January 04, 2021

Don’t Get Overwhelmed By Your Goals – Keep It Simple

Reading Time: 9 mins

As it’s the start of a brand new year, we’re all in the throws of reflecting over the last year and setting our new goals for the year ahead.

I’ve been looking at goals, yearly themes, and reflections, but I’ve found that it’s easy to get overwhelmed at the thought of coming up with and working towards new goals.

The fatigue that comes with trying to decide between hundreds of goals can leave you in a state of analysis paralysis.

Don't Get Overwhelmed By Your Goals - Pin

The Expectations Of Goal Setting

In my head anyway, I want to make sure I’m creating goals that are worthwhile and will help me to become a better person.

This is quite a tall order for something as simple as a few goals.

As well as this, it’s easy to look to the other people online that are sharing their goals.

If you’ve read the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, you’ll know that watching others at work can inspire us to work ourselves.

With that in mind, it can be very motivating to watch YouTube videos from people that inspire you to determine the best way to set your goals.

In my case, I found this lead to me adding even more goals to my already comprehensive list of things I wanted to achieve.

It’s only natural to want to keep up with the Joneses, but this can quickly lead to overwhelm and maybe even burn-out.

Where Do I Start?

With a huge list of goals written down in my notebook, I then looked to clarify these goals.

How achievable are they? What time limits should be put in place to achieve these goals? Are these goals relevant to where I am now?

You’ll recognize this approach as being part of the SMART Goals goal-setting strategy. I’ll talk more about this technique later.

However, it was at this point that I started to become completely overwhelmed with all of the possibilities of things I could do or should do.

Time to take a step back.

My Advice On Creating Goals

There are a lot of discussions online as to the merits of goal setting.

Some people swear by SMART goals and say that they couldn’t improve without them.

Others will say goals are just a way to make yourself feel miserable when you don’t achieve or make progress towards that goal.

Whatever you believe, here is what I recommend if you are looking to set goals or to generally try to improve over the next year:

#1 Set Yourself A Yearly Theme

I first came across the concept of yearly themes when listening to the Cortex podcast hosted by CGP Grey and Mike Hurley.

The idea behind the yearly theme concept is that you select a word or short phrase to encapsulate what you want to achieve in the year ahead.

For instance, my yearly theme this year is “Year Of Knowledge”.

This makes a yearly theme quite general which has the advantage of allowing you to adapt certain tasks or goals to ensure success.

Consider the goal of losing 10lbs.

If you set this goal for yourself in January but haven’t achieved it by the end of the year, you’ve failed. This can leave you feeling pretty crap and unaccomplished.

On the other hand, consider if your yearly theme was health or wellness. You might not have lost your goal amount of weight sure, but maybe you’ve gotten into the routine of hitting 10,000 steps 5 times a week or maybe going to the gym twice a week.

You haven’t necessarily completed a particular goal but you have kept to the theme of health and wellness and therefore succeeded.

Positivity maintained.

Yearly themes are an excellent concept as they can be adapted as you progress through the year.

They are also flexible enough that you can frame almost any achievement you’ve made as being successful per your yearly theme.

There’s a whole host of great information on this concept in the video below which was created by CGP Grey to outline it in more detail.

#2 Work To A Quarter

Setting goals that will last you a whole year can be pretty intimidating.

Who knows where you’ll be in November or December next year.

Maybe your priorities or your circumstances change in March and you need to completely re-plan and re-prioritize your life (sound familiar?).

By breaking down your year into 4 quarters, you’ll be able to set yourself more realistic goals for that shorter period.

At the end of each quarter, you can review and evaluate those goals to see how well you did.

At this point, you can re-evaluate your goals by setting new ones or adapting existing ones.

This more regular evaluation will be more helpful for you in the long run as you’ll have more opportunities to improve over the year than you would have had if you worked over a year instead.

If you are a follower of the principle of Kaizen (continuous small improvements over time) then you will get a lot out of this approach.

This concept of working quarterly is the core philosophy of the 12 Week Year concept which is detailed in the book The 12 Week Year by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington.

I recommend you read this book if you’d like to learn more on this topic.

#3 Set 1 or 2 Goals At A Time

The main reason we get overwhelmed is that we try to do too much at once, and it’s an easy trap to fall into.

James Clear describes the concept of working on multiple goals at once in a very effective way in his post on goal setting. He compares goals to a rudder on a boat:

It’s easy to add more and more things to our ever-expanding to-do lists.

However, if we don’t prune back our lists, they can become completely overrun with half ideas or outdated topics that are no longer relevant.

This can leave our brains swimming in circles as we don’t even know where to start.

The thing that has helped me the most when setting goals is to pick only 1 or 2 goals per quarter and stick to that.

This is especially helpful if you’re new to goal setting and aren’t sure where to start.

It allows you to try out one or two things for a period and evaluate how well they worked.

#4 Don’t Overcomplicate Your System

Once you have a clear set of goals defined, it can be very tempting to program them into a system like Notion.

Now, stay with me here, because I’ve built my goals into Notion and find it a great tool for goal setting.

However, the issue arises when you start to create super complex systems at the expense of actually working towards your goals.

I fall into this trap almost weekly and it’s something I’ll be seriously looking at eliminating from my life over the next year in any way I can.

Most recently, I became overwhelmed after watching several videos on yearly reviews and goal setting systems in Notion.

Each person would have a completely different and often complicated approach. As I started to build out a setup to match what one person had done, I eventually came to realize it was overcomplicated for what I needed.

What a waste of time.

I would then look to the next person and find the same thing happening.

It was only when I took a step back and outlined my goals system on paper first that I began to develop a custom solution inside of Notion.

That planning ahead of time allowed me to effectively create a setup that works for me and allows me to be efficient at creating and tracking my goals.

If you don’t use a tool like Notion, all you need is a pen and paper. The Bullet Journal is also an excellent approach to creating and tracking your goals.

#5 Follow The SMART Goals Technique

If you can see the benefits of setting goals then I highly recommend following the SMART Goals technique.

I hope to write a more comprehensive post on this topic in the future but for now, let’s take a brief look.

SMART Goals are:

By creating your goals following with this formula, you’ll create goals that are meaningful to you.

This will in turn make it easier to achieve these goals as you’ll be more motivated to work on them.

This concept is also referenced in the book How To Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens as well as The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll if you’re looking to learn more about it.


I hope you found some value in reading this article to the end.

Let me summarize my advice for creating goals before we finish:

  1. Set yourself a yearly theme
  2. Work to a quarter
  3. Set 1 or 2 goals at a time
  4. Don’t overcomplicate your system
  5. Follow the SMART Goals technique

If you did find this information helpful, please consider sharing it on social media. It will help others to find it, and it would really help me out.