5 Tips for Setting Goals

Chicago blogger Bows & Sequins wearing a leopard print pajama set in a cozy white bed and tufted headboard with a coffee mug and gold Macbook laptop.

For me personally, setting the year off on the right foot is always at the top of my priority list! Especially since this year is the first year of a new decade (and my 30th birthday was just a few months back, so it really does feel like the dawn of a new decade), it feels extra important to set goals for the year ahead, get clear on my intentions for this year and even decade, and spend time getting organized and setting myself up for success.

And the timing couldn’t be more perfect this year… Two of my best friends are spending the next two weeks in warmer weather, and I jumped on the opportunity to stay at their place and watch their dog while they’re away! Two weeks of puppy snuggles? Count me IN! 

But I’m also excited to treat this time as a little staycation of sorts! Actually, staycation might be the wrong word… A little solo retreat is more what I have in mind. As I write this, I’m sitting at the dining table in complete silence with snow falling outside and I couldn’t be more relaxed or ready to GSD. I’m planning on doing a mostly dry January, and it’s the perfect time of year to hole up inside and soak up some very much-needed alone time.

It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of my apartment or living situation this year, and since I don’t have an office to go into, it’s definitely been a challenge to stay focused and feel motivated over the last six months. In my apartment, my desk is right off of the living room, and without fail, the second I sit down to work, it’s time for one of my roommates to watch TV, make dinner, play music, etc. I’ve always been someone that’s more productive in the evening, as well as someone who needs it to be quiet in order to be productive and can’t work with many distractions. So most times I have to resort to working from my bed (which is not great for my sleep hygiene), or wearing noise-cancelling headphones without any music playing. 🙃

Not to mention, when you’re away from your own home, it’s always so much easier to think clearly! At least for me, anyway. I’m not thinking about laundry, how I need to hang that frame, reorganizing my bathroom drawers, new lampshades, how I wish my curtains were longer, etc.

So with all of that being said, I’m sure you can understand why I could not be more THRILLED to be living alone again for the next two weeks and having a little productive hibernation!

Chicago lifestyle and wellness blogger Bows & Sequins writing in a journal in her bedroom.

The Importance of Setting Goals

While it might be surprising to hear, I feel like I’ve really struggled with goals in the past. (Well, actually, maybe it’s not surprising if you look at my original 101 list and how few things I’ve accomplished on it. 😂 You can see my updated list here!)

For most of my adult life, I’ve operated more so on a to-do list basis. I have a notebook with a constant running list of things to do. Immediate things, more long-term things, and someday things. When I say “my to-do list is a mile long,” I’ve actually been downplaying it. Miles would have probably been more accurate. And as someone who tends to get a sense of paralysis by feeling extremely overwhelmed, this was not a system that was working for me.

So with some trial-and-error of some new ways of doing things over the last year or so and some helpful advice from my therapist, I’ve found a pretty good system for what’s currently working for me and my monkey mind!

I’m learning about the importance of setting goals, both professionally and personally. True story: When my therapist first gave me the “homework” of setting a few goals for the month, I was excited to tell her that I had set a handful (and loved the impact it was having, even after just two weeks!) at our next session! She simply said, “That’s great to hear! Just out of curiosity, were they all work-related?”

I’m pretty sure I looked at her with this face 🤔 for a solid ten seconds before I found the words, “I mean, yeah…? What other kinds of goals are there?!” I literally said that.

She just chuckled and rattled off a handful of goals that some may have on their lists… Make time to call and catch up with family, prioritize exercise, be a better listener, etc. Needless to say, it was very telling for both of us that exactly zero personal goals ever crossed my mind. Truth be told, it can still be a bit challenging for me to come up with some personal goals for my monthly list, but I’ll share how I’ve been breaking it down and creating lists of manageable goals that make me feel productive and empowered.

Jessica Sturdy's Chicago Office: Gold Apple Macbook laptop, white marble table with hammered gold legs, black productivity planner, monogrammed leather notebook

5 Tips for Setting Goals

1. The Productivity Planner  |  I talk about this planner in Episode 6 of AFTR, but it’s been the biggest game changer in my daily and weekly productivity. When you start the week, you do a bit of planning and outline the five most important tasks of the week, five tasks of secondary importance, and five additional tasks. That’s it. Each day, you identify your single most important task of the day, two tasks of secondary importance, and two additional tasks. That’s it. Gone are the days of my lifetime running list of things to do on a legal-sized notepad. There’s a “notes” section each day where you can write down ideas, future tasks, etc. Of course, I sometimes use this section for additional daily to-do’s or errands, I’m only human. But I try not to! (And the section is quite small!)

