Time Management

How to Write a Goal Timeline

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What is a Goal Timeline?

Writing anything can be a stressful undertaking. I have procrastinated a lot to avoid writing even a 1000-word post. Longer form content like short stories, novels, or screenplays often got lost or washed away by the day-to-day minutiae. Then boom: a week, month, or a year had passed, and I hadn’t made any headway on a project.

The only way I overcame this was breaking my goals down into steps, and then dividing the steps into bite-sized tasks. Once you’ve broken down, say writing a 100-page screenplay, into the sum of its parts and committed to writing a certain number of pages, you need to set a timeline to achieve that goal. That timeline is the goal timeline; it’s basically what your goal is and how long you want to commit to make it happen.

Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

Why is it important to set a goal with a timeline?

The reason for setting a goal timeline is that worst case, without a deadline, you’ll never finish. Or, at the very least, you’ll drag it on longer than you need to —which most masochists =writers end up doing. There’s another good reason, too. Toiling away on a project for the better part of 10 years will at some point leave you bitter and upset. It never ended up the way you wanted, and it took 10 years to learn that. Setting a goal timeline means setting an expectation for how much time you can willingly invest in this on a mental level.

For me, a timeline is like creating a small internal nagging voice, similar to the external one of a boss. It keeps me accountable or on track when I’m writing alone and helps on the days where I really don’t feel like writing.

Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

How to create a goal timeline?

Creating a goal timeline is fairly straightforward. You can do it for all your goals, whatever they may be. The idea is to first get all the things you want to do out of your head. Asana or ClickUp are pretty great tools for this, but pad, paper, Google Sheets: all work. The thing that matters is making sure you can see them daily.

When goal setting I break my goals up into a few different categories:

  • Work/ Writing
    • Get my site’s revenue to 10k a month
    • Finish spec script for Eritara the Elvis Impersonator
  • Music
  • Financial Goals

This helps to set clear walls around each subset of goals. As you can see, I’ve shared a couple of my goals above, but they have no timeline at this stage and they seem pretty big and somewhat daunting at the moment. First step is to break them down into short term goals.

  • Get my site’s revenue to 10k a month – SEP/OCT 2022
    • Get Domain Ranking up to 30 by Jan 2022.
    • Delegate 30% of content writing tasks to Mariam.
    • Hire SEO expert for keywords by Oct 2021
      • Create credit card processing calculator for SMEs by March 2022 with the aim to Drive traffic to 15,000 clicks April 2022
    • Show companies at the top of lists the clickthrough rate and get sponsors/affiliates for top credit card processing companies June 2022
  • Finish spec script for Eritara the Elvis Impersonator DEC 15 2021
    • Finish storyboards – Sep 21 2021
    • Generate backstories and character arcs for 10 most important characters – Oct 5th 2021
    • Write 1 page a day from October 5 till Dec 15 to finish.
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Many of these short term goals still have longer dates 3-6 months in the future, so you can break some of them down even further until you get to goals that are achievable in between one day and two weeks. The idea is to keep breaking your goals down until they’re bite sized. Remember, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. As you can see, breaking down goals into smaller goals gives you an idea of when the larger goal is achievable too, so setting a timeline and breaking it up into smaller pieces helps you see what your daily actions need to be to reach the larger lofty goal.

Long Term Goals

It is possible to use the same system for long term goals. Here are some long term goal examples of mine:

1. Buy an apartment
2. Finish producing one good song

Whilst the goals are a bit further out (due to my incompetence in music production or the ballooning cost of real estate) they’re still goals I’m gunning for. The approach is very similar except you need to break them down a few more times.

Buy an apartment
—Pay myself 10k a month.
—Get my site’s revenue to 50k a month 
—Get my site’s revenue to 10k a month – SEP/OCT 2022

I haven’t gone through the entire list this time because as you can imagine it’s much longer and requires a lot more steps, but the process is the same and can help you set the mid-term goals that serve as a bridge to achieve the longer term ones.

Some practical tips:

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

When it comes to the day to day tasks you’ve now been able to set (and that look far more achievable) it always helps to set aside a time each day for you to do that specific task and create a routine. It takes a few weeks to get into a routine, but once you’re in one it makes it harder to not do the thing.

A great tool is the pomodoro timer, a time tracking tool. The way this works, you set the timer (there are a number of great plugins for Chrome and Firefox) and to count down from 25 minutes. When that time ends, you get a 5 minute break. After two 25 minute sessions you get a 15 minute break. The timer serves as a focuser, because you know the time to focus is limited to 25 minutes. So it creates short sprints of ‘attention’. (If you’re looking for a tool to help track time spent on client work, Harvest is a good place to start and also helps with productivity.)

The main goal for setting a goal timeline is to create a robust day-by-day and week-by-week plan that helps you march towards your goals in a timeframe that actually makes sense. 

Alex Beck

Alex Beck is the founder of Clarafinds.com a fintech comparison site to help people find and compare the best new finance products.