Building a Better 2021: Goal-Setting for Uncertain Times

2021 goal settingIf 2020 taught us one thing, it is to slow down and focus on what matters most. Before setting any New Year’s resolutions, goals, or intentions, take some time to reflect and hold onto any lessons learned from 2020. Because what was an incredibly challenging year should not go to waste – we should at the very least take some lessons away from it. And use those lessons for productive 2021 goal setting.

As we look ahead to the New Year, it can be tempting to be ambitious in setting out to tackle all of your biggest goals that you perhaps did not get to this past year. I caution you to pause here. This reminds me of the common phrase I have been hearing a lot lately, “getting back to normal.” I have a negative reaction when I hear this phrase, particularly as it coincides with the New Year. Certainly your pre-COVID life wasn’t perfect. I invite you to ask of yourself: What is the “new normal” you would like to create?

To strategically answer this question, let’s first do a couple of exercises and reflections. Walk yourself through the six-step process that follows to reflect on the past year and design the year ahead. Plan to spend at least one hour of quiet attention on this exercise (with a pen and paper or e-notes) to get the most out of it.

Step 1: Reflecting on 2020 – 9 Questions to Help You Learn from Your Year

  1. What about your pre-COVID life do you want to change or eliminate? What are a few things about your life before the pandemic that you simply cannot imagine going back to now? This could be a routine, schedule, habit, mood, activity, person, goal – it can refer to just about anything.
  2. What about your pandemic life would you like to hold onto and continue, whether a routine, activity, feeling, or priority?
  3. What did you learn about yourself during this pandemic, and how can you apply this in the best way to your post-COVID life?
  4. What were your 2020 goals, how did you do with them, and are they still important?
  5. What were the most challenging things about your last year? And what did you learn from those challenges?
  6. Who is one person that impressed you this year and why?
  7. Who are the people you really leaned on and why?
  8. Name three ways this challenging year ended up to your advantage. These are the side effects that were positive that happened in the past year – that would not have happened if it were just a regular year.
  9. Name three opportunities that may result from any of the challenges you endured in the last year. These are potentially positive long-term side effects of the challenges you endured.

Step 2: 2021 Planning – Begin with the End in Mind

One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly successful people is “Begin with the end in mind.” This is a tool I have always used to set both short-term and long-term goals. For the first part of this exercise, I recommend that you close your eyes and imagine you are one year into the future – exactly 365 days.

Visualization Exercise: One Year Into the Future

Imagine you are have made great strides both personally and professionally during the 2021 year, and your world is a 10 out of 10. Picture yourself having already reached your biggest, most ambitious goals for yourself personally and professionally. Imagine you are happy, satisfied, and successful. What does your world look like? In detail, take your time, close your eyes, and notice what this future version of your life looks like, including:

  • Professional Success: What does your professional world look like one year into the future as a 10/10, including but not limited to your role, key players/team, systems, routines, processes, mindset, leadership, financial health, education, how you spend your time when you are working, and any other areas relevant to professional success.
  • Personal life: What does your personal or “home” life look like one year into the future as a 10/10, including but not limited to your relationships, family, health, down time, fitness, religious or spiritual life, social life, hobbies, sense of freedom, community, and any other areas that fall into the personal domain.

Capture & Debrief

When you open your eyes, jot down any notes that stand out as important. Respond as if you are looking back from a year into the future, i.e.:

  • What have been your particular accomplishments over the last year?
  • What is your specific role at work? What do you spend your time on when you are at work?
  • How do you spend your time when you are at home? What do you most value, cherish, and enjoy doing?
  • What is different about your work or life at this time in the future than it is now? What changes have you made?
  • Who is supporting you and who are you spending the most time with professionally and personally?
  • What routines, practices, or systems do you have in place?

