The new year is around the corner, and with it comes resolutions—and lofty goals.
January will be different, you tell yourself. It is a magical time when all your New Year's goals become achievable.
Or, as you glance over your previous year’s journal, you think that maybe your old, stale goals will suddenly become achievable.
You know, the ones you write down every year and somehow, they don't get done?
I have aspirations, goals, and dreams I muse about and never act upon. And yet, every year, I publish new books, I try new marketing strategies, and I juggle freelance and creative work.
It’s one thing to have a strong drive to succeed. But willpower alone won’t get you through. Wanting something to change is merely the first step. But without the proper systems, habits, and processes, you might find yourself struggling to check off your goals.
That’s why today I’m going to show you my process for distilling goals for the new year.
If you're new here...
Hey there! Welcome! My name is Clare, I’m the author-publisher behind the young adult science fiction & fantasy publisher, Faery Ink Press.
Each month I blog about a specific behind-the-scenes project or campaign I carry out on my very real publishing company—and share all the messy feelings and results with you, the creative reader.
I wanted next year's goals to be different. And if you’re reading in 2020, you know the feeling.
I was determined NOT to do that for 2021.
My goals for the new year needed to be challenging yet doable. Doable for me now, not doable for me in a perfect world where I'm always ready to tackle hard things all the time.
So, in mid-October (yes THAT early!) I sat down on a Friday afternoon and wrote down everything I wanted to achieve and distilled that down to several specific, actionable New Year’s resolutions. I also tackled those dreadful but delicious pie-in-the-sky goals.
You know the ones—the goals you REALLY want to achieve but you have NO IDEA HOW.
Follow along with this exercise and soon you too will have goals that no longer daunt or intimidate you.
Materials Needed For This Exercise
Step one: Goal Dump
Write down everything you want to achieve within the foreseeable future. Not just goals for the new year – but for the far-off future, too.
At this time, do not worry about:
- Goal size or scale
- “Do-ability” of the goal
- Organizing your ideas and goals
- Differentiating between life domains (work, home, social, etc.)
The point is to get the ideas and dreams out of your brain and onto the page. This is the first step to creating your resolutions.
My list was all over the place. Most of them were business related—financial and audience-size milestones and ideal product launches and their timelines. Some of my personal goals were extremely pie-in-the-sky: “Live in my dream home” and “Vacation in Japan” or vague: “Read more.”
That’s OKAY. On this sheet of paper, you are free to be as big and wild with your dreams as you want.
What’s the point of doing this?
Sometimes, we don’t realize we want something—or how MUCH we want something—until it’s written down.
Spend as much time as you want on this step, but eventually you’ll need to move on.
Step two: Organization and Specificity
Organize your goals/dreams/ideas into specific domains or lists. Personal aspirations in the personal domain, business goals in another list, etc.
I have two brands in my business. Faery Ink Press – and this new blog. There is a laundry list of improvements and opportunities for growth to pursue with each. In this step, I create two separate “lists” for them. I also create a separate list for my personal goals and dreams.
You may have two or three lists or more, depending on what you want to achieve in your life.
Organize your potential goals into lists on the same page as your goal dump, or on the back if there isn’t room.
Now, here’s the trick. While we want to organize your goals and dreams for the purpose of seeing where your true focus lies, we don’t just want to rewrite your goals in each applicable list. You want to refine your New Year’s goals so they are specific and actionable.
If you want, you can apply the SMART goals framework.
What is a SMART Goal?
A SMART goal ideally has all five of these qualities (there are slight variations on the acronym floating around but all-in-all the variations mean the same):
If your goal is too nebulous, you won’t know where to start—get Specific.
If your goal doesn’t have some kind of metric for success, you won’t know when it is achieved—make it Measurable.
If your goal seems out of your reach, financially and mentally, you’ll set it aside. Make it Achievable. We’ll talk more about this below.
If your goal has nothing to do with your life at present, why would you even make time for it? It has to be Relevant.
If your goal doesn’t have a deadline – near or far – with additional daily or weekly tasks to complete the goal, it will be difficult to break it down into manageable chunks. Your goal must be Time-Bound.
The idea is to start thinking about your goals in achievable steps: to pluck your far-off dreams and aspirations and pin them in your current reality.
You don’t have to use the SMART goals framework, but it can be handy to turn your vaguer aspirations (“Read more”) into an actionable New Year’s goal (“Read 15 novels on my bookshelf by June 29, 2021”).
This is too overwhelming...
If this feels too overwhelming, I suggest assigning a numerical value (measurable) to each vague dream or aspiration and a far-off due-due (time-bound). I find this is enough to get me started and thinking about where to place it on my calendar. We’ll drill down on your complicated, uncomfortable goals in the next step.
