How do you make your goals? SMART, stretched, not impossible

This week, I tried doing “big” personal goals (kindly note the word try before you read any further!). It was the first time I wrote them down intentionally, for as far as I can remember. It may seem weird from someone as focused as I am, but the truth is, I may be focused but not formally goal oriented. The first time I considered doing this was 2016 when I was finishing The Happiness Trap, the book my therapist recommended to me. In the end, it spoke about setting long-term goals aligned with your values that can help give direction. At the time it felt a bit counter-intuitive to do it. My diagnosis was that I was a “perfectionist” and most of my achievements were not seen as nearly enough compared with what I wanted to do. So would I not be setting myself a trap to write down goals? I decided not to risk it and stayed away from doing the homework on those last chapters, knowing that one day in life I would come back to it.

But Sara really, you are writing all this and you have never done goals before?

I naturally have, so let me start by sharing the bits that I had done prior to this year’s exercise, and then share what I am doing differently this year:

  • I do goals for the charity. I do overall goals in terms of # of children, areas of investment, growth. Those are business style goals, with numbers attached to it. Because our monitoring systems are not always speedy, I struggle to then keep myself in check against these goals, but we have done amazing progress on this, so I am counting on an improvement in this space. Watch this space.
  • For the last couple of years, I have also done my individual goals for the charity, in terms of what I want my contribution to be or how I want it to change (and I ask the team to do the same). I had to do this the first time around when I had Little Girl C, as my schedule was significantly changed from my all-you-can-have spare time to spend on running the charity. With a limit came choices and with choices came goals. I chose to get the accounts in order, and then I chose to get the accounts of my plate so I would not be the bottleneck – I accomplished this for Portugal and the UK this year. I chose to spend less time on children sponsoring and more on strategic direction – I am still working on it as one often leads to the other.  This year, I will be even better at putting numbers to it. Watch this space.
  • The first time I did thoughtful goals at work was early 2014. As a result of a maternity coach that kind of changed my life (yes, I had to be trained on how to go back to work), I had to decide the 3 big rocks with which to fill my bucket, what I really enjoyed doing at my job at the time, and then from there let the small stones come, before the day to day sand would fill it all. It forced me to have some hard conversations and eventually I changed roles because I found out my goals were not aligned with the role I had. Since then, I try and establish goals on a yearly basis in terms of focus areas. As this was a year of change I was less specific this year, but I have now been working on the goals for this year for myself, and for the team. Watch this space.

So why do I want to do anything different this year? Well, my friend Mina showed me this book by MiGoals excitingly just before school ended. She thought I would love it given my bullet journal & intentional living passion and ran me through the main concepts at school pick up time (yes, one of those rare ones I attended). As had happened before, I got a bit scared. But it was early December and I parked the idea for a bit – I did not decide to do it or reject it, I used the fact that I had too many things to do at that point in time and pretended to forget… But then year-end came and with it a brand new bullet journal that I was certain I wanted to enhance and further.

"What if I included proper goals and some of the migoals concepts into my bullet journal?"

It was a neat idea if only I was having a normal routine where the time for myself was allowed and I did not have my fellow flu alongside me. If only I had a CEO day for my life. I could, but it was not a priority to do so at the time. As per my first sentence, I did not conclude my goals, but I concluded it was not something you do on the go and then it’s done. It was actually extremely valuable to go through the thought process, understand how to frame long and term goals and, most important, for the KPI-obsessed in me, to determine how to measure each goal and to ensure I can monitor the outcomes. This will so be included in my 2019 bullet journal. And it was also important to get me to write this because as I am writing, my brain is boiling and I could be scribbling my goals on the side and finally bring them into paper. I won’t, I will hang on just a little bit longer.

You will know by now I can put a structure to anything, and the more I can pass my brain through a framework the better I can get it to work in a successful manner. So let’s talk about how you can think of your goals.


The migoals planner outlines a framework for long-term goals and short/medium term goals. I started with the more immediate ones and found myself in front of a blank sheet of paper. It is still blank by the way. I almost panicked thinking “OMG, I have no goals, I can’t be normal“. Then I went through the initial migoals thoughts for inspiration. Why do we need goals anyway?

  1. Goals give you direction
  2. Goals help you focus on the important things
  3. Goals help you build self-belief
  4. Goals help you increase your odds of success
  5. Goals motivate you to be your best self

With that in mind, I thought – “I must be able to write down some goals”.


I am someone with direction, I must focus on the important things and I definitely want to believe that I can succeed in being my best self. Come on Sara, work out some goals. I kept reading hoping the book would help me out. It then started giving me a structure, and I could hear my brain cells finally starting to move along, just as Little Girl C asked me for help with her Lego. Goals must be SMART.

  • Specific: no such thing as “my goal is to make the world a better place”. That may be your vision, your hope, your dream. That is not a goal, as it tells you nothing about what you want to do and how you are going to go about it. A specific goal would be one I set in 2018 which said: “I am going to hire a finance dedicated person for the charity that I will train and nurture to take the day to day work of accounts across the 2 charities”. That was so specific that I had no excuse to then later come up with an alternative way to resolve the problem I already knew I had for a few years;
  • Measurable: no hiding behind vague titles. I can hear myself talking to my business heads already and knowing that I need to practice what I preach. If I am going to set myself to doing something, I will measure it. Circa 3 months ago I started adding small goals to my bullet journal practice.  I realised I was frustrated I did not read anymore and I kept on saying I wanted to read more. I wrote down “Read 1 book per month” for the first time in September – I read 1 a month in September, October, November and was just about finishing the fourth in December. Measurement has a way of creating focus like no other. If a week goes by where I am not able to listen to audible at all, I catch up the week after to ensure I stay close to my goal;
  • Attainable: goals are not visions or dreams. They are the smaller components that allow you to achieve your dreams, but they need to be attainable. The goal of winning the euro millions is great, but barely attainable if you look at the real odds of the game. And barely something you can control. Dreaming big is important, but hiding behind non-achievable goals makes the whole exercise worthless;
  • Relevant: I could easily come up with random goals in the space of 1 hour. But if I am setting myself goals, I want to do so in a thoughtful manner, to ensure the goals are aligned with my values and with the direction I want my life to take. This will ensure you keep working towards your goals, even when times are bad. As long as your goals are aligned with the values you chose to highlight, they will be much easier to stay focused on;
  • Timely: Goals need timings. Otherwise, they can stay on your goals list forever. Whether we are talking short term or long term goals, they both need timings. In the short term ones, they need to be as specific as can be. This will create urgency and will mean that you can not go week in and week out doing nothing towards your goals. This is part of what makes the goal setting hard for me, especially on the short term ones. I have not yet planned my first semester, and as such, I want to ensure I am realistic but urgent in working towards my goals. So in fact, the goals need to go hand in hand with the practical planning of the year (which is happening, I promise).

A consultant’s framework?

Sara, you have just repeated a consultant framework on what goals are. Everyone knows goals are meant to be SMART.

I apologise if the example is nearly not as deep as you would have hoped for. But only by really ensuring that these 5 conditions are met can I even begin to think of what would qualify as goals for me. In the meantime, I have written too much for anyone in a decent commute time with more articles to go through. So I just decided this is too big of a topic and I will leave all else dwindling in my mind for a series on goals. And yes, I have written down some by now, as soon as I got to the long-term goals section.

This is but the beginning but enjoy the first steps. Remember, people that have written goals are 42% more likely to achieve them.

2020 Update: Go here for a downloadable template for your goal setting, now refined and improved from my 2019 experiment

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash


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