Step 3: Identify Where You Stand Today

Now consider where you are today:

  1. On a scale from 1 to 10, how successful and happy are you in your professional life, with 10 being extremely successful and 1 being not successful? (Your role, key players/team, routine, systems, processes, mindset, leadership, financial health, education, how you spend your time when you are working, other areas relevant to professional success): ____/10
  2. On a scale from 1 to 10, how successful and happy are you in your personal life, with 10 being extremely successful and 1 being not successful? (Your relationships, family, health, down time, fitness, social life, hobbies, religious or spiritual life, sense of freedom, community): ____/10
  3. What is the gap between where you are now and the 10/10 in your professional life? (10 – minus your response to #1 = Your answer)
  4. What is the gap between where you are now and the 10/10 in your personal life? (10 – minus your response to #2 = Your answer)

Step 4: Setting Goals to Close the Gap

The distance between where you are today and where you want to be (presumably a 10 out of 10) is what I am referring to as The Gap. These are your answers to #s 3 and 4 in Step 3 above. In order to close that gap, you’ll have to take a variety of steps. Let’s try to outline what those steps are and package them into your 2021 goals.

  1. What do you need to learn to close the gap?
    Books? Courses? Teachers? Coaches? Consultants? Practices?
  2. Who is going to help you get there?
    This might be a person(s) you already know or someone(s) you need to meet. It might be spouses, employees, partners, family members, consultants, assistants, friends, etc.
  3. What routines, habits or practices do you need to adopt, personally and professionally?
  4. What systems do you need to implement in order to close the gap?
  5. What aspects of yourself do you need to improve or change to close the gap?
  6. What sales, income, or financial goals can you identify that will help you get to your 2021 vision?
  7. What health/fitness metrics do you need to pay attention to in the next year if you are going to close the gap?
  8. What priority do you need to maintain if you are going to close the gap?

Step 5: Identify Possible Obstacles

  1. Review all of your responses to the questions in step 4 and any goals / action steps you wrote down and ask yourself: If you do all of those things, will you be able to close the success gap? Star any that stand out as mission critical.
  2. What other roadblocks might get in your way? What obstacles can you anticipate, whether external or internal?
  3. What is one behavior, mindset, way of thinking, or habit that you’ll need to eliminate in order to close the gap and reach your goals?
  4. What else could be contributing to the gap? Be honest with yourself.
  5. Identify any other steps or goals that will help you close that gap and get to where you want to be in the next year, professionally and personally.

Step 6: Create an Accountability Plan

Now that you have more direction and a clear idea of where you want to go, consider how you can hold yourself accountable for real action and progress. Here are some ideas:

Set realistic expectations

Create specific milestones, baby steps, and a timeline so that progress is concrete, realistic, and attainable.

Celebrate wins

When you achieve something, don’t forget to celebrate, even in a small way. This will fuel continued motivation.

Find a buddy

Identify someone(s) who can help hold you accountable to your goals.

Create systems

Identify any apps, tools, or systems you can put into place to ensure you stay on track.

Expect it to Change; Refine as needed

Review your plan often and revise as needed, or as context and priorities shift. Because another lesson of 2020 is that there is, and will always be, so much outside of your control. Maintaining an attitude of flexibility and adaptability along the way will support you in countless ways.

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Melissa Eisler

Melissa Eisler, MA, PCC, is an ICF certified executive coach. She partners with leaders to develop their systems thinking, resilience, strategic communication skills, and executive presence in order to reach individual, team, and organizational goals. She blends more than 15 years of experience in leadership positions in the corporate world, with her master’s degree in organizational leadership and extensive background in mindfulness to help her clients master their leadership skills and steer their teams through challenges and change. Learn more about Melissa here.

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Melissa is the founder and executive coach at Wide Lens Leadership and a Partner at Evolution. As an ICF Certified Executive Coach with a Master's degree in organizational leadership, Melissa has coached hundreds of leaders ranging from C-suite to entrepreneur, from Fortune 500 companies to startups, and across diverse industries. Her work focuses on helping high-performing senior leaders and their teams magnify impact by building trust, collaboration, accountability, and healthy communication skills.