Short-Term Goals, Are They the Key to … Everything?

There is something magical about watching New York City wake up in the morning. She does it slowly and then all at once, stretching with the sunrise before delivering a rush of traffic throughout the city.

On one of those rare mornings when I haven’t hit the snooze button into the double digits (or I’m very jetlagged and my body thinks 5am is actually 10am), I like to let me feet wander down to the water, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s perhaps the only time you’re not going to be dodging Instagram influencers or tourists taking Christmas card photos, and for just an hour, it feels like it’s just me and my thoughts and the city.

Normally these aren’t very earth shattering thoughts. Should I repaint my entire apartment yellow or split it up and make the hallway and kitchen white? Am I actually into Birkenstocks and should I buy the copper ones? Where do people go on dates in New York City? Is sitting drinking tea at a cafe and reading a date?

But the other day, like a flash of lightening from the sky, I had a thought that shook my tiny Brooklyn world: I NEVER set short-term goals. Like, ever.

Now you might be asking yourself, Carly, good lord, you’ve talked about to do lists and goals in every article on this blog. Actually you’ve talked about goals for the better part of your lifetime. That’s exactly right, I love setting goals! Writing goals, hobby goals, life goals, physical goals — if you can put a goal on it, I will that. And while my desk is covered with post it notes documenting all the long-term projects and big, grandiose ideas I want to accomplish, I have never even thought to set smaller goals that would point me in the right direction.

Wait, has everyone known about this the entire time? This realization made me feel a bit like that guy we all know, the one who waited to finish the Harry Potter series ten years after the last one was released and finally shows up all ready to talk about it at your 4th of July party and everyone’s like, “Damn it Steve, we already know Fred Weasley dies, thanks for bringing up that painful memory AGAIN.”

So short-term goals, could these be the solution to me actually beginning to tackle my bucket list? I often go into each new year with a huge list of giant projects I want to tackle. Run a marathon, finish all 113 unread books in my house, develop a morning routine, create a solid daily writing routine to become a super fulfilled journalist, write a kid’s book, start a story project in New York City, write a piece for the New York Times, become a yoga teacher and work with survivors of sexual violence, visit all the places, make a damn ceramic mug. Want long-term goals? I’ve got 20 (thousand), but each year as the months slip past I often don’t know where to start. I try to go from zero to 120 miles per hour without any real map of milestones to help me document progress and for some reason, never considered how much short-term goals would help.

For instance, this reading goal I set for myself last year. I had started to feel a ton of guilt going into bookstores due to the amount of unread books I had at home. So I decided to stop buying books until I had gotten through all 150 unread books in my house and could move forward, guilt free! The only catch: I didn’t really come up with a plan besides “read all the books,” and while I try to make reading a part of my everyday routine, it can often get de-prioritized. A year into this challenge and instead of plowing through books at rapid speed, I find myself dabbling here or there and feeling dejected at how many texts I still need to get through. My Amazon wishlist is miles deep with all these books I can’t wait to read soon but it often feels like I’ll never get there. So maybe, instead of only having the goal of read 113 unread books ASAP in my mind, I could start to break this up with milestones to make the process a little more … celebratory?

Now I am setting a new goal of reading two books a month ,which I think I can actually do, and once a month, taking a couple hours to read outside somewhere in the city. When I hit 30 books read I am treating myself to a pedicure or a lemon bar or hell maybe both! It’s a tiny start but I’m excited to see if this new (to me) productivity hack works.

I actually think I enjoy setting long-term goals because I get a rush of dopamine just from thinking about the idea (and even more so if I tell people about it!) but then forget to reverse engineer backwards on how to actually make it happen.

As for short-term goals on all my other projects (such as running a half-marathon or growing this here blog or finding my creative stride again), I am setting aside time on Sundays to create little roadmaps of short-term goals to start the momentum. Any and all tips will help so please send them along! For me, the hardest part is always getting started on something so I’m hoping this helps. For the next two weeks my short-term goals are:

  • My work self:
    • Update my LinkedIn and website for the longer term goal of becoming more confident in owning the work.
  • My writing: 
    • Write for only an hour a day (with a timer) in the morning before work.
    • Ultimately I’d love to spend that time finishing two blogs posts, mailing out my James Bond pitch, and submitting my Catapult story submission.
  • My work-from-home routine: 
    • Go for a walk before starting work in the morning and plan a workout class during my lunch break to get me out of the house and get my body moving.
    • Minimize distractions such as social media and put my phone away during the workday.
  • My brain and body:
    • Finish “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” and start a new book.
    • In an effort to decrease the amount of time I’m on my phone, put my phone away while I’m working, call instead of text people, and in the mornings, check once to make sure no one called during the night and then put it away for an hour.
    • Learn a good stretching routine for before and after runs.

So is this about to revolutionize the way my productivity and I operate? Am I about to go from being super busy to instead being super productive? Is this a planning habit people have been doing for all of time and I just never realized it? For me, this is a start on where to start amongst the projects I’m most excited about and should it work, I’ll report back — like that late-to-the-party Harry Potter fan — in about six months.

Until then, I hope you enjoy contemplating all your own big life questions on your next walk and if you’re up for it, I’ll see you — and your advice on how you tackle long-term goals — on the Brooklyn Bridge!

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