How to set and achieve your goals for 2021

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Illustration: Jocelyn Tsaih

Have you already set your goals for 2021?

The beginning of a new year is a time for making plans, setting goals, and improving ourselves. New year, new me, right?

“I’m going to learn new skills, release more songs, collaborate with more artists, make more money, and have the best year yet.” How many times have you found yourself saying this in January, only to then let months go by without taking any action?

Setting goals can be exciting, but we often forget the more important step: setting up concrete systems that allow us to achieve those goals. In this article, let’s look at some easy steps you can take to set yourself up for success in reaching your goals and staying productive through the entire year.

Break your goals down

It’s tempting to set ambitious goals. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, but the problem with big goals is that they tend to be vague and quite intimidating. For example, say you want to release an EP this year. As exciting as this goal is, it’s also so big that it can overwhelm you, which can lead you to procrastinate, set it aside in favor of other small wins, and stress over it more than you need to.

You’ve heard this before, but breaking a big goal down into smaller chunks really does work. Let’s stick with the EP example and work backwards to create more manageable sub-goals.

To start, set a release date for your EP. This can be completely arbitrary and can change over time, but it’s important to have a specific deadline to work towards. Let’s say December 1st. Then, work backwards and list out all of the actions you need to complete, as well as their associated deadlines. It can look something like this:

  • Release date: December 1st
  • Submit for distribution: November 1st
  • Create a PR plan: October 31st
  • Finalize digital marketing assets: October 1st
  • Finish mixing and mastering: September 1st
  • Finish producing and recording: July 1st

According to this rough timeline, if you’d like to have your EP out by December 1st, your songs should be ready to go by July. Think about how many songs you’d like to have on your EP and how many you can realistically finish between now and the end of June. If you want five songs, you should be working to write one song per month starting in February.

Now you have a more specific plan in place. For now, there’s no need to stress over your big goal of having an EP out by December. All you need to worry about is finishing one song by the end of February.

This seems much more attainable, and you can now focus all of your time and energy on this one goal. It’s also easier to keep track of your progress. If you haven’t even finished writing the song by the middle of February, you know it’s time to buckle down and get to work, or else you won’t meet your big December deadline.

Start small and stay consistent

What we accomplish in a year comes down to the little things we do every single day, so it’s important to stay consistent. Think of the work you have to do to achieve your goals as a habit, just like brushing your teeth every day.

If you’re going to release an EP by the end of the year, you have to make it a habit to show up to work every day. Now, the key to making this habit stick is to start small. If you decide that you’ll work ten hours a day, you’ll likely stay consistent for two – three days before life gets in the way or you start making excuses for why you can’t do it.

Instead, start with something more manageable, like one hour a day. If you find that you’re able to show up every day for at least one hour for a few weeks, you can add on more time. Even then, there will be days when life gets busy and all you can manage is just 30 minutes. Use whatever time you have wisely, and don’t beat yourself up for not putting in more time that day. All that matters is that you stayed consistent and showed up.

Try calendar blocking

A great technique that many people use to stay productive is called “calendar blocking.” It’s exactly what it sounds like – you block out a time in your calendar when you’ll work on accomplishing your sub-goals.

The key to making this work is to treat your calendar block with the same amount of respect as you would a doctor’s appointment. You wouldn’t set up an appointment and then not show up, would you?

So create a recurring event in your calendar, every day from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm, for example. Set reminders and alarms to help you prepare for this time slot and get to work on time. Put away your phone and all other distractions and don’t let yourself do anything other than what you set out to do.

If you find yourself tempted to do other things during this time slot, try calendar blocking all of your other activities as well. For example, you can browse social media from 4:30 pm – 5:00 pm and watch TV from 9:00 pm – 10:00 pm.

Many people who use this technique will actually block out their entire day, down to the minute. When you have no time in your day other than 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm to work on your goals, you’ll be much more likely to honor this time slot and be less tempted to slack off.

Stay accountable

Creating sub-goals, staying consistent, and blocking time in your calendar all sound great in theory. But, none of it will work if you’re unable to stay accountable to yourself.

It’s too easy to make up excuses and skip a day or two, but this is a very slippery slope. As soon as you allow yourself to skip out on what you said you would do, you’re telling your brain that you can’t be trusted to follow through and that there are no real consequences to breaking your own promises.

When you lose that trust with yourself, it can be very hard to gain it back. The more you slack off, the harder it’ll be to get back on track. Not to mention, viewing yourself as someone who can’t be trusted to follow through can be detrimental to your self-esteem, confidence, and even the quality of your work.

To avoid going down this path, do whatever it takes to help you stay accountable and do what you said you would. Consider asking a friend or family member to be your accountability partner and have them check in on your progress regularly. If need be, put rules into place that force you to stick to your work plan and schedule, such as blocking your browser from accessing distracting sites for a set period of time.

Many creatives have gone to extreme lengths to get their work done, such as locking themselves away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere or booking a 15-hour flight so they can work on the plane with no temptations.

No matter how much you love your work, there will always be times when you want to put it off. So, set yourself up for success and help yourself stay accountable, no matter what it takes.

Let go of perfectionism

“Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves,” says Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.

One of the biggest obstacles that creative people face when it comes to achieving their goals is perfectionism. Imagine working on that EP we used as an example earlier, but waiting for every song to be the most beautiful piece of music you’ve ever heard. You wouldn’t finish it in your lifetime, let alone before the deadline of December 1st.

If you find that your creative work takes a long time to finish, evaluate whether you might be struggling with perfectionism. Then, take active steps to combat it. This means creating rules and sticking to them. If you set out to finish one song every month, then do it, regardless of whether or not you like the result. Remember that, in many cases, done is better than perfect.

Each song you finish will allow you to practice completing something and get familiar with what an amazing feeling that can be. It will also help you get better at your craft, giving you an opportunity to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re constantly starting new projects and giving up the second you find something you don’t like, you’re missing out on the chance to develop your skills and creativity.

To make it easier to let go of perfectionism, stick to the deadlines you’ve established when you broke down your goals into smaller sub-goals. Prioritize staying on track over anything else. If you really think you can do better, you can always go back and fix things later when you’ve had a bit of a break.

So there you have it! Staying productive and reaching your goals come down to breaking them down into smaller sub-goals, staying consistent, holding yourself accountable, and actually finishing what you set out to do, even if you’re not completely happy with it.

What are your goals and resolutions for 2021? Will you be using these tips to help you reach them? Let us know in the comments below.

January 19, 2021

Sayana Sayana is a contemporary R&B singer-songwriter based in Toronto, Canada. When she's not making music, she creates content on personal development and navigating life as a musician. Learn more about her at https://www.sayanamusic.com/.