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Q&A: How do I avoid becoming obsessed and overwhelmed with goal-setting?

I have learned so much from you about goal-setting. Thank you so much for all your wise and helpful advice. I set goals for 2013 and I’m very excited about them. But I’m finding myself getting overly obsessive about reaching my goals, and I feel terrible if, at the end of the day, I haven’t been able to cross off all my little bite-sized pieces of my goals at the end of the day. I almost feel like I want to give up my goals so I stop being so obsessed. Please help me find a better balance! Thank you! -Laura

Laura, I really appreciate you asking this question. While I’m a big fan of goal-setting, I think it’s imperative that we not go overboard with them so that they control our life — ultimately sucking the joy of living out of life itself.

Goals Are Meant To Be a Blessing, Not a Burden

The reason you set goals is to enhance your life, not to exhaust and over-burden you. If goals become additional stress in your life, they need to be tweaked, rewritten, or dropped altogether.

It’s good to challenge ourselves. It’s good to push ourselves outside our comfort zone. It’s good to aim high and work hard.

But there always need to be room to breathe in life. Charging ahead at breakneck speed just for the sake of speed and productivity is no way to live.

With this in mind, here are five ideas for you to consider trying:

1. Create Weekly Goals Versus Daily Goals

I always encourage people to break their goals down into bite-sized pieces. I encourage this because viewing a big goal in one lump sum can be overwhelming.

However, if you break a goal down so small that you feel obligated to always be working on it every single day — even when the inevitable interruptions come up — you can end up feeling like you’ve failed or fallen way behind when you don’t hit your daily goals every single day.

Perhaps a better option for you would be to choose a few small, bite-sized goals to tackle each week versus each day. Write them down and post them on your refrigerator or somewhere else that you’ll see regularly and then fit them in as you’re able throughout the week.

This way, you are still chipping away at your goals, but you’re doing so in a way that’s more flexible and adaptable to your schedule. On days that you’re really busy, you can just focus on the basics. On days that you have some extra time, you can knock out one or two of the bite-sized pieces.

If you don’t get to all the short list of goals that week, just bump the leftovers to the following week.

2. Make Your Goals Your First Priority Of the Day

Since one of my words for 2013 is Discipline, I’ve been making a very concerted effort to do the hardest things first. This means, I’m starting the day by tackling some of my least-favorite but most important things first.

Truthfully, this is making a world of difference for me. I realized that I’ve been wasting a lot of time just stalling… I’d add things to tomorrow’s to-do list or file things to do later instead of just doing it now. There’s a time and place for filing and putting things on tomorrow’s to-do list, but I’ve been challenging myself to stop procrastinating on these things and just face ’em head on and get them done.

Not only am I getting a lot more done, I’m also finding I have a lot more margin time. Because once you stop stalling and start working, it takes a whole lot less time to do things!

3. Take A Day Off Once a Week

If you go-go-go all week long and never take a break, you’re bound to burn yourself out. Give yourself at least one day “off” each week that you don’t worry about work or goals or to-do lists. This is your day to refuel and refresh.

We have Sundays set aside as our day off at our house. We go to church, come home and have a really simple lunch of some sort, and then have a quiet afternoon either resting, reading, talking, playing a game, or engaging in other relaxing activities.

We don’t blog, worry about business stuff or goals, and I often don’t even turn on my phone or computer all day long. It’s a day we look forward to all week long!

If you can’t take a full day off, at least take half a day every week. I promise that you’ll find you’re more productive when you take time to recharge than if you just keep going and never stop to take a breath.

4. Set Fewer Goals

Experiment with lowering the bar a little when it comes to goal-setting. Maybe what you’re getting hung up on is the fact that you’re trying to accomplish too many goals.

It’s better to have fewer goals and follow through with them than to have a lot of goals and just end up overwhelmed by them. Go through your goal list and try culling it down to the most important goals for 4-6 weeks. Just focus on those and see if that makes a difference in your stress level.

