Do you set annual goals? I do and they have become the cornerstone of my life. Few things motivate me more than my goals. I always find my annual goal setting and reflection at the beginning of the new year to be the time when I feel most alive.

Goals give me a purpose. They8e2873c9-21d6-4d8a-9e2a-72d7a92d2c50 motivate me to get out of bed in the morning. Without them I am lost and I underachieve. I can get depressed. They are a critical part of the way I am wired. Think about it. Without goals, how can you accomplish anything?

I’d like to share how I do it, but first I want to say that my way is not the only way. If you want to experience the joy and excitement of goal setting and personal achievement, I suggest you find several people you respect or admire who set goals, and take away some insights from each of them. That’s what I do. Every year, I get a little bit better in my goal setting.

In December of 2018, I set 39 goals for 2019 spread over 5 categories. I achieved 18 of them, which is an unimpressive 46%.  But I’m not really too disappointed. 2019 was a brutal year for me and some of my failures were out of my control. For instance, I set some running goals for the summer, then broke my kneecap in May. When I eliminate the 6 failed goals that failed for reasons completely beyond my control, my percentage rises to 55%. When I eliminate another 5 that were made considerably more difficult due to factors beyond my control (ie. hospitalizations, inability to speak for 6 months, etc.) then my success rate goes up to 64%.  So I take that all into account, but I really don’t like to play that game. At the end of the day, I hold myself to the 46%. I achieved fewer than half my goals and I know for sure I could have done better. I can tell you one thing: I SHALL do better in 2020! That’s for certain.

Here’s my process for setting goals:

I start with thinking about everything about my life with which I am dissatisfied, then I construct goals to change those things. Then I start dreaming big dreams. Which ones are realistic? Which one’s would be truly good for me? Sometimes I realize that I need to be careful what I wish for, because attaining those goals would bring with them unintended consequences that I might not want. So I need to think through all of my hopes and dreams.

Next, I construct a rough draft of all my goals by sorting them into categories. Here are my current categories:

8 Categories in 2020

  1. Spiritual – The ultimate goal is closeness to Christ, but that isn’t a good goal because it isn’t measurable. So instead I set goals that measure the time and effort I put into my relationship with Him. Things like daily Mass, monthly Confession, rosaries prayed, and scriptures read. These things CAN be measured. They don’t guarantee closeness to Christ, but they are a good proxy for it. They show me whether I am spending my time in alignment with this ultimate goal.
  2. Physical – These are relatively easy for me to achieve. Had I not broken my kneecap in May, I would have had a 100% success rate here in 2019.  A few years ago, a doctor gave me some hard advice. He told me that before he could ever truly help me, I needed to work on my core health habits. 1) 10,000 steps per day. 2) Drink 1/2 my body weight in ounces of water. 3) Get 7 hours of quality sleep per night minimum. 4) Eat 12 helpings of fruits or vegetables daily. I made these changes and now track them using an app.
  3. Relational – You obviously cannot measure the quality of a relationship. But you CAN measure the time and effort you put into one. My relational goals focus mostly  on my daily habits. How can I maximize my time with my family? How can I make sure that I’m thinking about my family every day? These goals center on being a part of family routines, having special one on one time with family members each week, and taking time out everyday to think about a person important to me.
  4. Personal –  This category is a “catch all” for those things that don’t fit anywhere else. They include making a daily note card that lists the 7 most important things for me to accomplish that day, keeping our family bills and files organized, managing my clothes (a huge challenge for me), and keeping the discipline of reading books and writing blog / social media posts.
  5. Professional – I basically take everything my boss tells me and add all the things I’d like to accomplish in addition to what my boss has told me.
  6. Financial – This is a new category for me in 2020. Some of them used to fall under the “Personal” category but breaking them into a category of their own is long overdue. I’m only able to do this now because my mental fog from chemo-brain only now seems to be improving. This category includes budgeting, getting the best deals on insurance, mortgages, and investments, etc.
  7. Property – Another new category in 2020, these items formerly fell under the “Personal” category above. With a 100+ year old house to maintain and a private pub in our backyard, this is a list of necessary or desired capital improvements for the coming year.
  8. Reading – Because the mental fog from “chemo brain” seems to be lifting for me, I am adding this category for 2020. I am going to read 8 books this year because I know how much it will enrich my life.

After the rough draft, I refine them and pray about them. Then within a day or two, I set them in stone. I write them out and keep them as the first page of a binder that I will review almost daily.

How do I manage these goals? In 2020, I will review them several times per week, usually in the morning as I make out my daily note card. I will also take them to prayer many times. I ask God to help me set them, so I also ask Him to help me achieve them. I am prepared to eliminate any goal during the year if I believe I hear the voice of the Lord telling me to abandon it.

In addition to this master list of goals, I also keep a master list of “Things to Do” in this binder.  This includes everything I wish to accomplish that feed into my major goals. These are mostly smaller steps that will lead to achieving my major goals. Using this master list, I make a daily note card of everything I need to accomplish each day. I literally carry this note card around in my pocket all day and cross off the items as I accomplish them. This is a very important habit for me because when I fail to do this, I often cannot remember all the things I set out to do that morning.

The annual goal list becomes set in stone. It will not change over the course of the year. The master list of “Things to Do” is a running list that grows and shrinks with each day. There are usually between 70-100 items on it. Whenever I think of something else I need to do, I just add it to the master list.  The note card is created every day as I review my master list and calendar appointments.

To summarize, I have three main components to my goal achievement plan:

  1. Annual Goals. Simple, big picture items. Updated in December/January of each year.
  2. Things to Do.” A running list of everything I need to do that pops into my head. Updated whenever I think of it. It gets messy so I need to rewrite it every month.
  3. Daily “Most Important” note cards. These are the things I need to accomplish each day. I usually get them off my “Things to Do” list. I make a note card every morning as a way to focus my day.

Choosing items for my “Most Important” note cards is an art. Some days I am content to accomplish 1 major thing while maintaining my daily physical and spiritual goals. But some days I would rather accomplish a whole list of smaller things just to get them out of the way.

There is one thing of which I am certain, the more time and effort I put into goal setting and achievement, the better my life becomes. It’s really very simple, yet often it is difficult to summon the discipline to make myself do it.

How do you set goals and achieve them?  I’m interested, because I’m always trying to learn and improve.

Good luck, friends. I hope you set and achieve some goals in 2020. Bring on the new year!

[This is Part 1. Click here for Part 2]