The planner also utilizes the Pomodoro Method for time tracking! Again, major game changer for me and my ADHD brain. Read more about it here, but the Pomodoro Method utilizes 25-minute time chunks (you set a timer!) where you focus on one task and one task only. Writing, photo editing, emails, IG DMs, content planning, accounting, invoicing, recording my expenses, cleaning, styling outfits… Whatever it is, you’re working on that task and not allowing any distractions while you’re doing it. IT’S A GAME-CHANGER, FRIENDS. You can totally implement the Pomodoro Method into your life without this planner (I recommend it!), but the planner allows you to track your 25-minute chunks for a certain task. At the beginning of the day, you have a target for how many 25-minute chunks you think that task will take you, and you measure how long it actually took you. Doing so has made me much more aware of how long things actually take me, which in turn allows me to set more realistic and manageable daily and weekly goals for myself!

At the end of the day, you give yourself a productivity score, which is just a helpful exercise at the end of the day to reflect and recognize any hiccups or victories. And at the end of the day, I like to go ahead and set up my next day’s list! That way, as soon as I sit down at my desk in the morning, I already have a plan of action. Plus, the simple ritual of closing out the day kind of signals my mind that it’s time to turn off and helps with anxiety/sleep/etc.

And finally, at the end of the week, you do a little weekly review! You reflect on your weekly wins, tasks that were not completed, what you learned this week, and think ahead to the next week. I like to do this on Friday afternoons before I wrap up for the weekend.

2. Monthly Goals  |  Since the Productivity Planner tackles my daily and weekly goals, I make a small list of monthly goals in a separate notebook. For example, some monthly goals at this time last year… Podcast launch on 3/1, Revamp media kit, Taxes, Read (& finish!) two books, Start a non-self-help book, Pinterest strategy & plan, Go to yoga six times, etc.

I try to incorporate a mix of personal and professional goals. From a work perspective, this list helps me look at the bigger picture from the day-to-day. At the end of the month, what ‘bigger’ goals will I have accomplished? Last February is a great example because I wanted to launch my podcast at the end of the month. So when I was planning out my weeks and days, I was able to look back at my monthly goal and figure out how I needed to break that down to make it happen. Make my artwork for iTunes, find music for my intro, record the first few episodes, etc.

3. Quarterly Goals  |  These go even bigger picture! Personally, I think these are great places for new projects and side-hustle types of things. Then, when you’re making your Monthly lists, you can cross-reference back to your Quarterly list to make sure you’re touching on some broken-down big-ticket items.

4. Yearly Goals  |  I typically like to have a “theme” for the year, but a small list of yearly goals is smart to have, too. Again, it’s all about working backward. For goals that are harder to measure or take time to implement, for example, maybe it’s developing a daily meditation practice… When it’s on this yearly list, you’re then seeing it again each quarter (and then each month), and having a chance to circle back and remember what’s important to you for the year. That way, no matter if you fall off the wagon in a certain month, it’s easy to hop back on the next month. I’m going to go ahead and say the 101 in 1001 list falls into this, as well, just a bit longer term!

I’m not really a fan of lists that are longer-term than that, because things just change and shift so much that it seems unrealistic for specific goals. HOWEVER, I do think it’s smart to maybe think about those longer-term (5 and 10-year) goals when it comes to a financial perspective. For example, in the next five years, I’d like to purchase a home, so how can I break that down into yearly financial goals to help me achieve that milestone down the road?

5. A Running List  |  And of course, I still have my running list! In that same notebook, I keep a running list as a catch-all for all of the random shit that pops up in my mind. Personally, I get anxious if I think of a to-do and don’t write it down. So I add things to this haphazard list for peace of mind. Truthfully, I rarely look at it, but it’s there when I need it for inspiration, lighting a fire under my ass, remembering some little idea I had, etc.

I’d love to hear some of YOUR tips for setting goals! I’m always looking for productivity hacks and I’m sure everyone else reading could benefit from reading what works for you, too.

*ps: my leopard pajamas are on *major* sale! (over 50% off!) I absolutely love this brand of PJs, so if you also have plans of hibernating this month, definitely check out their loungewear! For reference, I wear a small.

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  1. 1.4.20
    Tracy said:

    This is such a great post. Thank you for sharing.

    • 1.5.20
      Jessica said:

      So happy to hear! xx

  2. 1.8.20
    Kathy Sweedler said:

    Great blog Jessica! I like the ideas and how you’ve applied them 🙂