An Easy System for Organizing Goals

How I Categorize Goals | Mighty Girl

Mighty Summit was last weekend, and with Camp Mighty approaching, I’ve been considering what I want from next year. At both events we do a resource lunch where attendees choose five goals for the coming year, and ask for help with one.

My plan was to revamp my Life List because so much has changed. I found a fresh sheet of paper, got all thinky, and! My new goals were so meaty, you guys. “I have leveled up!” I thought, “My personal growth this past year is astounding!”

But, no. Turns out I always go through a process of setting larger goals and then winnowing down to specifics, it just wasn’t conscious before. In fact, over the years I’ve developed a system that works pretty well for me using three different types of goals:

Mighty Summit Mini Pinatas by Jordan Ferney | Mighty Girl


I write all year long — here, in journals, on 750 Words, and I also keep an idea file on my laptop full of information I want to consider when I’m setting course for the year.

As my birthday approaches, I scan all that stuff and look for patterns. This helps me identify umbrella goals. They’re always a slightly different format, and they always seem cheesy when I share them, but the personal stuff always does, right? So here’s last year’s goal list:

Be myself.
• Organized
• Satisfied
• Fun

And this year’s:

Remember who you love and who loves you.
• Celebrate others
• Help others
• Be strong
• Leave space
• Stand up

These goals help me figure out what I want to cross off my Life List in the coming year. Which brings us to the second type of goal.

Lily, Mighty Summit | Mighty Girl


These are the kinds of goals you’ll see on my Life List — taking tap lessons, tasting 1,000 fruits, rolling a kayak. Once I’ve set my directional goals for the year, I sort through my list for ideas actions that will move me in the right direction.

Under each directional goal, I add a clarifying sentence and then either fill in a few ideas from my Life List, or add tasks to my Life List based on my umbrella goals. I haven’t done this yet this year, so I’ll make up an example:

• Be strong.
Take care of myself so I have energy for everything else.
-Do a Triathlon.
-Practice the Four Agreements.
-Do something fun every day.

Now I know where I want to be, and also the specifics on how I’ll get there.

I plug away at tasks from birthday to birthday, and then start the process again in Fall, carrying over some longer-term items and deciding on fresh lessons with each pass.

In the meantime, I need reminders to lighten up.

Mighty Summit Coffee | Mighty Girl


Come New Year when everyone is in resolution frenzy and seasonal-affective disorder is sapping my will to achieve, I write up a list of fun things I want to keep in mind. Last year’s looked like this:

Resolved, 2012
• Eat more doughnuts.
• Carry less crap.
• Light more candles.
• Read real books.
• Organize the little stuff.
• Listen to more music.

These goals aren’t about effort, they’re just reminders of the things that keep life sweet for me.

So aside from daily to do lists, those are my main goal categories. What about you? How do you organize the things you want to accomplish? Do you make more than one list? Do you just keep things in your head? I’m curious because obviously I’m “meticulous” and the same process won’t produce the best results for everyone. Let me know your thoughts in comments.

18 thoughts on “An Easy System for Organizing Goals

  1. Love it. So clear and useful. Thank you for sharing.

    I am currently working on a book that is encouraging people to make a real difference in looking after themselves, their communities and the environment.

    I wish I could magic my way to a Mighty Summit.


  2. Thank you for the insight! I have been doing something similar, just find out what I even LIKE! Once I started that list and read over it, I felt better, but I wasn’t sure what to do next. I have a few touchy-feely personal goals but haven’t moved on them yet. And yes, oh my, do they sound cheesy out loud. And the working from birthday to birthday is brilliant. It reminds me of friend’s habit of making all of her wellness check ups for the day of her birthday – physical, eye exam, women’s health – she takes the day off of work, takes care of herself, maybe a mani and pedi or a new book and has a great lunch. A day about truly taking care of herself.


  3. This is fascinating. I mostly keep goals in my head, and I occasionally write about them. Except for athletic goals. I’ve always got a training plan posted on my fridge and race goal times/distances posted on a white board so I can visualize in the weeks before my races.

    When you get ready for that triathlon, there are a couple of local women-only events that are fantastic. Let me know if you want the info, or somebody to help you carry all your stuff to transition.


