Editing Your Goals

Editing Your Goals

Editing is one of the most underappreciated parts of the creative process. It’s often referred to as the “invisible art:” even though it doesn’t get the attention it should, good editing is powerful.

Let’s go back to our restaurant analogy.

On HGTV’s Restaurant: Impossible, host Robert Irvine goes around the country giving firm and/or tender advice to help failing restaurants make changes that allow them to stay in business. One problem you see over and over again is that many of these restaurants have huge menus with a bunch of different options. At first glance that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing; I mean people like variety, right? And isn’t it good for a restaurant to try to please everyone who walks through doors?

But big menus are actually bad for most restaurants, for three reasons:

  1. Small restaurants typically don’t have the budget necessary to keep the wide range of high-quality ingredients required to make all the items listed on their menu. They often sacrifice the quality of the food in order to maintain variety.
  2. The chefs have to cook so many different things they don’t have time to put special attention into perfecting any one dish.
  3. The menu itself takes customers forever to wade through before they can place an order.

The end result? A restaurant with a too-stretched budget and staff, and customers who are overwhelmed by choices and unimpressed with their meal.

Think of your goals as the items you’re putting on your menu. Pick just a few, so you can use your precious resources of time and attention to do those things really well. And, like dishes on a menu, you can change your goals next season.

Here’s how you can take that giant list of options and edit it down to a workable final few.

Step “0”: Remember this is just for a season

Sustainable Goal-Setting is a seasonal approach, which means setting goals for winter, spring, summer and fall (roughly; it doesn’t have to be precise). There are several reasons why setting goals seasonally is great (more on that in future posts!). But one of the big reasons is it makes the editing process a little easier. I don’t have to fix every single part of my life all at once (which is awesome because that is impossible. But I can give certain priorities a little extra love and attention for a few months.

Another reason is that I feel less bad about shelving a possible goal when I know I can come back to it in a couple of months. For instance, right now I’m taking a break from painting so I can focus my time and attention on this blog. It doesn’t mean I’m saying good-bye to painting forever; I can jump back into it in the fall, and that’s okay.

The same way, if you are in a profoundly busy season like med school residency or the tiny baby phase, you can give yourself some grace and save that Iron Man for another time.   

Step 1: Score your potential goals

Before reading any further go ahead and give each of your goal options a number 1-100, based on how glad your future self will be that you did each.


Step 2: Take stock

Goals take time. And time, like we’ve talked about before, is a finite resource. Before you start choosing which goals to focus on this season, figure out how much time you have to spare to give them attention. Map out your typical week and figure out how much flexible time you have. The better an idea of how much time you’re working with, the better able you will be to set reasonable goals.

This can also be a good way to see how you’re spending your time right now. If you’re giving a lot of time to something that’s not in line with your vision, this will reveal it; and you can take that out to make more room for more important things.

Step 3: Cut

Greg Mckeown’s process for editing from his book Essentialism works really well for this part. He writes that if something isn’t a “HELL YEAH!” it should be a “no”. And one of the ways he determines this is by assigning a numerical value 1-100 to all options, then cutting everything that has a score below 90.

Look at the scores you gave your possibilities and clear the weeds by striking any that scores below 90 off the list.

Step 4: Select

Being able to remember your goals is a good first step in achieving them. Based on your resources in step 2, look at the possible goals you have left and choose just a few to pursue.

By this point you probably already have a good idea of which ones you think are most important. This part of the sustainable goal-setting process is really about helping you let go of those other “good” goals so you can wholeheartedly pursue a few “great” ones.  Even if you have only one goal this season, but you achieve it, that’s awesome!

Just as a guideline, I recommend having no more than 2 goals in any one of the goal categories (habits, rhythms, projects). Three total seems to be a good number for me.  

Now that this is done, you'll have a small (but truly important) set of goals that you realistically think you can achieve - that's exactly where you want to be. The next 3 steps will help you make a plan of attack for integrating these goals into your real life!


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