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Goal Setting for People Who Forget

Do you have “a lot going on” but no clear idea what it all is, or what it’s for? Do you sometimes stop and wonder why you started that project you’ve now been stuck on for months? Do you give up on things or start over multiple times because you can’t be bothered to dig through the muck and figure out what you were trying to do 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). So I’m not here to offer you a magical solution that will allow you to always be on top of your life (although I’d love to hear about it if you do find one). 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 you a framework to remind you of your “whys”, a peg to hang your hopes on so they don’t float away into the void, 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 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, plan my life around them, and actually follow through. I needed something comprehensive, a reliable framework 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 can be found here.

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 could be because you’re busy putting out fires all the time, drowning in urgent tasks that all demand your immediate attention.
  • It could 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 could be because you’re easily distracted or enraptured by the newest, shiniest thing.

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

Display It

Create a 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 a collage and use it as your desktop background, or print it out, or draw/write on some sticky notes, or go all out with a cork board and photographs or magazine clippings. Use this tool as your visual reminder of what you’re currently doing. Or what you should be doing.

But wait, why do that thing 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 have answered it already.

My biggest tip for people who tend to forget or lose track of these things is to write it all down. (Honestly, even people with powerful memories should write more things down, it frees up so much RAM in your brain.) 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 for when you forget what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.

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? This city?
  • Why did you pick up this book?
  • Why did you want to start this business? Or pursue this career?

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

Review Your Notes

Understanding and revisiting your own reasoning can do wonders for waning motivation by reminding you of what the past you found meaningful about that project or goal. Revisit your notes whenever you start to lost motivation, or when you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed. Better yet, set a reminder to review them regularly, before you start feeling lost. Remind yourself of why you’re doing this and keep the ball rolling.

There may still be times when you decide to abandon a project or goal, or times when that shiny new thing wins over. You may find that the goal or project you started with no longer serves the person you’ve become. When that happens, you can let it go with confidence and a clear understanding of why you started, and why you no longer need it. Then 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, print, use it as your 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 regularly, especially when you get stuck, start to feel overwhelmed or lost, or when what you’re doing no longer matches the visual reminder you created.
  4. Update as needed. People change. Situations change. Move on with the knowledge that you didn’t abandon that project for no reason, you made the right decision for you.


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