The 1 Hour Guide to Setting Personal Goals: 5 simple steps

The 1 Hour Guide to Setting Personal Goals: 5 simple steps

Ugh. No way. Is that your reaction when you think of writing goals? Lots of busy moms don’t even bother to set goals because they feel like they will never accomplish them. Lose 10 pounds in 2013 -not gonna happen. Remember my friends’ birthdays – oops – already messed up on that one. Save a $1 million by age 40 – not without divine intervention!

Why should you write down a bunch of optimistic expectations just to either forget about them later or crash and burn right after you start?

The reason you should set goals is so that you can make progress in the various areas of your life.

Everyone needs to be learning, growing, and doing. If we’re not, life gets incredibly boring. My goal at Early Bird Mom is to help you maximize your efforts, time, and finances. One powerful way to get more out of each of these areas is to set goals in them and then work toward those goals.

If you’ve got just 1 hour to spare, you can map out some goals for the next year of your life. If you do it right and work your plan, you will be amazed at how much you can accomplish.

Goals are especially critical for people who are experiencing long-term difficult situations.

If you are in the middle of financial difficulties or health problems, setting goals, even if they are very small steps, will help you feel in control and set you up to make bigger improvements down the road.

Are you with me so far?

Hopefully I have convinced you that goal-setting is necessary or at least a necessary evil. But how do you do it successfully and actually reach your goals without becoming frustrated and disappointed?

PrioritiesPersonal Goal Setting in 5 Simple Steps: Step 1 – Priorities

The problem most people face when setting goals is that they miss the critical first step. This step is to evaluate your priorities. You can’t decide where you want to improve without first identifying what is important to you. This step MUST happen in writing. There is something that happens when you see your priorities on paper (or electronically) that you miss out on when you keep priorities in your head. Writing them down brings them into focus for your brain and helps identify things you may have overlooked.

For instance, one of my family’s priorities is to improve our health. Two of my children are not in optimal health and my husband is dealing with a chronic illness. We have decided to focus a large portion of our budget on healthy food and a large portion of my time is spent cooking. We didn’t always feel that way – not too many years ago, we ate the standard American diet and didn’t cook all that much (unless you count heating things up as cooking). Now when I list my priorities, I will include improving our health through nutritious food and expect to spend significant time in the kitchen.

To keep it simple (remember, we’re aiming to finish in about an hour), I break things down into a few key areas:

  • faith
  • personal development
  • family
  • career
  • finances
  • homeschooling

Your categories may be different from mine. Just list them and leave some room for notes in each section. I like to write out my priorities and then take a break and allow ideas to percolate in my head a bit before jumping in with goals.

Step 2: Identify Goals.

Now that you have your priorities out of your head and in print, you can think of goals. In each category, brainstorm a few goals for things you’d like to improve.

Once you start brainstorming, your priorities will naturally suggest goals.

Some examples:

Priority: better health → goal: train for a 5k
Priority: become debt-free→ goal: take the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course
Priority: teach my children → goal: invest time and money in homeschooling
Priority: more quality time with my family → goal: have a weekly game night

Narrow it down: pick 2 or 3 goals

Unless you have lots of time to work on your goals, pick your top 2 or 3 for each category and strike through the less important ones.

Perhaps some areas don’t need any goals – you are happy with things as they are. That’s fine. This just leaves you more time for other areas.

Goals mindmapThe key to setting goals is to make them specific.

You don’t want to set a goal to “save more money.” How will you know if you reach it? Instead, decide to save 10% of your paycheck, or cut the grocery bill by $50. You get the idea.

Be honest with yourself.

It’s great to be ambitious. Sometimes you have to be ambitious to get motivated. But you also need to be realistic. It would be foolish for me to set a goal of earning a full-time income from this blog this year. Blogging is not as high on my priority list as is taking care of my family and homeschooling my kids. So there’s just not time to invest in that goal. But I do want to grow Early Bird Mom and build a community. So I have budgeted some time in my plans to work toward this.

Step 3: Make an action plan.

If you’ve been frustrated by unmet goals before, you know that a goal without an action plan is not going to take care of itself. Think about how you can reach each of your goals. Is there time in your schedule? Do you have the resources you need? Are there habits you need to change? What will you do to work on your goal? Write this down as well. Put any important dates on your calendar.

Goals posted on the wallStep 4: Create visibility and accountability

Re-write your list of goals and post it somewhere you can see it often. Tell your husband or your friends or your kids. Schedule time in your week to work on these things. Include it in your weekly review.

Step 5: You’re the boss

Remember, you set the goals. If a goal is bugging you or you realize it’s not realistic, just strike it from the list. It shouldn’t cause you undue stress. Goals are meant to serve you, not the other way around. Don’t allow yourself to become a slave to a to-do list.

What if I have no time for goals? I’m just trying to survive this season of life.

Goals keep you moving forward. This is especially important if you spend most of your time with toddlers or keeping up with your kids and their many activities. You may feel like you’re just treading water and trying to keep afloat in life’s busy waters. But once you set goals, you’ll be motivated to seize opportunities to work toward them – maybe you can find an hour to [recover your kitchen chairs] or plan a half an hour a week to review your budget. You might be inspired to [get up early] and have some quiet time before the kids tumble out of bed. Even inching toward a goal will get you there eventually. But only if you make an effort to do so.

This looks like a lot of work.

You can probably work through these steps in about an hour. Of course the real hard work comes when it’s time to work your plan. But it’s so rewarding to do see the progress you make. And little wins will add up to larger gains over time.

Resources for goal setting

Crystal Paine at Money Saving Mom has a wonderful series on setting goals and an inspiring e-book to go along with it.

Michael Hyatt has a helpful free e-book called Creating Your Personal Life Plan.

Robert D. Smith on “Why You Must Not Make a New Year’s Resolution”. This post is very relevant to this topic.

Gretchen Rubin at the Happiness Project has 7 Tips for Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions.

Hopefully by now, goal setting doesn’t sound so painful and pointless. So grab a notebook and a pencil or fire up your laptop and get started. All you need is 1 hour!

Next week, I’ll share my goals for 2013 with you. How do you like to set goals? Please share your tips in the comments.


  1. Goal-setting doesn’t have to be painful or a wasted exercise.
  2. Step 1: List your priorities.
  3. Step 2: Allow goals to originate from your priorities.
  4. Make an action plan.
  5. Review your goals frequently.
  6. You’re the boss! Change the plan when you need to.

Photos by Millionaire Mindset Secrets, Richardstep.comJean-Louis Zimmerman,  Lululemon Athletica

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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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