Goal-setting for Commitment-phobes

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calendar_1As we near the year’s end, you may well be dreaming of celebrating and spending time with friends and family. Now is also a good time to think about the year ahead, and what’s on the cards for you and your business in the coming months.

In fact, while you’re casting your mind into the future, why not look a little further ahead? Few of us seem to think much beyond the next invoicing cycle, but that approach can see us working just to get by, rather than working towards particular goals — working to get somewhere.

Of course many of us see goals-setting as a big, daunting commitment. By saying ‘I want to do X,” we fear we’ll set ourselves up for disappointment (what happens if we can’t achieve X?). We imagine that we’ll have to slavishly follow that plan, even if we later decide we don’t want X at all. At least, this was how I used to see goal-setting.

The good news is: personal and professional goal setting doesn’t have to be this way.

Freelancers: Behind the 8-ball?

The salaried worker enjoys a number of benefits that the freelancer does not. These may include paid holidays, a clear career trajectory, and the payment of some portion of your wage into a retirement or superannuation fund. Those kinds of benefits reduce the burden, in some ways, on salaried employees. But they also put those issues out of our minds.

As a consequence, many freelancers neglect to take holidays (or can’t see how they can afford to), fail to set aside money for the future, and are unable to see how they can set a large goal — like buying a home or having children — and achieve it financially. So many freelancers end up working to get by, rather than working to get somewhere.

If this sounds like you, why not experiment with setting and working towards a couple of goals in the coming year? No, you won’t get a report card at the end of the year charting your success or failure. And if you change your mind about your goal during the year, you won’t fail the test. But experimenting with goal-setting could change the way you operate your business, and help you to get more out of life. Yes, really.

What Are Your Goals?

To experiment with goal-setting you need to identify your desires. Thinking loosely about what you want is a good place to start. Very few of us, really, are this-is-where-I’ll-be-in-ten-years types. Most of us, though, have vague ideas that we might like to spend a year traveling, or have kids one day, or wind back to four days’ work a week, or always have enough money to enjoy life.

Professional or work-related desires are crucial, but your personal desires are equally as important. Recently, I realized that I wanted to expand my skillset in a particular area of my profession — writing — so that I could do more work from home. This fed into my personal dream of working remotely while living in different parts of the world. But, not be be outdone by my comfortably salaried friends, I decided that I wanted the same benefits they received from my work: I wanted holidays and a retirement fund too.

How Might You Achieve Them?

Once you’ve identified some of the things you’d like to achieve, choose one or two, and think more clearly — but still hypothetically if that makes you more comfortable — about what you’d do to make that dream a reality.

From a professional perspective, my first step was to take a course in the kind of writing that would suit the industry I wanted to move into. From there, I thought I’d probably need to get some experience and build up a resume of work in this particular type of writing. So first of all, I needed to find a decent, affordable course of study.

From a personal perspective, I thought I’d like to be in a better financial position before I went off to travel the world. This was fine, I thought — I can use the time I’m getting new writing experience to save some money. Thinking about money brought me to my goal of having holidays and a retirement fund as I would if I were a salaried employee.

Making it All Add Up

Obviously, my goals need to be funded somehow. Some of yours might, too. And of course, there are other time considerations as well (how will I fit study into my schedule?, for example).

At this point, you might find it helpful to look at your spending for the last month or so, to get an idea of where your money goes, and how much you have left over at month end. Some people would call this a budget, but if the term freaks you out as much as it does me, you can just think of it as a spending snapshot.

Once you have it, you’ll know how much you can save each month — or at least set a goal dollar value that you want to set aside. No matter how flexible that savings goal is, if you can commit to putting at least some spare cash into savings each month, you’ll be on your way to achieving your goal. Nice!

When you compare the amount you’re saving with the amount you need to  reach your goal, you may well decide to reduce other expenses so that you can save more. Since you’ve got your spending snapshot, you should be in a position to identify any areas in which you can cut your spending so you can reach your goal faster.

When I undertook this step, I found that the biggest financial hurdle I had was savings: if I wanted to save for the future, and take holidays and have a retirement fund, I would need not just to reduce some of my expenses, but focus my work in the better-paying industries. As you can guess, this realization is now helping me to formulate my business strategy for the coming year.

Changing Your Mind

What if I do this writing course and find out I’m not that keen on this sub-sector after all? What if I save up all the money I need and realize I don’t want to go on a working holiday any more?

The worst-case scenario with goal-setting like this is that I’ll find myself with a pool of savings that I no longer want to spend on goal X. Personally, I don’t think this is a bad position to be in. I’m sure to have dreamed up an alternative goal by then, and if I decide to, I can put the money toward that instead.

I suppose the other worst-case scenario might arise if I found I couldn’t work in the industry I wanted to work in — my writing style just didn’t suit that market. This is a daunting thought, but I figure that it’s better to try and fail than not to try at all. By the time I realize it’s not going to work out, I’m bound to have gained other experience that will provide new, intriguing opportunities anyway.

This is how I overcame my fear of goal setting and started thinking about where I wanted to go in life. Have you given any thought to your goals for coming year?

Georgina LaidlawGeorgina Laidlaw
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Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.

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