At this point, my lists looked something like this:
BUSINESS GOALS – FAERY INK PRESS
- Earn $XX,XXX in one month from website sales
- Reach 10K newsletter subscribers
- Launch 3 books in one year
BUSINESS GOALS – CMP BLOG
- Publish 15 articles
- Set up Google Ads
- Read 21 books in 2021
- Start vacation fund
As you can see, some of these goals are easier in scope than others. Some don’t have specific deadlines, but they’re enough to get me started. A few of these list items can be done in a day. Others may take months or even years to achieve.
Again, at this point, that’s okay. Because of what we’re going to do in the NEXT STEP…
Step three: But what will my achieved New Year's goals look like?
Take your most daunting goal from steps one and two. You know the one. The one you REALLY want to achieve, but you have NO IDEA how you’re going to do it. Ideally, this may be a goal that you’re reasonably sure will take more than one year to complete.
Grab a new sheet of paper and at the top, write:
What would an achieved <goal> look like for me?
This is a freeform writing exercise, though you can do in bullet point form.
For me, one of my pie-in-the-sky goals for Faery Ink Press is for the brand to earn six figures in one year.
Now, I’m reasonably convinced this is NOT a 2021 goal, unless there are some dramatic shifts in the economy and in how I personally do business. However, I know that I can take some steps to position myself to get there within a couple of years, give or take.
At the top of my sheet, I write: What would a six-figure year for Faery Ink Press look like?
But why should I do this?
Here’s the thing with this exercise. It will either reveal that this goal is possible—or that it ISN’T.
It will also reveal the steps you can take to (theoretically) get to where you want to be—so that you can turn it into an actionable goal.
I say theoretically because you can plan all you want, but ultimately the world will throw you curveballs and you’ll have to adapt.
This step also requires you to be honest about where you are currently.
I can’t have a six-figure year unless I have five-figure months. To do that, I figured out how many books I’d need to sell to make that happen and compared that to how many I sell now.
It can be tough to be honest with yourself, especially when you have pie-in-the-sky financial aspirations.
But being uncomfortable is part of being an entrepreneur.
Note that uncomfortable is NOT the same as being unsafe. You have to step outside your comfort zone to move forward. To reach my ultimate goals, I have to set smaller, more achievable goals, even if they are pitiful compared to what you really want. Gotta walk before you can run!
The objective here is to come away with a more achievable or streamlined version of your pie-in-the-sky/uncomfortable goals. Ideally, one that you can achieve this year.
From my six-figure goal, I walked away with: have one four-figure month from the Faery Ink Press website.
With the cancellation of my shows this year, I learned just how much I rely on in-person events to fuel my book sales. While I sell well at those, I can only do so many in a year (or in a month!) before I’m completely burnt out. I have to aggressively diversify my book income to sustain the brand in case I also have no in-person sales in 2021.
This process can be sobering. I want nothing more to write down “Earn six figures in 2021 from selling books!” in my bullet journal and not think about it anymore. For some, maybe a large financial goal is attainable. Good for you. But we’re all playing different games, we’re writing in different genres, and we’ve branded ourselves in different ways.
For me, a four-figure month from JUST my own website IS a challenge. I know how to get to three figures per month. I have to take the next step and crack four. Then five.
Now do it again
I repeated this exercise for my largest and most uncomfortable goals. At this moment, I’m not placing a limit or selecting which of these goals I’ll set my mind to in 2021. I’m simply narrowing my most desired goals down to achievable bite-sized snacks and re-adding them to my master list for each domain.
FAERY INK PRESS in 2021:
- Earn $XX,XXX in one month from website sales
- Earn $X,XXX in one month from website sales
- Reach 10K newsletter subscribers
- Reach 1K newsletter subscribers
- Have 100 preordering customers per new title
- Launch 3 books in one year
The new goals on my list are either more specific or they have smaller targets. They are inherently more achievable for me.
You could narrow your potential goals by just reducing numbers arbitrarily – but I recommend parsing it out, factoring in your current sales, email newsletter subscribers, or whatever you’re trying to increase to come up with a number that makes sense for you.
So far, I’ve only talked about financial goals and what I’m going to call milestone goals: goals that have numerical target objectives. However, one does not just “reach” 1K newsletter subscribers passively. This is done by engaging in a set of activities designed to increase your newsletter list.
For each goal, I recommend you do a deep-dive brainstorming session on HOW you’re going to go about achieving it. That’s not something I’m going to cover in this article (I’m trying to keep these blog posts digestible, unlike my previous attempts!). This takes some more time to figure out, but if you make a plan with achievable deadlines, for a project you care about, you’re going to come out ahead as long as you stick to it!
When do I aim high and when do I pull back?
You may have the instinct, especially in December and January, to slap down some arbitrary goals for the new year just for the sake of having “something” to do or because you’re feeling inspired to get started on a new chapter in your life.
It’s not up to me to tell you what feels achievable, as we are all different in our skills and what we can handle in a single day, week, month, and year.
