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The 5 things I do to give my goals a fighting chance

Well, it’s that time of year again. We’re moving through the second week of January, so by this weekend, we’ll already be solidly halfway through the month.

It’s the inevitable season of looking at those well-intentioned goals we made at the beginning of the year—so, just a few weeks ago—and saying, “Um, what was I thinking?”

Maybe it’s the lack of motivation now that the Christmas tree is vacuumed off the carpet, yet you’re still staring squarely in the face of several more months of winter. Or maybe you overcommitted with ten “resolutions,” and now you’re so overwhelmed you don’t know where to begin.

For me, it’s simply a matter of carving out time. I love fresh starts, but I don’t burden myself with the task of beginning lofty new goals exactly on January 1, because as a working mom, the first bit of January is actually a season begging for busyness when I’m needing a bit of mercy.

There were still a few more days before the kids returned to school, so until that happened, our normal routine was still on pause. My workload piled up over the holidays because I guiltlessly take a week or two off every year to make merry, but it does mean when I get back at it, I’ve got a deluge aimed straight at me.

In other words—I brush off the need to start something on January 1. Instead, I use the first few weeks of the year to simply listen. Pray. Brainstorm. Read. Sit in silence. Hear from friends.

coffee with cream

Then, and only then, do I slowly start making goals for the year ahead.

(Trust me, this didn’t always happen. I’m a perfectionist by nature, so for many years my towel of defeat would have already been thrown in the ring.)

I don’t lean too heavily on a new calendar page full of gloriously empty squares. I make time work for me. I make it my friend, not some enemy to slay.

It comes down to making honest-to-goodness time for my goals. Once I plan and pray and listen, then I come to the table with realistic dreams for my year ahead.

Here’s generally what this looks like in my life.

1. First, I reflect on last year.

You already know this is a big part of my holidays. I can’t really look forward until I’ve looked back with gratitude, grace, and a bit of humor.

2. Then, I unearth some of my dreams.

I examine the little pieces of my life, and I ask how I’d like these to look in twelve months’ time. (Upstreamers, you already know these areas: they’re things like relationships, money, work, health, and the like.) Sometimes I use my goal-setting pages. This year, I paired that with my new planner’s space to reflect and pray.

This exercise helps really narrow down what it is I’m actually after this year.

3. Next, I chart my time.

This next step is important, because it gives me a raw, honest look at my life—much like going through my checking account helps me see how much I’m really spending on eating out, so, too, does logging my time account give me a clearer picture of how I’m really dedicating my minutes and hours.


I do this because once I unearth my desires for the year, it’s plainly obvious that I won’t have time to reach them all if things stay the same. Like decluttering the house, if something new comes in, something old has to go if there’s no room for the new thing.

My friend Jessica created a Weekly Time Tracker PDF, free for download. I used this last week to log a week’s worth of my time, to see when I was, actually, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook more than I realized, or when I’m sitting in Austin’s standstill traffic longer than I notice.

Why does this matter? Because it’s these little time pockets that I can next either remove or use to my advantage.

4. Then it gets fun—I say no.

I love, love, love saying no, and logging my time gives me free-and-clear permission to do so, guilt-free. I’m a firm believer that we should say no to absolutely everything but the essentials in our life, and that we “need” to do far less than we really do.

Saying no can look like:

• Removing Facebook from my phone so that it’s not my knee-jerk time waster when I’m out and about.

• Declining every single writing and speaking opportunity except those that align with my goals.

• Setting down a book, podcast, blog, TV show, or some other method of media consumption—even if I haven’t finished it—if it’s just not life-giving.

• Outsourcing some of my errand-running by taking advantage of delivery services (current faves are ePantry and Instacart).

• Politely declining all the invitations to join all the well-meaning activities that aren’t the best for my family’s current season—sports teams, extracurricular classes, book clubs, school or church volunteering, park playdates, and the like.

phone screenshot

5. Now I can say yes to those dreams!

Checking off all the invitations to say no now means I have more freedom in my time, mental space, and energy to say yes to the things that really matter. And this is what I love. This is when it looks possible to make time for my goals for the year.

Here are mine—they’re simple, but they’re sorely needed:

• Read more.

• Exercise more.

• Sleep more.

I can log more reading hours in my day when I carry my book or Kindle with me wherever I go and cultivate the habit of opening that, and not my phone, when I have a few minutes in the carpool line, or when I’m at the stove waiting for the water to boil.

