organization

3 Ways I was Goal Setting Wrong

If you go back to a post from much earlier in the year, I talked about trying to get my shit together this year, and frankly, I have. Is it perfect? No. Have I achieved every goal I have set out to accomplish? Also no, but what I have done is far better than what I did from 2018 through 2021. The system I am currently using is Sarra Cannon’s HB90 system, which focuses on creating goals, projects, and tasks that span 90 days. I really like this system because I am very much a short-term thinker. When I do year-long goals, I fall off track, get horrendously behind, devolve into a pile of self-hating goo, and never recover. With a 90 system, I basically have four fresh starts throughout the year, and because the goals are for a shorter duration, it’s easier to figure out where I’m going off track and recover. Recovering is the most important part here, but there were a few major aspects to goal setting that I figured out along the way that had been holding me back in the past.

Not understanding the difference between wishes and goals.

I like to think of it like this: wishes are things you can’t control but want while goals are things you want but can control. The problem with new year goal setting is that people often set wishes rather than goals, and then, they beat themselves up when they don’t achieve those things. For instance, getting a specific kind of job isn’t a goal, it’s a wish. You can’t control the hiring process, you can’t control what jobs will be posted, but what you can control is setting yourself up for success while applying. Instead, you might make some goals like get feedback on resume from someone in industry, brush up on things related to the job, review interview questions, apply for twenty jobs. Those things are all within your control but will, hopefully, set yourself up for success with the thing you’re wishing to have. With the HB90 system, the goal would be “work toward getting a better job” with the projects and tasks all the things listed in the above goals section.

I was talking to my partner about this today because the thing that sets a lot of neurodivergent people back is rejection sensitivity, and sometimes this manifests especially hard when we treat our wishes as goals. When they don’t come true, we beat ourselves up extra hard. You only had three “goals,” so why couldn’t you manage to achieve those few things? Well, if they’re out of your control, you really can’t guarantee that.

If you reframe your overarching goals as wishes with various goals/projects/tasks/actionable steps under them, even if you don’t hit your actual target, you can still look at all the things you did and say, “Hey, I did all that I could to get to this thing. I did my best.” Alternatively, you could also look at what you did that didn’t work and try to figure out how you can change up your technique to do better next time.

For 2023, I’ve been working on my wishes for the year, which include things like

  • double my author income for the year
  • rely on adjuncting less
  • get a house

Some of my goals are

  • Finish the second Reanimator Mysteries book
  • Work more on fixing up my office
  • Research creating a sticker shop

What is actionable versus what is out of my control is far more obvious, and if the former don’t happen, I won’t beat myself up as much.

Not considering date-specific tasks

I don’t know if this is just a me problem, but I have a hard time keeping track of time/dates unless I can orient myself visually with a calendar, and sometimes when I’m doing my 90 day goal setting, I forget that I have to grade portfolios in December or that I get seasonal affect problems in November, which mixes with research papers coming in and tanks my brain. At the time, I was only focused on what I could cram into 90 days rather than those specific 90 days. What I’ve learned this past year is that I need to make a note for myself somewhere reminding me about my workload when making goals. I somehow forget that it fluctuates from month-to-month, and I am setting myself up for failure when I overload my plate.

If you’re a visually minded person, you might want to make a hypothetical calendar and mark out the busy times of the year. You might notice that one quarter has a lot more busy time than others, and you can plan accordingly. It’s better to under plan than over plan since you can always add more to your plate if it’s slower than usual. Obviously, it’s different if something sudden comes up, but I felt a bit silly that I forgot about grading piling up in Q4. The same goes for when you have vacations planned or a lot of birthdays that disrupt your weekends. You need to take into consideration that with each quarter, there are differences in energy levels and obligations.

Not prioritizing low v. high energy times

The HB90 system utilizes task blocks, which is basically half hour chunks of time that you would use for certain tasks. I haven’t quite nailed how long things take me to do yet, but what I ended up using the page for was marking out when I had work, when I ate, when I had daily chores to do. Then, using different markers, I delineated the times of day when my brain is at its best, then the middling periods, and finally the times when I tend to be rather useless.

What I used to do was think that I would be able to teach my night class and do all the things I could on an off day after my commute. I knew it was laughable. I knew I came home braindead after teaching and driving, yet I was hellbent on getting things done those days. If I could do it other days, I should be able to do the same on late class days. I actually started putting stickers in the box for the day of my late class to keep me from over-scheduling tasks. It was the easiest way to remind myself to rethink those choices.

What I’m doing now is using my energy chart to remind myself when it might be the best time to do certain tasks. At the same time, I plan on making a brief list of tasks that fit into each category in case I’m feeling aimless or forget what is reasonable for me to do at a certain time. It won’t be exhaustive or always work, but sometimes having those visual reminders is necessary.


I hope my list of screw ups helps you as you go into 2023 with your lists of goals or plans. Just remember that your productivity does not define your self-worth, and that even if you don’t hit a single goal, you still made progress along the way.