Lucius Annaeus Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher and tutor to Emperor Nero, once said,
“Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.”
Many of us spent years in school with our goals pre-set by planned curricula and family expectations. They may have looked something like this:
- Learn the periodic table
- Make the soccer team
- Sign up for Student Council
- Do public service
- Get a 3.88 GPA and competitive SAT scores
- Get a scholarship at a good college
As a parent, I had similar goals for my own kids.
Now I work with other freelancers and entrepreneurs.
Many came from the corporate world, where goals were influenced by employers or the surrounding work culture. Others were raising families and centered goals around their children.
We set our own goals now.
And with the possibilities wide open and no-one telling us what to do, it’s possible to flounder or stagnate. Self-direction is not something we’re taught in school – like much of business, it’s something we learn on the job.
As a writer, I continue to learn through experience, mentorship, and lots and lots of books. And along the way, I’ve found approaches that work.
1. Choose Goals That Align with Your Values
First, find out what you really want. Then choose your business goals with that in mind.
As freelancers and entrepreneurs, we face constant changes and new opportunities. The business landscape in Digital Media can morph so quickly, it feels like we’re in some kind of time warp. We constantly have to make decisions about what kind of work we’ll do, whom we’ll do it for, and when.
Passing those opportunities through the lens of our values and vocation will direct us toward the kind of work that wakes us up every morning with the drive to tackle our tasks with gusto.
It all starts by asking questions like this:
- How are you called to do good in the world?
- What do you enjoy doing the most?
- What do you care about the most?
- Whom do you care about the most?
- Where do you want to live?
- Do you prefer to work in an office, or will a corner of your living room work?
- Would you like to travel? Where?
- What kind of schedule allows time with the people you care about?
- Do you want to sit at a desk or be active during the day?
- Do you want to work alone or with other people?
- Do you want to work for others or for yourself?
Once you have answers, set goals that match your strengths. Then make daily decisions that align with your objectives.
For example, if you’re a writer who loves to travel, you might set a goal of submitting 5 new articles to travel magazines. Then you might write a series of stories and round-up reviews during your next vacation.
If you to want to stay home with young children during the day, your goal might be to find work you can do later at night – and clients that don’t require constant communication during business hours.
If your Achilles heel is talking to clients, you could hire an excellent VA to help or choose to work as a subcontractor for a few people you already know, like, and trust.
When you really care about your goals, it’s easier to achieve them. If they conflict with your core values, you may find yourself stuck.
What matters to you?
2. Choose SMART Goals
Smart Goals are Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely:
Specific goals name the who, what, where, when, and why.
For example, instead of deciding to do this:
Get a list of 250,000 subscribers,
Consider doing this:
Create a new lead magnet for your business that’s so helpful and attractive, your best prospects can’t possibly refuse it … so you’ll build your email list and sell more products and services than ever before over the next two quarters.
Measurable – Is there a way to show that you attained it? Can you upload the PDF, view your subscriber list in ConvertKit, and count the sales that result?
Attainable – Are you positioned to reach your goal with the right resources? For example, if you’re terrible at graphic design, can you learn to use templates in Canva or – even better – set aside money in your budget for a professional?
Realistic – Are you able and willing to do the work it takes to get there? For example, it can take many, many attempts to get the audiences, graphics, and messages just right in the Facebook ads that promote your download. And then you’ll have to test your landing pages.
Timely – Effective goals are set within a specific time frame. Will your ads go live in 7 weeks, 7 days, or 7 minutes? You must choose.
3. Write Down Your Goals
According to a study by Gail Matthews at Dominican University, those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not.
Participants in the study who
- wrote down their goals
- told a friend about them
- and sent weekly updates to that friend
had 33% greater success in achieving those goals than those who had simply thought about their goals. 
In a separate 1979 study at Harvard Business School, researchers asked a group of recent MBA graduates whether or not they had
- set clear, written goals for the future and
- had made plans to accomplish them.
Only 3% had formulated goals, written them down, and devised plans to accomplish them. Ten years later, researchers interviewed the participants a second time. They found that the 3% who had written down their goals and also made plans to accomplish them were earning about ten times as much on average as those who had no goals at all. .
A couple of years ago I was talking to a producer from a well-known internet radio network. He told me that his prospective hosts who write down the dates their radio shows will start – even if it’s several years in the future – are much more likely to go on the air.
4. Go Big
Place large visuals in your work space as constant goal-reminders. I have a huge whiteboard above my desk with spaces for quarterly goals in 5 areas of my business.
Or you could do what Amy Purdie of the Goal Setting Collective does. She has created and printed her own systems – including a giant poster with spaces for every single day of the year. It’s literally a year at a glance.
5. Go Small
The most effective method I’ve ever used for goal-achievement is to keep a list of my top 1-5 year goals and read it twice a day. That’s all. Simply read it. And say nothing.
It takes less than one minute each day. Total.
Since I started doing this, I’ve found myself checking off entries one by one. I’ve replaced them with new goals. My subconscious seems to come up with all the solutions while the rest of me is busy doing other things.
6. Get The Help You Need
Here are some ideas to get you started …
- Form an accountability group or find a partner for weekly goal setting and check-ins
- Find a coach or mentor to help you move faster and stay on track
- Become an intern or apprentice
- Read books (James Altucher’s formula: 500 books = 1 mentor)
- Make lots of friends
- Swap services
- Network with professionals in complementary fields
Important Note: If you’re a new freelancer or want to be and haven’t yet joined Create Your Laptop Life, you’re missing out on valuable coaching, accountability, networking, community support, and valuable information you need to start, organize and grow your business. You can check that out here.
7. Finally, Break Down Your Goals into Actionable Steps
In his book, The Pledge, best-selling author and copywriter Michael Masterson suggests setting a series of 7-year goals. His system requires breaking them down into one-year goals, breaking those down into weekly goals, and scheduling goal-related tasks on your daily calendar.
And always make sure that at least one of your top three daily tasks brings you closer to achieving one of your most important goals.
Please share any goal-achieving methods that work for you, I would love to hear about them!
In the meantime, I’ll close with the words of former Yankees catcher Yogi Berra (sorry, Steve in the Red Shirt – you know who you are):
“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
 McCormack, M. H. (1984). What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. Toronto: Bantam Books.
 Masterson, M. (2011). The Pledge: Your Master Plan for an Abundant Life. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.