Let’s talk about goal setting and why there is nothing magical about January 1. At Anna Montgomery & Co, we do our planning for the year in February. To understand why, take a trip back in time with me…

My journey with goal setting started as a little kid. I have a journal that I got for Christmas when I was in fifth grade. January 1 I have this nice long entry about what I’m going to do this year—expressing all of my emotions and feelings. January 2nd, I was still journaling strong. January 3rd there was a little bit less. January 4th, less and less—until about six days in, where the last entry in the diary says “Today was a bad day.”

And that is it. I never journaled in that journal again. 

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I’ve saved it all these years because, at some level, I think it speaks to our abilities with goals. We set great goals and we start out really strong. And then we run into challenges or we get further in the year and lose energy. Eventually we hit a point where we have a bad day and we just don’t go back to it.

In my early 20s I decided to start approaching goal setting a little bit more seriously. I made a friend who was also passionate about goal setting, and we recognized a need for some support. So we started a goal-setting accountability group, which ended up becoming an incredibly important aspect of my life for many years. 

Here’s the thing with goal setting—it’s not a one-size-fits all model. Everyone sets goals differently. Everyone achieves goals differently. So everyone needs to work through the process of finding their goal style. Yes, it’s a lot of hard work, but when you find it, it will transform the way you achieve your goals. Here are a few things I’ve learned from the group. 

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Goal Setting Starts with a Vision 

In the past, I often fell prey to the January 1 model. Often on January 1 we look back at our past and say, “Where did I mess up? What should I do better?” Instead, we should be focused on where we want to go. Because goal setting is not just about getting stuff done. It’s about seeing your end vision. Where do you want to be at the end of a week, a month, or the end of your life?

When you make the shift to thinking about how you want to grow, it becomes easier to identify the baby steps that will help you get there. Then you can lay out a plan, building habits and rhythms to move the direction you want to move.

For nonprofit leaders and small business leaders, there are a million fires to put out at any given time and it’s easy to get caught in the weeds. But to lead well, you have to be leading from the why. Simon Sinek writes about starting with why. It’s the concept that your purpose and mission need to inform everything that you lead your team to do. As a leader, you have to create space to lead from the why, and goal setting allows you to do that, while moving forward in a strategic way by creating practical, measurable, and actionable items that will actually get you there.

Goal Setting Can Happen Any Time

Let’s be realistic. Christmas happens and the next thing you know, you’re sitting on the couch in your pajamas and you realize, “Oh no, January is here and I have no energy or desire to set goals right now. I would like to stay on this couch and watch one more Christmas movie.”

In the past I often started January feeling like I had already failed because I knew I needed to set goals but I didn’t have the time and energy needed to do it well. As part of my goal setting accountability group, my friend and I decided to make January goal setting month—the whole month set aside for reflection, creativity, and figuring out where we want to go. Then, we set goals beginning on February 1. 

This creates a bigger chunk of time to be proactive, strategic, visionary and creative. It also creates space for reflection, so I’m not caught in the last-minute flurry of making decisions just because I have to make a decision.

Remember, there’s nothing magical about a particular date on the calendar. You can set goals and start your goals on June 16 if you want. You just need to create space to prepare, and then start.

Start Small

Good goals are realistic. As leaders, we have high expectations for ourselves, just like I did as a kid. It’s easy to feel like a failure when we don’t meet our own expectations. But the reality is, it’s little things that will move you toward your big vision. As you think about what it means to be a leader, what your organization needs, what you need as an individual, and where you want to go, bring yourself back to what makes sense in this season.

You do want to push yourself, but also be realistic. If your life is completely maxed out, look for ways to grow, but start with a baby step. You don’t have to double your business in 2023. Your goal for this year might be to refine your processes. Or deliver better customer service. Or connect with five more donors.

Yes, goals can help us achieve big things, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed, focus on a little step you can take that will help you be more strategic, be more visionary, and lead in a more effective way. Kimberlee Leonoard and Rob Watts have some great thoughts about S.M.A.R.T. goals in this article, if you’d like to learn more.

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Reflection Questions to Get You Started

Ready to get started? We’ve put together a few questions to kickstart your goal-setting process. 

1. How are you?

Take 5-10 minutes and journal about the reality of this moment. What’s consuming your thoughts? What are you excited about? What are you worried about? What do you wish for? How do you feel? Health? Friends? Family? Finances? Spiritual growth? Personal growth? Work? Free time? 

2. What have you been chasing lately? 

In other words, is there a concept, ideal, or thing that you’re pursuing that is leaving you feeling tired, restless, or discouraged? 

3. What good things happened last year? 

Write a list of all the good things that happened last year. What are you most grateful for? How did you see God work? The longer the list, the better! 

4. What didn’t work last year? What was hard? 

Remember not to beat yourself up—the past is behind you. A fresh new year is here! Just be honest and list the facts. What didn’t work well? What challenges did you face? What hard things did you experience? 

5. What lessons did I learn from the good things? 

Look over your list of good things and pull out 3-5 lessons. 

6. What lessons did I learn from the hard things? 

Now grab your list of hard things and pull out 3-5 lessons. Think of these as “the morals of the story.” 

Have some goals set for your church, small business or nonprofit this year? We’d love to hear about them! Reach out and let us know how we can partner with you to help achieve your goals.