An Anti-Goalsetting Manifesto

Serious question:

Who here feels like you haven’t even recovered from 2020, and now we have to face 2024 all-freaking-ready?

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For months now, I have been trying to wrap my head around planning for 2024, and I just…

I’m on the struggle bus, y’all. I just can’t. I keep trying to think ahead, set up deadlines or goals, set myself up to be the badass I know I should be, and it’s just. not. working.

I think maybe I’ve figured out why.

Burnout and Focus

Over the last several weeks, I’ve tried to sit down and write some goals and plans and rules for 2024, and every time I made this attempt, everything I wrote down or considered seemed wrong. Either it was too ambitious, too time-driven, too far out of my control, or too something-along-those-lines. I couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t seem impossible, unrealistic, or difficult to control.

It isn’t that I don’t want to accomplish some things in 2024–I do. I would like to build my business, get rid of this weight that’s crept back after my low of a few years ago, finish Soultainted and some other fiction projects, read 50 books, knit lots of hats and mitts, remodel some things around the house…

And yet…

I can’t write those things down as goals for 2024.

I think I’m burnt out on goalsetting.

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For many years now, I’ve been setting goals in January and failing on them at some point throughout the year. Sometimes I abandon them altogether; other times, I just finish them later than I hoped I would (which is a “best case” scenario).

While this problem has often led to frustration, it’s never been more acute than it was over 2023. I abandoned so many habits and goals mid-way through the year that it’s amazing I had any left. I didn’t achieve most of what I set out to do in 2023. I’ve certainly had years like this before, so why did 2023 burn me out so much?

Outside and Inside Forces

First, I didn’t have any scapegoat. The goals I set in 2020 were largely hijacked by circumstances beyond my control. The same has happened in other years–I’ve set goals, circumstances changed things, and I either abandoned the goal or extended the deadline by quite a lot. In 2023, I didn’t really have any huge outside force impacting my goals. Yes, inflation was high and a recession threatened, but I don’t think those things impacted my business much–in part because of problem number two.

What was problem number two?

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It’s me. I’m the problem.

As I’ve mentioned before, we traveled a lot this year–a lot. Final tally of days I was gone from home? 54. Plus, we’ve had visitors here a couple of times.

Y’all. That’s basically two months of the year where my normal routines and schedules have been off–more if you think about the days before and after each trip when I’ve had to prepare to leave and then unpack and put my stuff back together. And while I have tried to work on some of those trips, most of them were not conducive to doing much work.

The other “me problem” is that I have been way too distracted and scattered this year. I’ve definitely spent too much time on useless activities (computer solitaire, I’m looking at you) or things that don’t directly impact any goals (podcasts hosts, why do you all have to be so dang interesting?).

There is one more “me problem” that contributed to burnout, but it’s of a slightly different nature… And I think I may finally have a handle on what it is.

Too Many Buckets

I have too many buckets and not enough hands to carry them all.

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I’ve started classifying my life into “buckets”–grouping things into categories.

  • Bucket #1: Self-care
  • Bucket #2: Freelance Work
  • Bucket #3: Fiction
  • Bucket #4: Marketing and Administrative stuff
  • Bucket #5: House and Family

(You could also say there’s an unofficial Bucket #0 where I aim for a healthy amount of sleep each night. Since it’s so foundational and non-negotiable as a human, I didn’t give it a bucket of its own.)

Oddly enough, creating these categories in my head has sort of helped me wrap my arms around my various obligations over the last few months. I’ve mentioned before that I use the Pomodoro method to get work done. Well, classifying all of these various areas kind of helps me group my tasks into Pomodoro sprints and figure out where I want to spend my time.

Thinking this way has also helped me figure out how to manage the buckets a bit better. Last year, I wanted to read 50 books and knit or crochet 50 things and train for a half-marathon and do a bunch of other personal growth. These goals required a whole lot of scattered attention across a variety of buckets that I hadn’t named yet.

I think when it came to setting goals for this year, I looked at what I did last year and just decided there was no way that approach would work.

