Do planners really help with goals?
Like most things, what you get out of goal planning is all about what you put into it. Slapping goals in your planner and calling it a day simply won’t be successful. At least not as successful as thoughtfully planning, tracking, and evaluating your steps to success. So do planners help with goals? The answer is yes, if you put in the work.
In fact, there are seven steps to effectively setting goals, which this article breaks down quite nicely. In short, the steps are:
- Decide on a goal
- Write it down
- Tell someone
- Break down your goal
- Plan your first step
- Keep going
All things considered, each of these steps is perfect to do in your planner or bullet journal. Perhaps that’s why planners are so helpful when it comes to achieving your goals. In this article, we’ll break down exactly how to use your planner to set goals. Plus, next-level tips for using SMART goals and goal trackers, as well as the best planner accessories for setting goals.
1) Decide on goals and choose a goal planner that helps you
Deciding on goals is often the easiest part. Deep down, you know what you want, and all you have to do is listen to your inner voice. The first actionable step towards those goals is picking out a planner or bullet journal to record them in. It’s crucial that you consider what will work for you rather than try to force a method or type of planner. One way to manage goals is to use goal-setting sections in your personal planner. These are often included in traditional planners, but if they’re not, note pages work great too.
“I use my bullet journal to track my long-term goals. “Erin Zadoorian, CEO of BudPop, an ecommerce wellness brand
Another option is to create goal planner spreads in your bullet journal. Or, you can create a dedicated notebook, binder, or journal just for goals. Entrepreneur Erin Zadoorian says, “I use my personal planner to keep track of my daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and to-dos. This helps me ensure I am staying on track with my goals.”
Zadoorian goes on to say, “I use my bullet journal to track my long-term goals. I find it helpful to write down my goals and then break them down into smaller steps that I can take to achieve them. This helps me to stay focused and motivated.”
If you’ve never used a bullet journal before, check out our article with bullet journal ideas that will help you get started. Above all, keep an open mind as you create your goal planner pages, spreads, or journals. Instead of feeling as though you have to be perfect all at once, view goal setting as a strategy that develops over time. Start with what makes the most sense to you now, then review each year to see if you’d like to try something new that might work better.
2) Write down your goals in your planner
“I’ll write down my goal in the center of a mind map and in as much detail as possible. On the branches of the map, I put down qualities needed to achieve the goal in purple, actionable steps to take in red, and potential pitfalls in yellow.”Phillip Ohren, Founder of Intender
The first thing to do in your planner or bullet journal is to get your goals down on paper. Truly, you don’t need to start with a spread, goal boxes, or a neatly organized list; you just need to write down your goals. How you do that is entirely up to you. Take, for example, the method of advertising strategist Phillip Ohren.
Ohren says, “My goal-setting method starts with a journal. I’ll write down my goal in the center of a mind map and in as much detail as possible. On the branches of the map, I put down qualities needed to achieve the goal in purple, actionable steps to take in red, and potential pitfalls in yellow. I think knowing the potential pitfalls of my goal is what’s helped me navigate my way toward the goal successfully, as I know what to look out for.”
Give yourself space to work through your goals in a similar way by dedicating a blank page just for writing them down. You can always review the list and add or subtract goals before going deeper into mapping out the steps to achieve them.
3) Tell someone your goals
Obviously, your planner or bullet journal isn’t a person, so simply writing your goals in one doesn’t count as sharing them with someone. That being said, sometimes telling others your goals can be a really hard step to take. One way you can motivate yourself to share is by decorating your goal pages, journal, or spread.
In this way, planners definitely help with goals because they’re visual things that you can share with others. If you decorate your goal pages and make them something that you’re proud of, it will be easier. You can even snap a photo and share it on social media!
4) Break down goals until they’re manageable
“…if a goal is particularly important or difficult to achieve, I will also dedicate a separate page in my journal to it so that I can break the goal into more manageable ‘mini-goals’ that will help me achieve the overall aim.”Richard Brandenstein, Esq.