I use the following guideline, based on what feels right for me:
- Aim high when it’s an important life or business goal. If the milestone is too daunting, reduce it using the step three method until it feels achievable. At the very least, you’ll create manageable steps that will aid you in achieving the ultimate, larger goal.
- Pull back, reduce the goal, or re-evaluate in periods of stress or extreme uncertainty. We experience uncertainty all the time as creative entrepreneurs, but if you have a sustained, nagging feeling that the goal you’ve set is too much for you, tweak your goal and expectations. Once you achieve it, you can re-evaluate your next step in the process.
Step four: Choose your top three annual New Year’s goals
If you’re like me and you have a LOT going on, or you have many, many dreams and aspirations, choosing only three goals can be a stressful task.
Believe me when I say, narrowing your focus is the BEST thing you can do for your creative business, whether that’s in the scope of creative work itself, or in the actual marketing of your brand.
Here are my top recommendations for selecting your most important annual goals:
- Choose SMART goals. From your refined lists, which goals stand out as the most specific and actionable? Which have reasonable deadlines?
- Choose goals that align with what you ultimately want to do with your life, whether that’s in business, interpersonally, or otherwise.
- Mix your goal type. Have a healthy mix of milestone goals, financial goals, habit goals, or project goals.
- Mix the level of accomplishment ease. Don’t be afraid to choose an “easier” goal (“Set up a vacation fund on January 2”) just because it’s accomplishable in one day. Setting up that fund is the first step to a larger dream – taking a big vacation. Balance this out with a more difficult goal (“Read 100 books by December 31”).
Your goals are yours. The only person who can judge them accurately is you.
But Clare, what if I fall off the bandwagon?
I hear you. Come February, maybe these goals won’t be as appealing or achievable for you. Or they will feel unachievable. Maybe you’ve started off with gusto, and now you’re just…uninspired.
When that happens:
Re-examine the goal
Break it down even further into actionable steps. Is breaking 1,000 email subscribers too intimidating, when you’ve only got 100? Your new goal is to get to 150 email subscribers.
Return to your “What <goal> will look like when achieved” exercise.
Remember why you wanted to achieve this in the first place. If it helps, in December or January when you’re contemplating your year, write down all the reasons you want to achieve the goal. Visualize the future. This will deepen your why, which will strengthen your drive to achieve your goal.
Are you feeling defeated because it’s February?
February can be a depressing month. The days are short, it’s cold outside, it’s dark, and what happened to my enthusiasm for the year? Your feelings are valid—but you’ve still got plenty of year left. Adapt your expectations, forgive yourself, and trudge on.
Are you feeling defeated for reasons outside your control?
Life happens. No matter how much you plan, exterior forces will either conspire or swirl around you. All you can do is remain standing and adapt your goals.
Write down the reasons your goal might NOT get completed.
It’s best to do this before you get into a state of panic or doubt. This will make you aware of potential preventable or manageable obstacles or mental blocks.
Sometimes you just have to do it.
Not every subtask within your ultimate goal is fun or worry-free. If you’re avoiding it because you feel nervous about it, believe me, avoiding it forever is just going to make it more untouchable in your mind. Create a space, block off the time, and get it done. Future-you will be grateful.
Above all – forgive yourself
For so long, I obsessed over how many checkmarks I made in a day in my bullet journal or in Asana. I would review them and think, “Oh no, I only did one thing that day?” Knowing full well that that one thing took nearly the whole day, or I did several small things that I didn’t even bother to write down, or I spent a chunk of my day being interrupted by sudden and new client work.
The more I obsessed over this kind of productivity, the more depressed I felt. Couldn’t I get ANYTHING done, I asked myself – while meanwhile, I was writing and launching books, developing social media strategies, and planning whole preorder campaigns.
All this turmoil occurred because I had tied my self-worth to my daily productivity.
This past fall, I’ve been putting more energy into forgiving myself. I can be extremely tough on myself when I don’t meet personal deadlines or if I don’t complete a certain number of tasks in a day. I can easily meet deadlines for others, as I have spent much of my professional career catering to clients and customers, putting their needs before my own, that I often forget that I do have needs and mood swings that need to be accommodated, controlled, or worked around so I can get the most out of my day.
Mitigate this with the following tips.
#1 Only work on ONE task at a time, to completion, no matter how long it takes.
We are so easily distracted these days. I’ve taken to being deliberate with my energy and focus. Turn off social media, notifications, and the like until the task is done.
#2 If your task is large, break it up into sections.
Even if this means working on a task for 3 days, for 2 hours each day, until it’s done.
#3 Stop counting how many tasks you complete in a day.
Just don’t do it. Focus on what you HAVE done, the quality of your tasks and how they move you closer to completing your larger goals, rather than the quantity of tasks you do during waking hours.