So… This year, if there’s a thing I’m interested in doing, I can lump it into the right bucket and know that doing so will require shifting items in the bucket around or dumping some of the bucket out, at least for the day.

Which leads me to the anti-goalsetting part of this…

I’m DONE

I’m done, you guys.

Not done with accomplishing things or aiming for a finish line.

I’m done putting those things on specific timelines.

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For decades, I’ve been steeped in all the advice and tips and suggestions for setting goals. I know all about SMART goals. I’ve heard how I should break everything down into smaller chunks to make little progress that feeds into the bigger accomplishment. I’ve planned to write 1,000 words per day or knit/crochet/read for half an hour a day. I’ve set a big income goal and broken it down into smaller goals and put the time in to market and achieve the big goal.

And you know what?

I’ve failed a lot more than I’ve succeeded.

I usually start out great guns on some arbitrary date (January 1, anyone?), get thrown off here and there by unexpected things, forget to factor in real life, fall behind, get frustrated, sabotage myself, maybe try to get back on track in a half-hearted way, and then eventually give up.

This is not a good recipe for mental health.

The goals where I have succeeded have not had deadlines. I’ve had behaviors or habits I’ve committed to with an end in mind, but I haven’t put those on a schedule. When we focused on getting out of consumer debt, we employed a debt snowball methodology. We knew the minimum amounts we could manage that would eventually get us out of debt, threw extra at it whenever we could, and then one month–poof! The debt was gone.

It was the same in 2017. I set out to feel better, not to lose weight. I knew I would lose weight, most likely, if I pursued the behaviors I committed to, but I didn’t set a time limit on it. I just did the right things, and eventually, I hit a goal that I’d had in my head. It took more than a year–about 16 months, I think. I started on a Monday, but I think it was a random Monday–January 17 or something like that.

In other words, in true curmudgeon-rebel form, I did my own thing.

I’m going back to that.

What I’m Doing This Year

So given all of that… Y’all are probably wondering what exactly I am going to do in 2024.

Well, for starters, I’m not setting specific goals.

I’m going to focus exactly two things in 2024: work and diet/fitness.

As far as work goes, I’m aiming to just work a on fiction a little bit every day. I hope to finish the second Ian Mac Roy story early this year, and I would love to get a beta-reader-ready draft of Soultainted done (but I’m not going to stress if I don’t).

On the freelance commercial writing side, I intend to pursue new clients and line up more of that work, but I’m not setting particular income goals. I’m just going to focus on doing a little marketing every day and planning the rest of my time around the deep focus I need for doing client work.

And for diet and fitness–I’m going back to some of the things that worked in 2017 – 2019. I’m just going to try to eat less than I burn most days. I’m going to do some kind of exercise most days. I have a goal weight in my head, but I’m not putting a deadline on it.

I’m going to build my weekdays around work and my weekends around home and family and do some self-care every day. I am going to be more diligent about protecting my work time from interruptions and distractions (both from me and from those around me), but I’m also going to try to be more present and available to allow those interruptions and distractions when they’re important.

And everything else?

Well, I set a goal of 50 books on Goodreads, but I’m not going to kill myself to finish it. I will try to do some knitting and crocheting, but with the goal of self-care, not finishing an arbitrary number of items. I will probably look for some more new recipes, hopefully find a couple of weekend days to clean out the spare room, and maybe start that picture wall I keep talking about, but I’m not putting dates on any of those things. When they happen, they happen.

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It seems I’m not the only person who is in an anti-goalsetting moment right now. My friends Kristen Stelzer and Beth Learn both recently recorded podcasts/webinars that are designed to sort of free us up to think about goals a different way.

Maybe we’re all just really tired from all the crap the last several years have thrown at everyone. Maybe we’re re-assessing how we’ve been taught by goalsetting gurus.

Whatever is in the air at the moment, I welcome it. Maybe it will make 2024 a little more tolerable, even if this is the year the apocalypse happens.

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I wish you all a fulfilling and prosperous 2024. Happy New Year!

 

 

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