The One Thing More Powerful Than Goal-Setting — How to Triumph in the New Year

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The words taunt me:

TODAY’S TOP 3: (What will make today a win for you?)

Am I the only one? Or do the words in your daily planner poke at you also?

Perhaps like you, I’ve read books and blog posts about setting goals. I’ve taken goal-setting classes. I’ve written SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Bound).

I’ve broken my goals into microsteps. I’ve attached them to existing routines.

I’ve sorted my to-do list into the urgency-importance matrix. (Though I’m not sure how helpful it is to know my gargantuan to-do list fits exclusively in the Important But Not Urgent quadrant.)

I’ve realized knitting and gourmet cooking are not activities for this stage in my life — because even though I can be almost anything I want, I can’t be everything.

These concepts all make sense to me. I even teach some of them.

But when I read the words, Today’s Top 3, my heart quickens and my brain races.

What would make today a win?

Which three items should I choose?

    • I have to take my kiddo to school and pick him up six hours later.
    • I have to prepare tomorrow’s lecture.
    • I have to eat dinner.

Are those my Top Three things?

Because this list doesn’t include taking my son to his piano lesson, scheduling an appointment for a mild but urgent medical situation, spending quality time with my husband, updating my students’ homework grades, grocery shopping…

Are you hyperventilating your own list at this point? I apologize.

I’m sure your list, like mine, doesn’t even include your sanity savers: reading, writing, napping.

When I imagine the experts’ daily Top 3 Target Goals, I resort to stereotyping:

I would be able to focus on my top 3 goals each day, too, if I had a wife at home and an administrative assistant at the office.

But I’m being unfair. I don’t know how time-management gurus spend their days.

But I wonder — for real — do they include “eat dinner” on their Top 3 list? If so, does it qualify as one goal, or four (plan meal, buy groceries, prepare meal, clean up kitchen)?

My brain spirals out of control and contributes to the fear that I’m different than everyone else, that I’m not equipped the way others are. Let’s face it, you know what I mean: the way smart people are. The way successful people are. The way people who leave the house without stains on their shirts are.

Chances are you have your own version of a never-ending list of things to do, many of which are not urgent (though some are), but most of which will make life easier another day if they are accomplished today.

I have no problem constructing goals. And I have no problem breaking those goals into microsteps.

In fact, I’m a master at it.

Goal Setting

For example, several years ago, I decided to read the entire Bible in a year. A momentous goal, to be sure, it required dividing the 1700 page book into daily assignments.

After researching the topic online, I created a chart listing the exact Bible chapters I would read each day. Perfect!

Until January 5th, when the chills and fever pendulum took over my body and confined me to bed. I emerged four days behind in my Bible reading, my house work, my laundry, and my classroom prep, for a term that started the next day.

So I recalculated the daily microsteps necessary to reach my Bible-reading goal.

And when the Dreaded Illness swept through our house again 3 weeks later. This must be the plague. I recovered and updated my chart.

And the week the washing machine broke, I recalculated my micro-goals.

Yes, I’m awesome at setting goals!

Attaining my goals? Not so much.

With each adjustment to my goal schedule, I feel more like a failure.

Is this you, too?

Well, I have the solution for you!

It goes against all the time-management gurus’ advice, but it works.

Stop Setting Goals

What?! Mom said I’d never accomplish anything without goals.

Now, before you run upstairs to drop this new life plan on your parents, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you have no goals at all.

But if you’re setting goals but not attaining them, perhaps the goal-setting process enchants you too much.

Because, although it’s exciting to open a fresh spiral-bound journal and write a treatise of your life-long dreams, purple pen on lavender paper, the purpose of goal setting is to achieve them.

Am I right?

Do This Instead

Chances are, you already know what your goals are. You know what you want to accomplish.

For example, perhaps your goals look something like this:

  • Read the Bible from cover to cover.
  • Write more.
  • Be a life-long learner
  • Raise happy, healthy children.
  • Have an amazing marriage.

Of course, you can turn these into SMART goals by making them more specific and setting time limits. Or you can use other time-management techniques the gurus suggest.

But why not do something even easier and more powerful?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the time-management gurus and I’ll list some of their resources below in case you want more information.

But if all the goal setting information makes your head spin, here’s a simple two-step process for living the life you want.


Step 1. Stop setting goals.