5. Give Yourself Grace

You’re pretty much never going to get everything done that you want to in a day’s time. That’s just life! Focus on what you have accomplished instead of beating yourself up over what you didn’t accomplish.

If you end the day feeling like you accomplished nowhere near what you’d hoped, don’t fret. Just transfer the things you didn’t get done to tomorrow’s to-do list (or decide to skip them altogether), go to bed, get some rest, and wake up to a new day tomorrow!

What advice and suggestions do the rest of you have for Laura? I’d love to hear your input!

photo from Big Stock

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  • Katie L says:

    I’d also keep a list of the goals you’ve met. I can get obsessed about following our homeschooling schedule. When I’m worrying about if I’ve ruined my children by taking a day off, or even a week off, I can look at the list of book’s we’ve read this year, or take a peek at how far their handwriting or reading has come since September, and take a deep breath, and give us a break.

    So if you’re paying off debt, keep the total you’ve paid off posted somewhere, not just how far you have to go. Or if you’re trying to exercise more, keep a tally of how many days you’ve made it happen, not just a calendar with empty spaces staring at you from the days you missed.

  • Aleah says:

    I have just started with goal-setting this year, and I opted for the weekly goals vs. the daily ones. With a one-year-old and another baby due in June, I just can’t predict which days will be full of melt-downs and when I’ll be exhausted! One thing that has helped is that I write down what I accomplish on the day I do it. So if I do laundry on Monday, vacuum downstairs on Tuesday, and deep clean the kitchen on Wednesday, I write it on the calendar. When I’m feeling all lame about myself by Friday, I just look back at my calendar and think, “Yeah! I did all that!” It’s really helped me feel like I’m accomplishing things as a stay-at-home mom that are mostly “maintenance” – you know, the stuff you clean that just gets dirty again five minutes later 🙂

  • Marcelaine says:

    I have been noticing recently that I have a somewhat unhealthy tendency to base my worth and success on how busy and productive I am. If I took a nap or spent the afternoon reading a book or played with my children all morning, leaving the pile of dishes and the dirty toilet and the cheerios on the floor for some other time, I look back on my day and find that I have nothing measurable to show for the use of my time. I didn’t accomplish several tasks and I wasn’t a productivity machine. But I spent time on things that were important and valuable to me. My mind really likes the idea of being super-organized and setting lots of goals, but I have found that for my emotional health, it is better to focus on a few simple goals or behaviors at a time. And I try to give myself credit for doing the things that matter most, which are often intangible. Our worth is not proportional to our busy-ness or our productivity.

    • Jennifer says:

      I so appreciate you saying this. I find myself doing the same thing. I keep a separate word doc on each of my kids and try to write down little funny things they said, teaching moments, and endearing activities we do together to remember that my job IS so important, even if my house doesn’t show it.

    • Mary says:

      Your comment is golden. I can see that so easily for DH and my kids but it’s hard to see that for myself (our worth isn’t based on our productivity…)

  • Blaire says:

    I think it is important that we should make sure that we actually have enough time in the day to physically accomplish the goals we set. This kind of goes with #4 of possibly setting fewer goals. Even if we have daily or weekly bite-size small steps, they do add up time-wise. Estimating the time it takes to do these tasks might reveal that no human would be able to do them within the window(s) of time available to attempt them.

  • shannon says:

    I try to follow many of Crystal’s goal setting tips and plan to read her book about Discipline. When I’m struggling with my final few goals week after week I decide to pray about it and put it in God’s hands and you know somehow I then find a way to achieve those once so difficult goals 😉 or at least find a way to achieve the ones with greater priority.

  • Jennifer says:

    I don’t put away piles of laundry right away. I like to visually see just how much I did do. When I see my bed covered with nice, neat stacks of clean clothes, it just makes me feel good.

  • I know so many people who have become slaves of their own goals. Goals are supposed to set u free and not hold you hostage. So we all must loosen up and enjoy the fruits of our hard work and well executed goals.