Think of planners (and bullet journals) as tools for breaking down goals in a way that helps you achieve them. Big goals and long-term goals are not only overwhelming, but they are also impossible to achieve all at once. They often require many small stepping stones to reach the desired destination. In fact, Richard Brandenstein, attorney at law and partner at Fusco, Brandenstein & Rada, P.C., insists “there’s no point mixing up long-term life goals with short-term ones.” Instead, he starts by compiling goals at the start of each month as well as at the start of the year. Once he’s selected a timeframe, he can then commit to paper the goals he can accomplish within that time.
Brandenstein says, “It’s only after that that I prioritize my goals and rank them numerically in order of importance. Of course, the ones at the top of my list are those that take precedence and those that I work on first. Sometimes, if a goal is particularly important or difficult to achieve, I will also dedicate a separate page in my journal to it so that I can break the goal into more manageable ‘mini-goals’ that will help me achieve the overall aim.”
SMART technique for breaking down goals
SMART is a technique that is easily applied to planners and can greatly help you on the road to achieving your goals. Similar to both Zadoorian and Brandenstein’s approaches are SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.
To explain, a specific goal is one that is narrow and makes the steps to success more clear. Measurable goals will allow you to track your progress toward larger goals. Then, the goals you set must be attainable, meaning you can reasonably accomplish them. Of course, your goals should be relevant and align with your larger plan and long-term goals. Finally, time-based goals have an end date, which will help you prioritize and keep you motivated.
Free printable SMART planner stickers
Print this sticker sheet on decal sheet 61512 using a laser or inkjet printer. Or, order the design on a custom-printed Surface Safe® removable label sheet.
For more sticker tips, check out our guide to making DIY planner stickers.
5) Plan your first step by entering goals in your planner
“I’m a very visual person, so when I am planning, tracking, and working to accomplish my goals, I like to draw and use images.“Jim Trevors, Head of Operations, We Review Tires
We’ve already covered how planners and bullet journals are excellent tools to help you work through the process of breaking down goals. However, they’re also ideal for creating a visual representation of the breakdown. Jim Trevors, Head of Operations at We Review Tires, says that he uses two planners, entering personal goals in one and business goals in the other. This helps him to stay on track and keep from getting overwhelmed. He says, “I actually enjoy doing it this way, and it’s been a really effective way for me to accomplish things.”
Drawings and images are a great way to visualize the roadmap to achieving your goals. You can also use calendar pages, monthly logs, and weekly spreads to create visual timelines. First, add the first step and subsequent milestones that must be reached on the appropriate dates. Then, color-code and mark smaller steps accordingly with highlighters and repositionable tabs. Our favorite highlighters are this assortment of classic fluorescent colors with bullet tips for more precision. They coordinate perfectly with neon Avery Ultra Tabs®.
How to make a monthly goal planner spread
As mentioned above, adding tasks and milestones to planners in a way that creates a visual, prioritized timeline can really help with goals. Naturally, a separate monthly spread just for goals may be more effective for folks with a busy schedule crowding their monthly calendar. If this is the case, start by setting aside two pages for each month so that when you open your planner or journal, the spread is fully visible. You can use a traditional calendar format, simple lists by day, or boxes for each week.
Next, determine how often you will need to take an action to reach milestones for your goal. For example, are you walking every day? Or perhaps you’re reviewing your budget weekly or compiling achievements for your personal development plan on a biweekly basis. Then, divide your spread into enough spaces for the milestones you’ve chosen. Once you’ve labeled each day or week accordingly, you can then fill in actionable steps to reach the monthly milestone you’ve set for yourself.
6) How to help yourself keep going towards goals
Use goal trackers to help you monitor progress
First, let’s start with what trackers do and how using them in planners can help you reach your goals. Trackers are usually in the form of a grid that you can quickly fill in daily as you complete tasks for goals or repeat good habits. Both goal trackers and habit trackers provide you with an easy way to visually assess your progress towards more long-term milestones and goals.
Pro Tip: Matte white paper labels are the best labels for stickers you can write on with permanent markers. Some labels and sticker materials have a coating that prevents any ink from setting!
