My Year Without Goals

by ChristinaPilkington on January 25, 2012 · 22 comments

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Last year I sat down with my notebook and took several hours to plot out my goals for the coming year. I wrote down some big goals in major areas of my life, broke them down into sub-goals, and then made monthly goals. I was so proud of myself and felt that it was going to be a productive year for sure.

This year I didn’t do any of that.

I didn’t write down any goals for the year. I didn’t list all the important areas of my life and decide what I wanted to accomplish in each area. I don’t keep a monthly checklist that I use to make sure I’m staying on track.


I start off strong at the beginning of each year. I tell myself, “This will be the year I accomplish everything I’ve planned to do.”  And then life happens. A flood of unexpected things hit me the moment the calendar turns Jan 2nd

Then in February I find out about three great opportunities, but I feel guilty saying yes because I know they’ll interfere with reaching the goals I made two months ago.

Before I know it, it’s the beginning of March and I’m hopelessly behind on my goals. I reassess, re-write the goals, only to repeat the process a few months later.

At the end of the year, I almost always look back, proud of the things I’ve been able to do, but never able to shake off that guilty feeling that always comes from not completing my original goals; I never do even half the things I set out to do at the beginning of the year.

But at the end of 2011, I started thinking. Aren’t I doing to myself the very same thing I don’t want to do to my kids? Aren’t I really setting up for myself a “curriculum” of plans that don’t take into consideration the randomness of life, leave room to explore wonderful opportunities that come up, or the ability to decide that something just isn’t working that well and move on to something that does?

So does that mean that I’m just going to sit on my butt and do nothing but watch American Idol all day (as if homeschooling moms could do that anyway, right)?

No!!! (Well, there might be a little Idol watchingJ)

I want to do some amazing things this year, but I know that won’t happen if I set up goals that I MUST follow a year in advance.  I want to follow my interests and complete projects that I’m really passionate about.

I’ve found that if I focus my time on a few projects or things I really care about, I wake up excited to work on them.  I never have my day totally planned out. I might have some appointments or meetings I need to keep, or responsibilities or deadlines I need to take care of by a certain time (and I really try to limit these as much as possible), but other than that I’m free to structure time the way that works best for that day.

So how am I going to make this work on a day-to-day basis?

  • Not have a specific date that I want to complete a project. If it’s a big project, I’m just going to work on it when I’m at my best and when I have the time. For example, if it’s a writing project, I might get to a point when the project is almost over that I’ll schedule a date when it’s to be released, but I won’t plan it in detail at the beginning.


  • Not be upset with myself if I don’t work on a project for a few days or longer. When I used to set strict goals and didn’t reach them, I always felt like a failure. I’m the type of person that can spend hours and hours on a project for weeks straight and then have to put it away for a month.  But then when I wanted to come back to it again, I’d feel awful for getting so “behind schedule” that I’d give up on it completely.


  • Feel free to take the project in any direction that seems best, even if it’s not what I had envisioned from the beginning.  I used to have specific monthly and weekly goals for reaching those bigger goals. But they wouldn’t make room for new info that came up, new opportunities that were even better than my original project or times when sickness or other things stopped me from doing any work at all.

 So, there you have it. My year of not setting goals. It’ll be a year of waking up every day excited to see what they day will bring, working passionately on what excites me and striving to achieve great things – just what I need and want to model for my kids!

 Photo Credit: David Reber’s Hammer Photography

 What do you think? Do you like setting goals; does it work really well for you? (If it does than don’t stop doing what’s working!) Do you get down on yourself for not reaching goals and then just quit altogether?

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  • tereza crump

    Reading your post and your comments to the replies I think we are very similar. I like to plan too but it needs to look more like a list of options than a to-do list otherwise there is a lot of disappointment and guilt – totally unnecessary. So I don’t plan anymore… i will make a list of things I would like to do and forget about it. Literally tuck it away. Sometimes I might find it, months later, and discover that I have done most of it, maybe missed one or two.
    I found that with my homeschooling it’s usually that to-do list or lessons plans that get in our way, making us unhappy and grumpy. I am learning to let go and let GOD. I fall off the bandwagon when I began comparing our way to other homeschooling families.

