Setting Goals During Periods of Uncertainty
I’ve been thinking a lot about personal goals of mine lately. I’ve been seeking out tips for goal setting, particularly in regard to my blog and business. This process began before the pandemic for me, but COVID-19 has really thrown it for a loop for me. The steps I had mapped out for myself in January aren’t serving me now.
How do you plan when you don’t know how long this is going to last? When shut downs first started, I was worried about writing content surrounding COVID-19 and in response to it. I thought it’d be irrelevant or not as useful in a couple weeks time when things settled down.
Well, here we are, months later, and the uncertainty I felt at the start of it all has only grown larger, and my place in everything seems skewed in light of the Black Lives Matter protests and general political climate. I want to help where I can and I want to move forward with my writing, crochet shop, and . . . well, life generally in this new “normal.”
Why Goal Setting is Important
So, in light of everything that’s going on, I’ve been trying to set some new goals, both for myself personally and in my work. In the process, I’ve recognized a few tips for goal setting that I hope you’ll find useful.
Setting goals helps with grounding; it helps us see the forest for the trees. For those of us who like to-do lists, it helps us actually make our way through said to-do lists.
My own goal setting theory has naturally shifted over the years. The biggest shift occurred as I moved out of the student mindset post-law school. Goal setting for students is very different than for creatives, especially when you’re trying to build a business. As a student, the year is mapped out; your goals are at least parallel to the semester’s milestones.
As an independent creative, I’ve often felt quite lost. Part of it has to do with my focus, I think. The struggles that come with the many distractions in the world on a good day are tough enough. This has only been amplified, thanks to COVID-19, the eruption of a revived civil rights movement, and the general Twilight Zone feel 2020 is exhibiting.
A socially distant scene from Winter Park, Florida
Actionable Tips for Goal Setting During Periods of Uncertainty
Setting goals for 2020 — or, rather, the latter half of 2020 — may look and feel very different, and that’s ok. My goal setting strategy for the remainder of this year is focused on digging into the different spheres of my life and identifying actionable steps I can take relating to them. Easier said than done, to be sure, but it’s a step.
My tips for goal setting are pretty straight forward. I hope that they’re applicable both now and after the pandemic is under control. Dream big and be clear with yourself in what you’re working towards.
Identify Personal Goals vs. Work Goals
Depending on the type of work you do, this might be pretty clear cut. These goals can be as general or specific as you want. But it helps to name them and categorize them as personal or work-base, or else they can remain illusory.
For me, I have a few personal goals in mind. These are focused more on my quality of life, my health, my emotional well-being, and so on. In some ways, these have been thrown off even more by social distancing than my work goals, but then again perhaps not.
As someone who works from home in a creative, freelance way, my work and personal goals are pretty intimately intertwined. Perhaps you feel the same, if you’ve been working from home as well.
Use a Goal Setting Vision Board or Mood Board
I know some people like to create actual mood boards on their walls or in a notebook. Personally, I stick with Pinterest for mine. Keep them private or make them themed to share with your followers; whichever you choose, they’re there when you need them.
While I don’t really think of myself as a visual learner, per se, I do appreciate a nice vision board or mood board. I find they help clarify my own emotions around things. It’s similar to how I like to listen to certain music when I’m doing creative work (see, e.g., my playlist for working from home here).
Particularly with my Cats & Coffee branding, for example, creating mood boards helps for when I feel out of sync, like the photos I’m trying to take aren’t quite right or the attitude I’m trying to convey isn’t necessarily what I want.
Set Flexible, Movable Goals
Like I alluded to at the start of this post, there’s really no telling what the world is going to look like in a few weeks’ time. In March, I thought — rather, hoped — we’d be back to “normal” by now. But it’s clear now that going back to that normal is neither desired nor likely to happen any time soon.
So, be flexible. Break down projects into discrete parts so you can move forward step by step. If something happens and a step doesn’t get done in the week you envisioned, then that’s ok. Simply push it to the next week or the next month.
Encourage Realistic, Measurable Goals
Related to setting flexible goals, I encourage you to be realistic in your plans and create measurable steps to help you maintain momentum. While it’s important to have long term plans, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
For a while now, I’ve had “set up a mailing list” as a goal with Cats & Coffee. There are so many small steps in that process that I had been overlooking, though, that I have never been able to check off that goal.
Writing this out now, it seems really obvious why the mailing list has been a sticking point for me. But it’s easy to get lost in your plans and to overlook incremental growth.
Embrace Self-Compassion in Both Personal and Work Goals
I saved this for the last of my tips for goal setting not because it is the least important, but, rather, because I want it to stick with you the most.
More than anything, right now, it’s important to be gentle on yourself when working towards any kind of goal. Self-compassion is important at any point in time, but especially during a pandemic.
Don’t push yourself unnecessarily because that’s what Instagram makes you think you need to do in order to achieve your long term goals. That only leads to burn out and overwhelm.
I came across this short piece by Rose Herndier at Purdue University that succinctly expresses why self-compassion is so important during the pandemic. For a more detailed analysis, you may find this website from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association useful; it’s intended for nurses dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but a lot of the information is broadly applicable.
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