Since 2020, I’ve been setting personal goals at the start of every year and tracking my progress against them throughout the year.
My main motivation for setting goals is to encourage the formation of habits. Being a writer involves a lot of writing, so I set a goal to write a certain number of pieces; training my eye as a photographer involves a lot of photography, so I set a goal to shoot and edit a certain number of photographs; and so on.
By treating these as explicit goals, I can delimit what I’m focused on for the year and gently remind myself to focus my time on the goals. The goals also provide a sense of progress; as December approaches, I can take pride in all I’ve accomplished over the past year.
Over time, my goals serve as a guide to my interests. If I repeatedly set and fail a goal, perhaps I’m not as interested in one of my hobbies as I thought, or I underestimated how difficult it would be. Across the years, I can intentionally reprioritize where I’m spending my free time.
Is this a very technical approach to planning one’s life? Perhaps, but I also like to think of it as a very intentional approach. The goal is not to achieve goals; the goal is to achieve the meta-goals listed above, and if my goal-setting process stops serving them, then I’ll change the goal-setting process!
Unintentionally, I’ve implemented a system not too dissimilar to the system described in this recent Vox article arguing that we should divide our life into “semesters” and track our progress against some skill, although I divide my time into yearly “semesters” instead of a few months.
I set goals somewhat similar to how some companies set OKRs. In particular, each has some overall “spirit”, like “become a better writer by practicing short stories”, and a (preferably measurable) target, like “number of short stories written”. I split goals two ways:
- Each target has both an “Achieved” state and a “Partial” state; the latter is a smaller or otherwise easier target. I don’t have a good reason for this split — it just feels nice to give myself credit for achieving part of the goal 🙂
- I split goals themselves into “Core” and “Bonus” goals. Generally speaking, Core goals are goals that I care about more or that I have more control over. In practice, I set 9 Core goals and 3 Bonus goals per year; that’s just what I happened to do the first time and it worked well.
As with many companies’ OKR processes, I am to achieve about 70% of my goals — that means I’m stretching my time and abilities, but not being completely unrealistic.
I set goals the first week of January, then check in on how I’m doing at the start of every month. The last week of December, between Christmas and New Years, I give myself a grade for each goal, as well as writing up a small reflection on each one. In addition, I write up “other achievements”, since a lot of other things can happen in the year outside my goals!
As with many other aspects of my life, all of my goals live in Obsidian. Each goal is a note in a particular directory, with a single “Goal Table” note that links to all of them, using the Dataview plugin to build a table out of note metadata. In particular, each goal note gets a “status” field with an emoji representing the current status, which is eventually updated with a final grade.
Here’s the Dataview query I use to build a goal table:
TABLE type AS "Type", status AS "Status"
SORT type DESC, choice(status = "❌", 1, choice(status = "⚠️", 2, choice(status = "✅", 3, choice(status = "🔴", 4, choice(status = "🟡", 5, choice(status = "🟢", 6, 7)))))) DESC
And here’s an example of a goal note:
Become a better photographer by capturing and editing photos.
Edited 52 photos.
Edited 26 photos