Goal Setting for People Who Forget

Do you often “have a lot going on” but no clear idea what it is exactly, or what it’s for? Do you sometimes stop and wonder why you even started that project you’ve been stuck on for months? Do you give up on things or start over, because you can’t be bothered to dig through the muck and figure out what you were doing in the first place?

I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there roughly once a month if I’m lucky (or once a week if I’m not). I’m not here to offer a magical solution that will allow you to always be on top of your life (although, if you find one, please share). What I am here to offer is a ladder, for getting out of that rut if and when you find yourself there (again). I’m here to offer a framework you can rely on to remind you of your “whys”, a peg to hang your hopes on so they don’t float away, and a sense of security in knowing you can move toward the things you want even if you trip up a bit along the way. (And believe me, you will. We all do. It’s okay.)

Throughout the years, I’ve made my way through a lot of advice on goal-setting. Some of it was helpful, some was interesting, none was ever enough. No matter what I read or what I tried, I always managed to get lost somewhere along the way.

I needed more than just, “how to write good goals”. I needed to understand them better (why I wanted them), plan my life around them (create projects for them), and actually follow through (complete the tasks related to them). I needed something comprehensive, a reliable system that covered all my bases. So, I developed one for myself.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The details of what that whole system looks like are in another post. This post is about forgetting. Or rather, it’s about remembering. Because for some of us, our goals and projects can be a bit, “out of sight, out of mind”.

  • It might be because you’re busy putting out fires all the time, drowning in urgent tasks that all need your immediate attention.
  • It might be because you’re the kind of person that’s good at focusing on whatever is in front of you, and not much else.
  • It might be because you’re easily distracted by the newest, shiniest thing.

Whatever the reason, the solution to “out of sight, out of mind” is simply to keep it in sight.

Create visual representation of your current goals and ongoing projects. Kind of like a vision board, but for the now. It can be digital or physical. You can make it your desktop background, print it out and put it on your wall, draw or write on some sticky notes, or go all out with a cork board and photographs / magazine clippings. Use this as your visual reminder of what you’re currently doing. Or, what you should be doing.

But wait, why should you be doing those things and not whatever new thing you’ve picked up this week?

Write it Down

You need to answer that question. More specifically, the past you needs to answer it.

My biggest tip for people who tend to forget things is to write everything down. (Honestly, even people with powerful memories should write more things down, it frees up a lot of RAM.) No matter what system or methodology you use, it will break down if you don’t have a good safety net for when things go wrong. Your notes are your safety net.

Take the time to explore your goals and projects, your reasoning behind wanting to pursue them, and the methods you want to employ. And write it all down.

  • Why did you choose this major? This school?
  • Why did you start reading this book?
  • Why did you want to start a business? Why this industry?

Drill down into the details and sketch out even the most obvious parts. A stranger should be able to read your notes and understand what you’re doing. (And, if you’re writing these things down in a notebook of some kind, be sure to put your name and contact info in it so if a stranger does pick it up after you’ve left it at a coffee shop you can get it back.)

Understanding and revisiting your own reasoning can do wonders for waning motivation by reminding you of what past you found meaningful about it. Revisit your notes whenever you start to lose motivation, when you’re feeling lost, or overwhelmed. Better yet, set a reminder to revisit it regularly, before you start feeling lost. Remind yourself of why you’re doing all this.

There may still be times when you abandon a project or even a goal, or when that new shiny thing wins over. You may find that the goal or project you started no longer serves the person you’ve become. When that happens, you can let it go with confidence and with a clear understanding of why you started, and why you no longer need it. And you can move on to your next project without any guilt.

Quick Review

  1. Keep visual reminders of your goals and projects where you will see them frequently
    • create a collage
    • use post-it notes
    • draw
    • make it your desktop background
    • just make it visible
  2. Keep detailed notes about your goals and projects,
    • why you’ve chosen them,
    • what your next steps are,
    • what questions you still need to answer,
    • etc.
  3. Refer to your notes frequently, especially when
    • you get stuck,
    • you feel overwhelmed,
    • or lost.
    • Or when what you’re doing no longer matches that visual reminder!
  4. Update as needed. People change, situations change. Move on with the knowledge that you didn’t abandon that project for no good reason.

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