I can exercise more by taking advantage of my natural circadian rhythms. I’ve known for awhile now that my body and brain go in to a slump by early afternoon (as much as I’d like to be a morning exerciser, that’s actually when my brain does its best work and I get my writing done). So, I’ll take a break sometime after lunch and go for a much-needed run.

I’m also a solid believer in moving, and not just pure exercise. During the little fringe hours in my day—ten minutes before the kids wake up, twenty minutes when the kids first get home from school, even five or ten minutes during my work time while I’m on the phone or voxing—I can get in a decent amount of simple-but-effective movement.

running shoes

And sleeping more…. Well, for me, this is all a matter of shutting things down earlier in the evening. I’m a natural early bird, so I tend to wake up by 5:30-6:00 am no matter when I go to bed (this can be a blessing or a curse). So the obvious way to log in more hours is to simply head to bed earlier at night. (More on this soon.)

I wouldn’t have noticed little time-sucking habits during my day had I not logged by time. It’s the key to this whole process, I say.


Finally, here are some of my favorite tools to help me make better use of my time:

My eye mask (I know—I talk about this so often you’re already rolling your eyes) helps me sleep so much deeper, especially when I want more hours. I wear it nightly.

Syncing my Kindle to my local library means an instant plethora of books at my fingertips. I have no excuse for having nothing to read (never a problem for me, mind you, but it does mean I should always have a book in my bag).

Jessica Turner’s book The Fringe Hours is the best recent book full of practical wisdom on how to make the best use of—well, those fringe hours you’ve discovered you already have. We had a fantastic conversation on my podcast a few months ago, and she’s one of my most encouraging friends in this department. If anyone knows how to make good use of her time, it’s Jess.

Oddly enough, to combine those last two resources, The Fringe Hours is currently on sale for Kindle at $1.99. This is a crazy good deal, and I have no idea how long this will last, so grab it now while it’s still there:

The Fringe Hours + The Simple Show

Jessica has also just released her compendium book, My Fringe Hours: Discovering a More Creative and Fulfilled Life, which would make a nifty companion during your goal-setting time as well. Comes with built-in time tracking space!

The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner

The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner

How about you…. Tell me if you’ve ever logged your time and found something eye-opening. And what are your goals for this next year? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Reading Time:

5 minutes





  1. Elizabeth

    My one simple goal for 2016 is to do my best to plan my life around my feminine rhythm. I will exercise more and socialize more during the time of the month that is my more energetic and social time. I will say no, read more and sleep more during the time of my cycle when that is most needed. This may be TMI but I’m just curious to see what happens if I do this! Already I’ve capitalized on my more social time and have been more engaged with my kids and others. Now I feel like when I’m craving solitude I can say no without guilt because of those past interactions and I can look forward to the future interactions where I know I’ll feel more up to it.

  2. Michele

    You wrote, “I love, love, love saying no….” Can you tell me how one gets to this place? I don’t have a problem saying no. I’ve had a lot of experience with it, declining in order to self-preserve, but I see it more like exercise — it’s not fun and enjoyable, but it is something essential and, afterward, I’m satisfied/relieved/glad I did it.

    I’d really like to get to this place of loving saying no, or at least doing it with less guilt. I wonder if my question will be one you will love saying no to! I’d really appreciate some words of wisdom, thank you.

    • Heather

      A great book that I think you might enjoy is The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst – I read this last year, and it really helped my perspective on what I should be saying yes to and what should most definitely get a no.

    • Andrea

      Hi Michele, that’s a great question. I’ve found a practice that helps me love the fact that I’ve said no. It involves being conscious of the things I’m doing that I could only do by saying no to other things. For instance, if I said no to an interstate work commitment in the school holidays, then on the days when that would have taken place I do an extra ‘relishing’ of where I am and what I’m doing – made possible by the declining of that work gig. So, appreciation of the space you opened up to do what mattered more to you is the key to consciously celebrating & therefore loving saying no. You’re right, it’s similar to exercise. But instead of focusing on the chore, focus on the results. Notice them. Comment on them. Applaud them.
      Hope this helps! :))

  3. Maggie @ This Week in Suburbia

    I shudder to think how much time I spend in the car. If you have ideas on how to more effectively use this time, I’d love to hear it. My biggest breakthrough yet has been listening to podcasts – both in terms of general enjoyment (more so than the radio) and also inspiration and tips and motivation when I do get back home.