    I have a question: how do you keep record of your homeschooling? I don’t know what age your children are or what your state requires, but my state requires that I have record of what I am “teaching”… I have a really hard time with this, since it’s so freaking hard to separate learning into subjects and grade level. So my record keeping ends up looking so generalized and superficial, but I know the depth of what my children are learning.

    anyway, thanks for this post. :) tereza

    • Anonymous

      My kids are still very young (they’d only be Kindergarten age in a school system) and I live in Illinois which is very, very lenient as far as record-keeping goes. In fact, we do not even have to report that we are homeschooling our kids. No one looks over any type of records, and we don’t have to take standardized tests, either. I know we’re very, very blessed that way.

      I do like to write down things that we do and learn on a regular basis, though. I have another blog where I post pictures and keep a running narrative of the things we do. Now on this site I provide a monthly recap, both to record for myself so I can look back on it later to see what we’ve done, and to share resources and ideas with others. I simply make categories of the types of things we did: kits and activity books we’ve worked on, places we’ve visited, games played, books read, DVDs watched. For now, I’m not going to try to separate those things into “school” subjects.

      But if you live in a state where that’s required, you could do it easily enough. I think it helps if you just take five minutes or less a day and just quickly jot down activities you did during the day. I would list as many as you can think of, even if you don’t think some of them were necessarily “educational.” As time goes by, I think you’ll be able to find the learning that takes place in all the things you do.

      Then maybe once a month, I’d go back and try to place the activities and resources you’ve used in categories by “subjects.” You’re right that it’s hard to do this because most things we do can be connected to multiple subjects, so just pick the one that makes sense to you.

      When my kids are much older, I’m going to do this for them, too. I guess I’ll be keeping a type of transcript document so they have something official just in case they’d ever need it. The key is to do it after the fact, not before it. So, you’re not creating a curriculum (although it will look this way), but rather recording what your children did at the end.

      • tereza crump

        thanks for your reply. I am really bad at journaling things… maybe I am just too busy with 4 children. But I have never been too good at keeping a diary or anything I am supposed to do daily. I am more on a whim type of person. but anyway…

        I do have a notebook that I try to write down what we do every day. My children are “officially” in 3rd and 1st grade. I use a Math curriculum that I like because it’s very colorful and not wearisome with repetitive problems. I use Singapore Math curriculum. there are lots of drawings and word problems. Even some challenging fun games and problems. I do a page or so a day with my children when they want to. It’s really the only thing that is “schoolish” in our homeschool.

        Because we read a lot I have a reading list that I post monthly on my blog. ( mostly for my sake and so that I can use it with the ones that are coming behind, if you know what I mean?

        Based on that, I go and fill out the official form for the subjects they are learning once or twice a year to provide a record for their homeschool.

        I think that I will use your idea of monthly list of fun and resource of unschooling instead of just a reading list. thanks again,

        PS… Is there a way I can find your posts by date in your website??

        • Anonymous

          I don’t have have the articles grouped by date on the site but rather my category. Although if you go to the Ideas and Inspiration button in my navigation bar on the home page and click on it, my newest post will be on top and then you can just keep scrolling down and reading the posts in order from newest to oldest. The dates I posted the article will be at the top. When you get to the bottom of the page, just click on older posts. Then you can keep scrolling back to the beginning.

  • Susan

    I am with you on this! I have to rein in my tendency to get too caught up in goals, and I have been actively working on this. When the things on my list aren’t completed I get frustrated, and it’s rarely productive. My focus has been on going with the flow a lot more so I can relax and enjoy learning together! (That’s not to say that goals aren’t important, but lots of little, day-to-day type goals need to go!)

    • Anonymous

      I’ve really liked living by principles and values. I’ve become really clear on them, and so it helps me decide what I should be doing every day. I still don’t even formally set big goals; I just keep an open list with the things that are important to me and the things I want to spend my time doing. Then every day I look over that list and choose several thing I might want to work on that day – without ever the expectation that they will get done since I’ll probably do a much of new things I hadn’t thought of at the beginning of the day, too.

  • HSofia

    Interesting! I like to set a few goals for the month approaching at the end of the current month. I enjoy doing that because it allows for me to be flexible but also gives me something to look to when I’m seeking some direction.

    • Anonymous

      I do keep a list of things I’m currently working on and things I’d like to do. It’s just that I don’t have anything that I tell myself that I have to get done, except where I have deadlines I’ve set with someone else. I guess I just like being ultra, ultra flexible! But I understand where you’re coming from as far as direction. That’s why I like having a list to remind myself of the things I’m currently working on and things that I’d like to be doing.

  • Kelly @ The Homeschool Co-op

    So many thoughts about this one. I did the same thing this year. No specific goals for the new year. I spent a lot of time last year envisioning what I really wanted my life to look like, and really defining my values. Some goals arose from that, but nothing that feels really pressing – just exciting. By doing so, I feel like I am moving in a direction that I love, but always open to possibility.