Free printable habit and goal tracker stickers
Print this goal tracker design yourself on 3-3/4″ x 4-3/4″ matte white paper labels by the package (6878). Or order them by the sheet (94254).
Print this habit tracker design yourself on 3-3/4″ x 4-3/4″ matte white paper labels by the package (6878). Or order them by the sheet (94254).
Keep yourself motivated by any means necessary
In addition to habit and goal trackers, there are several ways that using color in planners can help you stay motivated to reach your goals. Color can give such a boost to your “stick-with-it-ness” that we wrote a whole article about expert ways to use color in your personal planner.
In short, using color makes goal setting a more pleasant, and even pleasurable task. Fun planner stickers and rich jewel-toned tabs, like these ones, are both easy ways to add color into your goal planning pages. This is awesome because color can be used to prioritize tasks as well as boost your mood.
Meditation is another way to help you stay motivated. However, using meditation to visualize your goals does require focus and a clear idea of what you want to achieve. When you use planners to help with goals, you have a clear map of milestones, small tasks, and long-term goals to guide you in your meditations.
7) Celebrate progress and milestones on your journey
“The most important part is finding fun ways to reward myself when I achieve something — even if it’s just treating myself to frozen yogurt at my favorite local spot.”Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH
One of the main benefits of using planners to help with goals is that reviewing your progress is easy. There is a record of all that you’ve done, right there on paper. Furthermore, using trackers in your planner and color-coding techniques allows you to track progress at a glance. Being able to mark your milestones as complete is especially important because humans love to finish lists. It actually releases feel-good dopamine in our brains to do so, and this article about the psychology of why we love completing to-do lists is fascinating.
As a matter of fact, successful professionals such as Debra Eckerling and Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, both celebrate wins when using their planners to help with goals.
Celebrate with a “win journal”
“Every day, write down one to three wins – big or small. Then, at the end of the week or month – or really whenever you need a boost – review the journal to see your progress.”Debra Eckerling, goal strategist and author
Eckerling is a goal strategist, award-winning author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals, and creator of The DEB Method. She proposes tracking goals through a “win journal” and says that “…the concept is simple: Every day, write down one to three wins – big or small. Then, at the end of the week or month – or really whenever you need a boost – review the journal to see your progress.”
Treat yourself with a reward
Epidemiologist and veterinarian Venn-Watson, who discovered the first new fatty acid (C15:0) in 90 years, says, “The most important part is finding fun ways to reward myself when I achieve something — even if it’s just treating myself to frozen yogurt at my favorite local spot.” Venn-Watson is a veterinary epidemiologist and public health scientist with over 40 patents and 60 peer-reviewed scientific publications. With her husband and fellow scientist, Venn-Watson raised $6.2 billion to launch C15:0 as an essential fatty acid supplement.
Using planners to help with goals, motivating yourself to keep going, and celebrating your wins go hand in hand. In reference to keeping a “win journal,” Eckerling says, “It’s super motivating AND keeps you moving forward.” In a similar way, fun or special planner supplies can act as rewards that help you stay motivated.
Planners help you achieve your goals
In summary, planners do help with goals if you put in the work to thoughtfully plan, track, and evaluate your steps to success. First, decide on a goal or goals and choose a goal planner that works for you. Then, write your goals down, whether they’re in the form of a mind map, a list, or something else. Once you have your goals written down, tell someone about them. Creating a visually appealing goals page and snapping a picture for social media is one way to get over any fears of sharing one-on-one.
Next, break down your goals until they’re manageable “mini goals.” The SMART method is an excellent way to do so. Then it’s time to enter your goals in your planner in a more organized way. Drawings and images, calendar pages, monthly logs, and weekly spreads are all useful ways to visualize your goal roadmap. Color-coding can also be very helpful in planners or bullet journals because it allows you to quickly view goals and progress.
The important thing is to keep going. Use goal trackers to help monitor progress and keep yourself motivated. That can mean using color and planner accessories to give your mood a boost, meditating, or anything else that keeps you inspired. Lastly, celebrate your progress! Staying motivated and celebrating milestones go hand in hand. Staying motivated helps you reach those milestones, and celebrating wins motivates you to keep moving forward.