Reaching Your Goals, One Day at a Time

A guest post by April Bowles-Olin of Blacksburg Belle.
 Honeycomb Lace DAY PLANNER(Picture from Oh Pangaea Books on Etsy)

I always have ideas swimming in my head. I think that’s part of the creative mindset–you always have more ideas than you could ever implement. For the past year and a half, I’ve been my own boss for my own business. The first year I struggled with to-do lists, trying to meet unrealistic goals, and putting my ideas into action.

When I read a recent post by Angela on The Artists’ House, I completely related to her overwhelming feeling of wanting to do EVERYTHING. Some days I’d be so overwhelmed by the amount of ideas I had that I wouldn’t get anything done. At the end of the day, I’d be so frustrated with myself, feeling guilty about my lack of production, and wonder what I was doing wrong. I’m not an unmotivated person. I’m pretty much the opposite. If I need to work 12 hours in a day, I’ll do it without complaining. So, why wasn’t I reaching my business goals?

I knew that I needed to figure out a system to set realistic, measurable goals and break them down into specific tasks. I’ve tried a lot of organizational systems and planners. I’ve read books, magazine articles, and blog posts about being more productive and organizing my life.

Finally, I figured out a system that worked, so when I read Angela’s post, I asked her if I could share my system of setting and achieving goals with her and her readers. I’ve been using this system for about six months, and it has changed the way I structure my time and my ability to actually achieve the goals that I set for myself. But, this system is also super simple, so anybody can do it.

4 Steps to Reaching Your Long-Term Goals

1. Write down 3 to 5 long-term goals. These are goals that could take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple years to reach. I’ve found that if I list more than 5 long-term goals things get really scattered when I’m trying to plan out my weekly goals and daily tasks. Once you’ve reached one of your long-term goals, you can replace it with another one.

You must be able to measure to measure these goals. One of the errors I made early on was making generalized goals such as increasing sales or applying to craft shows. To make these goals measurable, I changed them to making 50 sales in one month and applying to 12 craft shows for the next year. When you make them measurable, you can check them off once you’ve reached them–which is always fun! Check out Angela’s post on S.M.A.R.T. goals for an in depth guide on setting attainable goals. If you’ve never heard of smart goals, it’s a must read.

2. Break down each long-term goal into specific tasks that will help you reach those goals. For the craft shows, I’d include: making a list of all the craft shows in my area, narrowing down that list to 12 shows, compiling a list of requirements for those craft shows, getting pictures developed to include in the applications, filling out each application, and sending in each application. Put this list of goals with the specific tasks on your desk/at your work station.

3. On Sunday nights, review your long-term goals and set realistic weekly goals that will help you reach your long-term goals. This takes me about 10 minutes on Sunday evening, and it prepares me for the week. At this point, I’m pretty aware of how much I can do in one week, and I don’t schedule more than I know I can complete–but I always push myself to be really productive. When I’m setting these goals, I also remember that I have other things that I do on a daily basis such as blog posts, listing new items on Etsy, and cleaning. For one week, I might give myself the task of making a list of all the craft shows in my area and narrowing down those to 12 for the next year.

4. Each evening make a list of no more than six tasks to complete the next day. When your to-do list looks like it’ll take you 48 hours to complete without sleeping, eating, or spending time with your family, you’ll become overwhelmed. Instead, make a realistic to-do list for the next day. I have a planner that has six lines for each day, so I put one task on each line. Some days, I only list 3 tasks, because I know those tasks are going to take a lot of time. Remember, you want to be realistic. I always include my cleaning tasks on this list, because that consumes a good 45 minutes out of my day. If you have personal tasks {such as picking up the dry cleaning or grocery shopping} for the day, include them as well.

Start with your weekly goal list when you’re determining tasks for the day. This will help you to stay focused.

Here’s the major rule about this step: each task must be a task–not a project. For instance, you can’t list design a new jewelry line as one of your daily tasks, but you could list sketching a new ring design as one of your tasks.

Extra Tips to Making This Work For You

Start with the task that requires lots of concentration, because you’re fresh when you start your work day. Whenever I have writing to do, I always start with it, because if I leave it until the afternoon, the words become jumbled–sometimes resembling another language. In the afternoon I do things that require less effort such as listing new items online.