Seriously. You already know what your goals are.


Step 2. Act.

That’s right, do the thing.

For example,

If you want to read the Bible, read it.

Stop worrying about how many pages you need to read each day to finish in a certain amount of time. Just read. If you read 10 minutes a day, in a year, you’ll have spent 60 hours reading the Bible.

If you want to write, don’t spend time planning your writing goals. Just write.

If you write 500 words each day, you’ll have 15,000 words written at the end of a month.

If you want to learn things, learn them.

You don’t need to quit your job, enter student loan servitude, or apply to your local college. Chances are you have a lifetime of knowledge at your fingertips for free. (The device you use to text cat videos to your friends? It can also connect you to All the Knowledge in the Universe. For free. 24/7.)

The other goals may seem less straightforward but they can be broken down as well.

How do you raise happy, healthy children?

We can each second guess food choices, and schooling options, and cotton vs. polyester clothing. Worrying about these choices are your parental right. But why not start by being a happy, healthy parent?

For a Biblical guideline to follow, Ephesians 6:4 (ESV) advises: “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

How do you establish an amazing marriage?

One of my favorite pieces of marriage advice comes from a verse in the book of Proverbs, which refers to the qualities of an excellent wife, but I suspect the advice works for husbands also: “She rewards him with good, not bad, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:12, ESV)

If you rewarded your spouse with good — and refrained from giving him bad — all the days of your life, you’d likely have an amazing marriage.

Of course, none of us is going to be perfect. But acting on what you want will achieve more than endlessly planning your goals.

Regardless of your starting point, you never have to be afraid of your day planner again because, rather than choosing 3 Top Goals for the day, taking small, consistent steps is a powerful way to triumph over your goals.

It truly is that simple.


Recommended Resources:

Bible reading:

10 Tips for Liking the Bible: (Because Believing It’s True Is Not Enough) by Keith Ferrin

Keith Ferrin’s website


The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit by Jeff Goins


The Masterpiece Mom

Kindred Mom


Julie Landreth, founder of the Wife Lab

Amanda Davison, the Wife Coach

Goal Setting:

Resolutions That Stick! How 12 Habits Can Transform Your New Year by S. J. Scott

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Overwhelmed: How to Quiet the Chaos and Restore Your Sanity by Kathi Lipp & Cheri Gregory

Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day by Glynnis Whitwer

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9 Replies

  1. I feel so much more successful now! What a great concept!

  2. I feel so much more successful now!

  3. Amen! ——says the most random, ADD ridden, day dreaming, idea loving reader. Love you Kendra! I suddenly feel way better at doing life. ❤️

    1. Kendra Burrows

      You do life great, Kimberli! You’re my inspiration. Glad this made you feel better though. <3

  4. Kendra, a hearty “amen” from this guy. I have long rolled my eyes at the goal gurus who lay out precise matrices of how I should articulate and prioritize my “goals.” Then there are those who poo-poo goals as nothing more than dreams. “Vision! That’s what you need. Viiiiiisualize yourself atop Mt. Everest, and you’ll get there!” Uh-huh.

    I’m a list guy. And I have learned to not allow myself to develop ulcers by putting concrete dates on my list items. The items are there, and as I complete them, I’ll cross them off. They shift in position as one item becomes more urgent or important than another, but they are all undated items on my list.

    Men and women are men and woman, not formulas. I cannot plug myself (or you) into a formula and expect anything good to come of that.

    I love the simplicity of your two steps: 1) Decide what you want to do. 2) Do it. Well, when do I do it? I don’t know, and I don’t really care. Get it on the list and keep chipping away at your list. The list will never be empty, because as you cross items off it, new ones keep getting added. That’s how I know I’m still alive and in the game!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Victoriously in Christ!
    – damon

    1. Kendra Burrows

      I’m glad this resonates, Damon! 😉

  5. Anette

    Dear Kendra, this really is so freeing!! Simple and true, and I haven’t thought about goal setting this way. Yesterday, I talked with a friend about all this, enjoying our chai Latte. We were kind of desperate searching for a way how to set goals and plan our year so we would cover everything that seems so urgent and good for us and our families. We drove home without a specific result.. And now, I’ve been reading this! Thank you for your words! It helps me to rethink the whole topic of goal setting.

    1. Kendra Burrows

      This makes my heart sing, Anette! So glad to be of help. <3

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