  4. I started doing a 30 before 30 when I was 28. I’ve completed that set list of 30 things 3 or 4 times since then and continue to work on a list of 30 things every year. It seems like a manageable number for me even though I’ll be 31 in Dec. I also started a list of experiences/things (like a classic teddy, new bike) for my 3 kids that I want to do during their childhood. Oddly enough writing down some big milestones and moments I wanted for my kids was very therapeutic for me and I learned a ton about my husband’s childhood too.

    Great post Maggie. I will be thinking about self improvement in a different way these next days.


  5. I just cannot loosen up lately and at a sad place where dreaming big seems intimidating. Any tips for giving yourself a bit of a shake so revising a list seems less scary?


  6. dear mightygirl, i just love this post – it’s so much in tune with how i treat my goals & aspirations. this is the very first time in 8 years that i’ve commented on one of your posts (don’t ask me why… or why not). you’ve always inspired me & i wanted to give something to you in return – you may’ve heard of it already… (i promise this is not spam)


  7. I know this will sound utterly depressing but I am so used to not thinking about what I want, that I have the hardest time creating a life list. I’m so out of touch with myself that I can’t think of 3 things that I want for me. Not things I want to do, not things I want to be, not even places I want to go. How do you get back to yourself?


  8. I’ve never done a life list because I’m afraid it’ll sound lame. There is no desire to skydive or travel to exotic locales and I’m not athletic in the least. I’m happiest when I’m curled up on the sofa with my dogs, drinking coffee and reading a book. I’d like to design a piece of jewelry that gets published in a magazine. And be considered an expert at something before I die – enough to be asked to speak somewhere about it. “Big” is intimidating to me, I guess. Is there such a thing as a life list for lumpy, introverted people? 🙂


  9. Maggie you are so inspiring! It never occurred to me to organize my goals this way, but I think it would make a world of difference. I sometimes have trouble getting specific about what it is I want, but I know that’s a big part of getting there. Also, I’d never heard of the 750 words site- great idea for a daily brain drain. The idea really intrigues me. Anyway, thanks. 🙂


  10. You and Jaclyn (earlier commenter, holla Jaclyn!) have inspired me tonight. I’ve been intimidated by the Life List but I think I can start with a Year List. I turn 40 in a bit over a year. I’m going to work on my list this weekend. I’m starting with “Get more pedicures”. So I can write this list, yo.


  11. If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.


  12. I tend to keep the big things in my head – like the strategies that I’m somehow always conscious of – they’re there, even if they’re on the periphery.
    I do have to write down (on post-its, or my iPhone’s “notes”) all the little things. Tactical details, as I think of them. I’m not sure why I’m thinking of life goals militarily… maybe because I want to conquer them?


  13. I write down 100 goals for each coming year. I try not to think too hard about it while doing it, but I do aim for a bit of balance, i.e.– have some goals related to fitness, some to finances, some to fun, some spiritually or relationship oriented. The 100 list can take a few days. Once it’s done, I let it rest for a few days or so. When I finally revisit it, I highlight the items that are most important, make me laugh, and generally get me excited and motivated. I choose 6-10 to focus on and then get going. I keep my 100 lists for each year to see what goals peel away and which ones remain. It’s been a good system!


  14. LOVE THIS! Maggie, can I invite you out to some Blue Bottle or Philz? 😉 I’ve been going through my “Eff I’m turning 30” (happened a couple of weeks ago) and all I can think about are lists. I am defintely going to sit down tonight and use your wonderful ideas. Thank you!!!


  15. Great post!
    I’m 27 & just starting to explore my values & the Actions I might take to move towards them. It feels vital & wonderful bit scary and slightly too big-picture, too. I journal daily about my thoughts & emptional state in moving in directions that matter to me. I think taking a next step to conceptualize concrete goals in a yearly format centered around my birthday & the new year (which I like to picture as starting in September with the new school year bc I’m a teacher & New Years is too lose to my bday in February) would be really great and give me milestones to look forward to. What exactly are mighty summit/camp mighty & how do they work? Can anyone attend? Thanks for sharing!!


  16. Thank you. It was just the sort of headtilting reordering I needed, just with that one bit about NY. I’m an Aussie so it isn’t SAD, but I find that time of year challenging and goals for the year never work and so on ad infinitum. Except that I can just pick another day, and given my birthday is mid-year, it works perfectly. I’ve spent my whole life not thinking of my birthday as important to me (and hating to celebrate it) but it is actually something I need to at least respect and recognise as important.

    Between this, the packing tips and the wardrobe stuff, you’ve changed my life in so many ways.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s