If you finish your tasks early, you can either continue working or stop for the day. Some days, I finish my to-do list by the early afternoon, well before dinner. I love what I do, so I usually want to keep working. At that point, I’ll make my to-do list for the next day and then I’ll work on a project that doesn’t feel like work. I might work in my art journal, make some new jewelry, or start a new mixed media art piece. This is when I can be the most creative, because I’m not thinking about other things that need to get done.

Don’t knock it before you try it. I’ve shared this system with people who run their own businesses, and some have told me that they couldn’t possibly limit their tasks to only 6 per day. They wouldn’t get enough done. That’s what I thought at first, but I actually get more done this way. Why? Because, I have a specific plan for the day, and there’s no time wasted thinking about what I should do next. When I finish something, I move on to the next thing. Also, I get so much more time doing what I love the most: creating. And that’s really what it’s all about. My mind is completely clear when I’m creating, because I’m not worrying about the other crap I have to do–it’s done! This allows me to fully concentrate on my art or jewelry.

You might already have a system that works for you, and if you do, I don’t suggest you change to mine. I just wanted to offer an alternative for people who feel stuck–like I used to feel.

April Bowles-Olin works with creative women to lead more fulfilling lives while they make money doing it. She also attempts to add a little prettiness to the world with her art and jewelry. You can learn more about her at Blacksburg Belle or follow her on twitter @blacksburgbelle.

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13 observations on “Reaching Your Goals, One Day at a Time
  1. Pingback: How to Achieve Long-Term Goals with Daily To-Do Lists | Blacksburg Belle

  2. Pingback: Smitten & Inspired | Two Frog Home

  3. Sarah

    I think this is fabulous advice. I am the queen of to-do lists and I literally make them a mile long with everything from “contact Oprah” to “post office.”

    I just started running my own business full time, and I totally relate to all of a sudden feeling unmotivated. I have never had a problem with that in my entire life until now.

    I’m going to start this process tonight! Thanks for the tips!

  4. Bobbi

    I can’t wait to start implementing this strategy. My mind feels so scattered all of the time and it’s hard to see through the noise to figure out what I should be doing. I already keep lists of my goals and tasks; I can see though that I need to limit the tasks and make the goals measurable. Thanks so much!

  5. Angela

    What a great post April! Really! I have totally implemented your suggestions and already I feel more focused due to your advise. You’re very wise ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks again for guest posting!

  6. April

    Hey Sarah-

    I hope this process works out for you! I laughed out loud when I read “contact Oprah”–love it! I used to try to do way too much in one day, and it backfired tremendously. That’s when I had to admit that it wasn’t working. Finding this system has saved me a lot of headaches and gotten me back on track ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. April

    Hi Bobbi-

    It sounds like we had the same problem–making the goals measurable is key. If you can check them off your list and see that you’re actually accomplishing a lot, then you’ll be more motivated.

  8. April

    Oh, Angela, you’re making me blush ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks for the compliment–and thank you for allowing me to take over your blog for a day! It was a lot of fun.

  9. Irene

    What a wonderful post April!! As I started to read it I’ve thought: hey, this is me!

    Really really thanks for sharing this great post and personal experience.
    It’s true that’s hard to organize all int eh best way (most of time I really get crazy!) and I am one of that person who have a million of new ideas coming in mind every minutes! So you seem to exactly understand what I mean.

    Thank you! Would love to hear more! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. April

    Hi Irene,

    Almost all creative women that I talk to say the same thing. They have too many ideas and not enough time. It’s so hard to pick one idea to start implementing if you don’t have very specific goals. When you have goals, you pick the ideas that will help you achieve those goals ๐Ÿ™‚

    Determining your long-term goals can really help you focus on your daily to-do list. It took me a while to figure this out, but once I did, things started to fall into place.

  11. Irene

    “When you have goals, you pick the ideas that will help you achieve those goals”

    How true! I alredy tried to do it in some way, but now it seems more “clear”.
    I’m pretty excited to re-organize me on this ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Lisa Best

    I am terrified, but I am going to try to write down only 6 things to do tomorrow. I know it works because I have done this some time ago. I just let things get out of hand and get less sleep. But I want my sleep back. Thank you.


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