    However, when I do have a specific project that I want to accomplish, setting a deadline really helps. I did NaNoWriMo last year (wrote a novel in a month) and adored the short-term, super-deadline. I felt so empowered when I finished the goal I set out for myself… So, I guess, a bit of both?! =)

    • Anonymous

      I do exactly the same thing, too. But I make sure that I only have one, or at the most two, of those deadline type of goals at one time, and I make sure they are really short time-wise (only a few months to reach at the most).

      I really like what you said about defining your values. I think when you get really clear about those, then it’s much easier to choose the right priorities and things you should be doing moment to moment.

  • Karen Terry Cagle

    Great philosophy. It is usually nothing but a let down to see goals fall away and never get completed. Manageable goals are so much better. I have gotten better about this. I would love to ‘HS’ totally without plans but for some reason Keilee is a ‘Check it off the list’ kinda girl. I love everything about your site and how you feel about this path you have chosen for your kids. I glean so much info here!!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks! I think if Keilee likes to make plan ahead of time and it works for her really well, than that’s definitely what she should be doing. I like to share what works for us because so many times I’ve read books about accomplishing great things or organizing and it’s set up with strict guidelines and ways to have things set up. I know there has to be more people out there like me who really like the process of planning but tend to overplan and then get really stressed out. I even went down to just having three things on a list (besides regular responsibilities) and would still be discouraged because I wouldn’t always feel up to completing even those three things,or else other things would come up. Now I love having a long list of options I can pick and choose to do as the mood strikes. Little by little I cross off quite a few of them, and yet not having a timeline or deadline is really freeing.

  • Elizabeth

    Love this Chris, it’s what we do!! This year my only thing was to focus more on a word, as in having a word to keep in mind during the year. We chose altruism.

    • Anonymous

      I really like that idea too, having a focus. Then whatever comes your way during the day can fall into that category and you’re never disappointed!

  • Natalie

    I am with you. My job requires just as much switching and multi-tasking as parenting does, and I do best when I go with the flow instead of spending my time resenting “interruptions”. I try to focus on what’s important to me and let other fires burn to ashes without me spending a lot of energy on them.

    • Anonymous

      It just makes life stressful when you go with the flow more, doesn’t it? It’s been a work in progress for me to get this far because I’m a big planner naturally. I just love the process. But I was so tired of trying to plan out my day in the beginning and never even having half of it turn out the way I thought it would. Now I have maybe two or three key things in mind for the day, but even then I don’t expect that they will be completed either.

  • Billie

    I think it’s great.This is my first year I’m going with no schedule and no curriculm and only doing what interest myself and 2 boys and so far we are loving it.I love your website.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much, Billie! I really believe that if most people tried to live more in the moment and really immerse themselves in whatever they’re doing that day instead of trying to plan that far into the future, they’ll find the future they reach is so much brighter and rich than the one they had originally planned. I love planning, too, so I’m not saying to be spontaneous with everything. Some big dreams like long trips or getting a certificate you’re excited about requires a bit of planning. But beyond that, I agree that living each day to the fullest has made my life great!

  • Stuart Dunstan

    Interesting. I read something the other day about switching from a goal centric approach to life to a process centric one.

    • Anonymous

      If you still have the link to that or know where I could find it, I’d be really interested to read that. This post ties in really well to another post I’m writing to come out soon about seeing failure as an option – not something people usually do. It’s this push to strive for A’s instead of seeing “failures” as a way to really learn something. Just like if you put goals up on a pedestal and strive to reach them above anything else, grades get to be the same way. You push so hard for something yet forget to live in the moment, always on the lookout for opportunities that you could take now and other paths you might take that turn out much better than those you thought you were going to take.

      • Stuart

        I’ve wracked my brain trying to remember where I read that recently but it is gone! Sorry!

        However, now that I think of it, it sounds like Daoism, and I have also come across the idea of ‘Success is the last in the line of failures’ mode of thought before in entrepreneurial literature.

        Suspending the Big Goal and living in the moment is relevant to my sons and I and our Home Education, sometimes the Big Goal can be a bit of a drag, so I let it go.

        I look forward to your post :)

        • Anonymous

          Thanks! I’ve been reading a lot of entrepreneurial literature lately, too, and you’re right – most of the advice is to embrace failure (which, when you think of it, isn’t really failure) and to be very, very flexible.

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