Written on January 9, 2017
I have been setting annual, personal goals since three years ago for each of the following years. While I didn’t achieve all my goals for any of the years, working towards the goals have had many great impacts on my life.
In 2015, one of my personal goals was to apply for a job at Buffer. That goal eventually led me to my current job as a content crafter at Buffer.
In 2016, I aimed to read for an hour per day or at least 10 books for the year. I read 11 books and listened to three audiobooks. That’s the most I have ever read in a year, and I learned a lot from the books.
Why I Set Personal Goals?
Research has found that setting goals increases one’s motivation and performance. But the reason I set personal goals is less scientific. It came from Alice in Wonderland.
In the book, Alice met the Cheshire Cat and asked it which way she should go. When the Cheshire Cat replied that it depends on where she wants to go, Alice said that it doesn’t matter as long as she gets somewhere. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cheshire Cat, adding that if Alice walked long enough, she will get somewhere.
There are many interpretations of this conversation. My interpretation is this: If I don’t know where I want to go, I’ll eventually reach somewhere as long as I go in a direction. But I don’t want to end up just anywhere. That somewhere might not be where I’d love to be. For instance, I might have a job that I dislike.
Setting personal goals keeps me mindful of what I want to achieve and how I spend my time. I think it’s unproductive to live day-to-day without having an idea (albeit a rough one) of what I want to achieve. Having an end in mind allows me to work towards it instead of living each day aimlessly.
That said, I find it hard to know exactly what I want to achieve many years from now. I have an abstract idea of my long-term dreams but right now, I find planning for a one-year timeframe much more manageable. Maybe when I get better at thinking and planning further into the future, I’d set three, five, or ten-year goals.
Three Years of Iterations
I have refined my goal-setting process slightly each year but it has been mostly the same. There are three things that I’ve been doing consistently:
1. Reflect on the past year
My goal-setting process starts with a reflection on the past year where I’d write down all the important events in the year. I’d push myself to list out as many things as possible so that I’d remember the little yet important things. For the last two years (2015 and 2016), the list had 35 and 33 things respectively.
I’d start by writing down whatever that comes to mind, then think about specific areas of my life such as love, family, friends, growth, career, and financial, and finally I’d refer to the previous year’s list to help spark any memories.
2. Plan holistically
My annual plan considers all the important areas of my life for that year. The set of areas varies a little each year but it usually includes relationships, career, health, and leisure. Since it is a plan for my life, I think it makes sense to plan for every important area than just one or two.
3. Share the plan
Once I’ve set my goals, I’d share the plan with my girlfriend (now fiancé) and a close friend to get their feedback and to keep myself accountable. As I talk to them about my life and personal goals the most, they have the context to understand my goals, know how I think, and would often ask me about my progress towards my goals.
What has changed is that I try to be more specific with my personal goals. Three years ago, my belief was that annual goals should be high-level since the timeframe is long. In my 2015 plan, I had goals like “balance work and family”. It was hard to act on such goals as they were vague. This year, I made my goals more specific by having sub-goals, such as “have at least one dinner with my family per week” and “go for a family trip” under my goal of “always make time for my family”.
How Do You Plan Your Life?
Planning my goals annually keeps me mindful of how I want to live my life each year. I’ll keep up with this practice for many more years, and I want to improve my goal setting and planning process, too. One of the things I’d love to do is to plan longer term.
How do you plan your life or year? Do you have any advice for me?