Goal Reviews (plus: changing venue!)

How to be mindful about your goal-setting process.

Before we start today’s post, I want to make a brief announcement. I will be leaving the Substack platform. Back in March, it was revealed that Substack had implemented a program called Substack Pro, in which some writers were (privately) offered a salary from Substack to produce their content, rather than the usual subscription model. While I’m all for writers getting paid (it’s tough out there!), the way Substack went about it (and is continuing to have no transparency) is very problematic. You can read more about that here, here, and here. I’ve been slow to respond to this, but ultimately I think it’s better to leave Substack, even though I am doing a free newsletter, and host this newsletter through my own website.

So be looking for another update for me at the end of this month or the start of the next one—that update will be my last Substack post and will let you know what to expect from the new configuration. I’m in the middle of working out those details and hope to have more information to you soon!


Now, on to our usual monthly installment…

You might notice this letter is arriving very late this month. I try to get my posts out within a few days of the first of the month. I think consistency is important, and it helps me stay on track. This month, however, I fell into a trap that I have definitely mentioned before and cautioned against: I set some way too ambitious deadlines for myself, and the last three or four weeks I’ve been scrambling to catch up.

It’s total coincidence that this month I was planning to write about goal reviewing, but I am so glad that it worked out that way. Let my late post be an example that this process is not simple or linear, and that you will have to re-evaluate constantly.

Last month, we talked about setting SMART goals. And I mentioned that part of the process was learning by doing. You set goals and deadlines to the best of your ability, you move forward and try to complete those goals, and then you re-evaluate. Did that work? Was my goal appropriate? Was my timeline reasonable? This step is crucial, and I strongly suggest you schedule some sort of regular goal review session for yourself. You can review your goals on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis (or any time-frame that feels appropriate for you). My preference is to review monthly—it’s infrequent enough to not eat up a lot of time, but it also keeps me from falling into many many weeks of poor goal-setting. It’s a great way to snap out of it!

So what goes into a goal review session?

Much of that is up to you. The process generally follows a formula like this: gather together any tracking you did over the time period you’re reviewing—this can be a list of goals, a habit tracker, even a personal journal—then sit down and read them over, and reflect in writing on how you did.

There are a few things that can be wrapped into a review, not all of which are goals like the ones we described last month:

  1. Habits
    Are you tracking things like how much water you drink, how much sleep you get, how much you exercise, etc? Not everyone feels the need to track these habits, but it’s becoming much more frequent. If you are, then this is a great time to scroll through your last week, month, or quarter of tracking data and ask yourself how am I doing? If you had a rough stretch, ask yourself why that happened? Can you identify the source of the problem? Often stress can lead to a feedback loop, where stress causes disruptions in healthy habits, which then causes additional stress. If you can determine one or two things you can tweak to make it a little easier to maintain your healthy habits, you’ll be well on your way to less stress!

  2. Time
    For those of you who time track, the regular review provides a chance to pause and check. How are you doing? Are you spending more time on things that aren’t contributing to your health, happiness, or progress at work? Sometimes our time gets skewed because of deadlines and disruptions, and having a semi-regular check-in can help reset and bring you back closer to your ideal time distribution.

  3. Goals
    Of course, the whole point of this letter is about checking on our goals! So make sure to look back at that definition of SMART goals we talked about before and examine the goals you set over the past week/month/quarter. What percentage of them did you complete? How many were on time versus late? Can you identify what worked well (e.g. you had a great metric to measure your goal and were able to tell when you’d achieved it), and what worked poorly (e.g. you underestimated how long it would take).
    This is also a great time to check in with longer-term goals (which hopefully you have broken into shorter sub-goals!). Are you on track? If so, great! If not, what’s slowing you down? Are your expectations too high? Are there external processes that are interfering with your progress?

  4. Fun stuff!
    If I’m already doing a review, I like to add a little section of my favorites from that interval. This can be a meal I loved, a favorite hike, a song I’ve been listening to on repeat, a memory, etc… I really like adding this at the end because it gives me a minute to reflect on what has made me happy, which helps motivate me to do more of those things in the next month.

The most important part of the review process is that you reflect on how your goals, ambitions, and habits have helped or hurt. That little bit of curiosity and self-awareness can go a long way.

For example, this month I learned that revisions on my writing process take about twice as long as I expected. Next time I have to set a deadline for myself, I’ll make it much later, which should reduce my last-minute panic and keep me from being 10 days late on other goals ;)

Thank you all for bearing with me this month.

Take some time to review your goals and habits—and be sure to be curious, thoughtful, and patient with yourself as you do this.