are literally walking yourself right to it! How fun is that? 🙂
- Schedule it in. It’s hard and daunting to actively work on a ton of goals all the time. But you can make it easier by simply scheduling it into your life. Once you have broken your goals down into weekly or daily tasks it’s important to “book” them into your week. I’ve done with a lot of personal goals and before you know it, so many of your lofty goals become amazing new life habits that hardly take any effort anymore.
- Stay accountable. But in a positive way! I like to use checklists in my planner to make sure I hit my daily tasks. But this should never feel daunting or laborious.
A note about your attitude. The checklist is the easy part, the self-talk is the real key here. I’ve been told that you can get a lot further with a 5-year old by way of positive reinforcement, instead of fear or punishment. Well if it’s good for a little kid then it should be good for you too!
You can really reprogram the way you think about things by using your thoughts and the way you speak to yourself. Negative thoughts will only make your goals seem out of reach and harder. Push yourself, and then know that you have permission to be proud of even the smallest things. You REALLY do, I promise. Cheer yourself on! and if you can’t, no problem, I’ll do it.
- Made your bed 3 mornings in a row? Awesome!
- Brought lunch from home all week so you spend less money? GREAT job!
- You got in a workout this week for the first time in a while. That’s fantastic! That’s more than last week and that’s progress!
That’s how we get there. One bed making, one lunch and one workout at a time.
And that’s it. I know it doesn’t sound like rocket science, but it’s all about tracking your progress and your ability to keep going no matter what. You can break any task, goal or project into small pieces that become manageable and trackable for you. But YOU are the one who will do the work and earn that dream. Just know that it’s possible.
If you’re curious about how I organize myself, my time and what I use, here’s what I currently works for me:
- I keep work and personal separate
- For Work (I have a corporate “desk” job):
- Outlook calendar for appointments and follow up reminders
- Word document based “Master List” that recaps all projects on my plate, and what the next step is. It’s great because in one place I can see everything I’m working on, and each project’s status. It’s also handy because you can easily send this to a manager or anyone who needs visibility. At the end of the day, or start of the next morning, I update this sheet and print out a hard copy to work off of, and take notes on. I like to highlight the priority items.
- Paper planner from Target that I plan out my week in. I take items from my master list, and schedule them out across my 5 days. Items that were highlighted will get “scheduled” for earlier in the week, and lesser urgent things get noted for Wednesday through Friday. This way I don’t get overwhelmed looking at the master list and for each day, I roughly have 3-5 things to really focus on.
- For Personal:
- I use an Erin Condren Life Planner at the moment
- I schedule out my workouts for the week here (my whole diet/fitness life is all about Tone It Up! Their weekly schedule comes out on Sundays so that’s when I plan out my personal week)
- This is also where I note down daily Fitbit goals I have. For the last few months I’ve been challenging myself to increase my weekly step goal! So for the four weeks of a month I’ll aim for 10k steps the first week, then 11k for week 2, 12k for week 3 and 13k for week 4. I might not make it all the time, but it’s fun to try!
- I note daily things I’d like to become more consistent with, such as a daily vitamin and writing in a gratitude diary. I know these might seem like small things, but they happen to be items that I easily forget or become inconsistent with.
- For personal appointments I do note them in my paper planner, but I make sure to put them into my Google calendar as well. This way I can see everything on my phone, which combines my Outlook calendar for work and Google calendar for personal.
I hope this was helpful to you! Again, there are no big secrets here, but often I’m asked how I stay organized and on track with everything and this is it. How do you track your goals? What fun tips and tricks do you have? Thanks for reading!