    Thank you for sharing these amazing tips

  • Awesome post!!! So true; loved it! The one thing I do that helps me not get discouraged if I miss a goal is to remember the saying, “Aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

    I try to remember that, just by making goals and writing them down, I probably got much further than I ever would have if I hadn’t set goals in the first place. If my goal was unrealistic, I just remind myself of how much I did accomplish, and move the goal forward or make each step more realistic next time. The tortise still wins the race!!! And that mentality keeps us from getting our priorities out of whack. Sometimes taking care of the husband, kids, and surprises that come up is more important than knocking out that goal would have been. 🙂

  • Great post Crystal! I tend to get extremely obsessed with goals and to-do lists. I’m very grateful for the by-products of that productivity(an organized home, money savings, health, etc) but I can always use a reminder to slow down and enjoy life, enjoy the many things I’ve already achieved, and enjoy the blessings in my life.

  • I can see myself needing this post. I happened to see your book at my library yesterday and finally checked it out. It’s great, I love how you break down how to set goals because I’m a “show me step by step” kind of person. 🙂

  • Mary says:

    I had to learn to enjoy the journey as much as actually achieving the goal. It sure has made life more fun while we wait to hit those milestones!

    I love these posts on goal setting and really enjoyed reading the comments on this one.

  • Esther says:

    I find that it helps to prioritize my to-do list each day. At the top of my list, I put things that HAVE to be done that day (laundry, making supper, etc.) About 2/3 of the way down my paper, I draw a line, then under the line I write the less-pressing things I need to do: phone the doctor’s office to change an appointment, call a friend to see how she’s doing, do a papier-mache craft with the kids, etc.) If time allows, I do the things on the bottom of the list. But if it turns out to be a stressful day, I save the bottom items for another time.

  • Nicole says:

    I love what you wrote “Charging ahead at breakneck speed just for the sake of speed and productivity is no way to live.”. I would like to put this quote on my facebook. Should I reference you? Or is this a quote or statement that should be referenced to someone else? It is something I really need to focus on. I am even going to print it out as a reminder to myself at work and at home. I think there is so much pressure to get everything done and do it in record time, to supposedly have more “quality time” with family. But, even the not-so-fun things done under the gun create so much burden and tension. So, it is a very valid point that I want to focus on.

  • Lisa says:

    My mom keeps a journal where she records the tasks she does accomplish during the day. That way, even if she deviated from her normal plan for one reason or another, she can see that her day wasn’t as wasted as she thought it was!

  • Gina says:

    Goals aren’t magical, pretentious lists. To me, they are quiet taps on the shoulder. Reminders to stop, revive, inspire, rest, refill, energize and awaken.

  • I love that you’ve encouraged us to take a day off once a week. I’ve been doing this for a few months now and it makes a huge difference! I feel more refreshed and ready to tackle the coming week!

  • christa says:

    Just shared this every way I could find. I feel like you wrote it just to reach my heart lately, thank you so much for choosing this excellent topic and writing so well about it

  • I agree – goal setting can be such an overwhelming thing to do. Thank you for these ideas- I will try to put them into practice!

  • Debi Z says:

    I write out my goals for the week and plan the day I think I will do them, but they often get moved to a different day. My intention is to finish them all by the end of the week, but that doesn’t always happen, and that’s ok! I am getting more done now WITH a plan than I ever did without 🙂

    I also implemented a monthly review where I journal about the past month. I use a paper and pen bullet journal, so I look back through the entire month and look at everything that I got done! In January, I found that while I had not been nearly as consistent as I wanted to be on a daily (or weekly) basis, I had still checked almost everything off my monthly goals list! I made a few tweaks for February to help me be more consistent, but mostly I just gave myself a pat on the back for getting a lot of stuff accomplished I have always been an all-or-nothing person, so if I got off track for a week, I just gave up. Completely. Now that I have a doable plan with very clear “whys,” I can be excited about what I DO get done instead of chucking it all because of my perfectionism LOL

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