How to set (and achieve) your creative goals

Today I want to share simple steps to set goals for your creative work that you can (and will!) actually achieve in 2018. I want you to be able to battle distraction, avoid overwhelm, and truly take meaningful steps to improving your craft and sharing it with others.

(Heads up: I’m hosting a live chat about this topic today! Join me on Facebook at 2pm ET on my page: I will talk through these tips, and would love to answer questions you have and brainstorm to help you set good goals for 2018.)

This time of year, I hear that common refrain from many people: “Where did the year go?!” Packed into that expression is a sense of regret that they didn’t accomplish what they hoped to this year. That they spent the year reacting to an onslaught of distractions that were created by others, instead of creating a clear path to their own focused goals.

Okay, let’s dig in…

Why Set Goals

“Goals” sounds scary though, right? Like a big ominous expectation that has no place in your days that are already packed with other responsibilities. Maybe you think, “Goals are for people who are more structured than I am.” Or “Goals are for people who have more free time than I do.”

I want to encourage you to think of goals as a way to honor what you know you are capable of with your creative work. Setting goals isn’t about becoming a rigid planner. Rather, it is about being honest with yourself about what you want, giving yourself permission to pursue it, and clearing the path to get there.

What I find in speaking with writers and artists is that they are often buried in to-do lists. These are usually tasks set by others, meaning that this person is spending their days reacting to the needs of others, instead of setting their own clear intention.

Goals are a firm way to be clear about what you hope to achieve, without excuses. It is about having to confront that within your own mind and your own heart. As actor and artist Jim Carrey puts it, “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

Setting goals are a way for you to stop waiting for others to give you permission to pursue what you love.

They are also a wonderful mechanism to maintain control over your time and energy and avoid distractions. They allow you to wake up each week knowing what you need to work on, and provide a reason to not check Facebook or the news first thing in the morning; to instead, spend those 10 minutes on your creative work before the rest of your day begins.

What’s more, goals are also a framework to communicate to others what is important to you and why. Again, this goes back to waiting for permission. Oftentimes, a writer or artist will work in secret because they are afraid of judgement. They bide their time until they are convinced their work will have obvious public validation.

But that isn’t how great work goes from idea to reality. It is nearly always a collaborative process that requires social risk. It requires you to put your work — and yourself — out there, before validation is guaranteed.

Goals help you feel better about this part of the process, because you understand that this short-term sacrifice of uncomfortableness is in service of something bigger. Something you dream about becoming reality.

Perhaps what I like best about goals is that they can help you determine how you want to spend your days. Goals need not be an arrogant and bold statement of achievement. When done well, they provide a richness to your days because you feel total clarity with how you spend your time, who you spend it with, and what you are creating.

Get Clarity On What Matters Most to You, Then Double-Down On It

Stop trying to do more, and instead, focus your energy and time on what matters most. This is a mindset shift that states “doing more” is not the badge of honor; doing only what matters most is.

To achieve this, you have to set your priorities and make difficult choices. The writers and artists I work with lead complicated lives. They juggle kids, family, health, home, jobs, volunteering and so much else, all in addition to their creative work. What I have found is that those who achieve the most make polarizing decisions about where to spend their time and energy. It is rarely at the expense of things that they truly care about. In fact, what I find is that they double-down on those things.

What I encourage is to look at all of your goals together, not just “creative goals” as if in a vacuum.

Then, say “NO” to most things. But this is the key: say “YES” with VIGOR to those few things that you truly care about.

Use this as a decision-making tool when new opportunities come up. Should you go to that PTO meeting at your kids school? Do you binge watch the new season of the show that everyone is talking about on Netflix? Do you drive out to Wal-Mart for that big sale? Do you spend 20 minutes checking Facebook? The easy answer to all of them is “yes” because they scratch an itch. But the right answer is to consider your goals, and how you can instead use this time to work towards them. In some cases, that results in a “yes” to items above. In many cases though, the answer is “no.”

People who achieve a lot say “no” a lot. In doing so, they say “yes” to that which they care most about.

This is not just a process of setting goals, but one of considering what motivates you. You don’t want to be one of those people who starts that new diet on January 1 and then ends that diet on January 23. How to stay motivated? Set good goals. Here’s how…

How to Set Good Goals

Here is a step-by-step process on how to set goals that are clear and achievable:

  1. Create goals that are specific. Oftentimes, grand goals sound fun, but are so vague that they are impossible to know how to break down into a clear step you can take on a random Tuesday.
  2. These goals should be controllable by you. Don’t pick a goal of “I want to get published,” because that may require so many others to make choices on your behalf.
  3. Good goals are measurable, meaning you have to have a clear way to know if you have achieved them or not. Be careful of setting goals based on vague feelings such as, “I want to finally feel great about my art!”
  4. Align these goals to a defined timeline. Consider what can be achieved in a year, a quarter, a month, a week, a day. Set reasonable milestones that break down the big goal to smaller steps.
  5. Consider your time and energy, and how you can look at your weekly schedule to optimize for working on these goals in small ways. Too often, people thing time alone is what matters, but I have found that your energy is the more useful resource to pay attention to. If you can spend even a short amount of time each day during a period where you have the most creative energy, it is astounding what you can get done in a week.
  6. Break down goals into smaller components. At every part of this process, focus on one simple step. Keep breaking down bigger achievements into their absolute smallest component.
  7. Put the tiniest step on your calendar or schedule. Make this unmovable when other priorities come up.
  8. Achieving goals often requires simple repeated actions. Consider what habits you need to create, and try to remove emotions from doing them. Just do the work each day without judgement on whether it was “good work.”
  9. Work with collaborators in this process. The surest way to ensure you will fail is to try to do all of this alone. Success requires collaborators. Identity others who can help you work through this and act as accountability partners.

Easy peasy, right? Wrong. This is a difficult process. It’s why I encourage you to do it with collaborators who can help you work through it and hold you accountable.

What are your goals for 2018?


P.S.: Tomorrow is the final day to register for my January Mastermind sessions at the discounted price.