How I Plan to Set and Achieve My Goals in 2021

Raise your hand if you’re horrible at setting goals and keeping them.

If you’re like me, you have two hands in the air.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Look, any web search will tell you setting goals is vital to achieving success in your business or career. The evidence is out there, find it yourself.

I dreaded goal-setting and performance plans as a teacher. For starters, I felt teachers already had goals defined: our curriculum standards. We had 180 days to get students to meet these standards. Secondly, time is not a luxury teachers have. The push to make our self-selected goals “SMART,” with the emphasis on the “M,” the measurable, irritated me. If your administrators were like mine, the “SMART” goal required defined evidence that you were working on and achieving your goal.

My admin didn’t want feel-good goals, either. It wasn’t enough our students were learning and we could demonstrate they were meeting curriculum standards. We were supposed to churning out science experiments, hypothesis and all. On top of all my other duties, I had to end the year with a portfolio of student work and data documents showing the progress I’d made on the goal or risk being placed on a performance improvement plan.

The Epiphany About in Goal-Setting in my Life

It’s no wonder I have struggled when it comes to setting and achieving professional goals as a freelance writer. Besides years of despising the process, I have no one to be accountable to but myself and the bank account. As long as money is coming in, no one minds.

I discovered a “Goals 2018” buried in my files. I set three goals for three areas of my life: professional, rowing, and personal. It was an interesting look back at what I aspired to and what actually happened. I actually did achieve my goals in one of those areas. Guess which one?

World Rowing Masters Regatta gold
I actually won two.

“Win a medal at the WRMC 2018, September 2018.”

Here’s the contradiction. For how horrible I am at following through on professional goals, I’m strangely dedicated to achieving my athletic goals. One of my long-time rowing buddies acknowledged this in a recent thread, when she commented about my rowing training, “You’re so goal-oriented.”

It’s true. As an example, I’ve already mapped out the big picture for next twelve months of rowing training with overarching goals, benchmarks, objectives per month, and ideal number of training sessions to get there. This month’s plan is already written with a benchmark at the end. I’ve been doing this for years.

Why this disparity?

Rowing offers clear and measurable results. See above: either I walked away with a medal at the World Masters Regatta or I didn’t. I also knew what kind of times it would take to possibly win and the training necessary to get there.

Writing isn’t like that. Besides awards like a Pulitzer, there’s no grand end-goal or sum-all achievement. I can’t say, “If I write six days a week, four hours a day, one day I will be a New York Times Bestseller.” It might be more likely to happen, but definitely not a guarantee.

There’s also clear accountability in rowing. If I don’t put in the work–even if it’s just for the single– the it will show. I will either let down my teammates or let down myself.

It’s all back to the measurability thing I hated when goal-setting as a teacher.

Applying Lessons Learned to My Career

Photo by Alexander Mils on

This year, I would like to apply the focus and persistence I give to my rowing training to my career goal-setting. Here’s what I plan to make different:

  • Accountability, because you need someone to answer to, even if it’s just yourself.
  • Measurable, because I do recognize it is important to have benchmarks
  • Fewer goals, to make it easier to stick with working towards results.

Goal Accountability

I plan to write about the progress on my goals here at least once a month. Help keep me accountable! My goals will also be posted in a place where I’ll see them as a work, so they are always present and on my mind.

Measurable goals

Only one of my goals is actually measurable, but where the goal itself it’s quantified, the strategies to get there are. It mostly has to do with time allocation, which is a struggle for many people. I’m using the tools I already have to simply the goal tracking.

Fewer goals

My 2018 document had five goals. That doesn’t seem so bad, but as a parent, athlete, part-time homeschool teacher, part-time writer, five is a lot. Add in the lingering impacts of the pandemic and the uncertainty it has created in our lives, and five really seems a stretch. I’ve picked three.

2021 Goals

Goal 1: Prepare for 2022 by increasing my knowledge base and improving my writing skills.

Goal 2: Reduce my dependence on Upwork clientele while finding opportunities for byline publication.

Goal 3: Maintain income stream of $<confidential> through 2021. That’s an average of $<confidential> per month.

Goal-setting strategy

Photo by Breakingpic on

I can’t remember where I picked up this method, but I do like it and thought I’d share with you.

The Goal itself is the “big picture” item. To achieve the goal, you have to identify what stands in your way and then strategize how to get around that obstacle. Example:

Goal 1: Prepare for 2022 by increasing my knowledge base and improving my writing skills.

  1. Obstacles
    • Balancing the need to generate a monthly income with acquiring new skills. 
    • Classes cost money, which eats into revenue.
    • Finding the time.
  2. Strategies
    • Look into new skills that will make me more diverse and marketable
    • Find free resources
    • Create a “learning” budget I can use on courses
    • Dedicate a set time for reading and learning.
      1. 15 minutes at the start of every work day
    • Create themes for the month to focus the learning
      1. Repurpose my learning into a monthly blog

You can see my goal itself isn’t technically measurable, but some of the strategies towards the goal are. The strategies also address the obstacles, like “I’ll spend 15 minutes each work day reading and learning.” That’s achievable and measurable.

Setting your goals

I get not everyone enjoys setting goals or this time of year when we talk about New Year’s resolutions. Chances are you are setting some type of goal, even if it’s not formal, written down, or tied to performance. It can be as simple as “get out the door on time,” or “find a new job.” Those count.

Whatever you choose to do, find a way to make it measurable and a way to be accountable. Even if you don’t achieve it, the progress of working towards will make you a better person.

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