    • JF

      Audio books – audible, kindle unlimited, hoopla digital, overdrive, the library .
      All give you access to audio books.
      I have a 1 to 2 hr commute each way.
      I “read” at least 3 books a week on a great traffic week on a bad traffic week I’ve gotten through 5 books.
      I also download spiritual and inspirational media.
      I am trying to download the bible. I plot my listens on where I am in my commute:
      from kids school to the express way : Bible/Inspirational material
      from highway to hwy 2: book of the day
      from hwy 2 to office: music (pandora)

      Depending on the book of the day I may exclude music. I usually listen at 2x because I read at that speed. Best thing ever. Best use of time. I consume books like other people drink water.

    • Sylvie

      I’ve purchased some Pimsleur CDs on Amazon and now, I can speak several languages quite well! Working on Italian right now. Molto bene!

    • Andrea

      Maggie I love car time because – apart from listening to podcasts, music etc it gives me a chance to focus on my breathing, bring myself into the present, notice the sky and otherwise be where I am. I used to focus on where I was going and why I wasn’t there yet which is depressing (and can cause road rage!). Now I love my car ‘me time’! Enjoy.

  4. Coral

    Found your podcast about a month ago. Love it. And love your blog too, especially this post.

  5. Caroline Starr Rose

    My whole family is reading the Bible through this year (it’s been far too long for me). I’m also Morning Page-ing (never tried before). There’s a half hour between the time my high schooler gets up and my middle schooler comes down stairs. I read a few chapters and write a few hundred words (I’m not doing Julia Cameron’s official Morning Pages — three long hand — but my own version: 10 minutes typing).

    It has been so grounding sitting in a circle of lamplight, returning each morning.

    • Kim

      Thanks for the reminder Caroline, I used to practice the morning pages some years ago, I’m very time starved at the moment but I think the pages pages have a beneficial cleansing that lighten the soul for the day, may bring this back into the agenda of my day an effective cleansing of any baggage, so to speak….Keep it going I think you will appreciate, I also did what I could with timing, sometimes shortening somewhat, although I did experience great benefit from putting in longer time, the freedom of a time slot allowed more opportunity for expression and release, very cleansing indeed.

  6. Karen R. Sanderson

    I found you via Elizabeth H. Cottrell of Heartspoken. I loved her blog (where she mentioned you) and had to click over. I detest “resolutions.” I do however, vow to be better, bigger, better, every year. Normally, I fall short. But no more. First, I love to say “No,” too. I am an editor/proofreader and I say ‘no’ a lot. Because the client isn’t the right fit for me. I say ‘no’ more often to social networking – it feels, some days, like such a time suck. So I sometimes don’t get to social networking for days at a time (except for my besties’ blogs which I visit all the time). I have learned that a regular blog schedule is not right for me. I’ll blog when I darn well feel like it, after I’ve visited with my grandchildren, after I’ve spent an entire day reading a good book, after a morning of baking, cooking, and experimenting in the kitchen, after spending a hour or so working on my new tap routine (yes, at 57, last summer, I started tap lessons). While I do enjoy writing, blogging, and other publishing stuff, it is not what defines me. LIFE defines me. Now that I’m sporting creaking knees and popping joints, I’m going to be enjoying life more.

  7. Jan Ramsey Brick

    I keep thinking about taking social media off my phone and hesitating… I worry about waiting in line or for appointments and having nothing to do (horror! lol). At the same time, I’ve been trying to find/make more time for reading. Duh! Instead of mindless FB reading while waiting, I can actually read part of a book! Thanks for the great idea! 🙂

  8. Bibi

    I’ve never actually logged my time. It sounds so tedious to me. But, I’m a diehard budgeter, so I’m thinking I should give it a try. I want to write more this year, and have more time for working on my blog in both the writing and the business aspect of it. Thanks for this series of New Year’s posts. I’m loving them.

    • Marcia from Organising Queen

      Bibi, logging time is tedious. The great thing is you only have to do about 3 – 5 days, a week preferable, to get some good insights on your time.

      With budgeting, that is a monthly exercise 🙂

  9. Alicen

    I LOVE the comments on not starting Resolutions on January 1st. I wholeheartedly agree! I read once that people are vastly more successful with sticking to their resolutions if they start on January 15th, than if they start on January 1st.
    Thank you for helping give permission to finish the holiday at a slower pace rather than try to get everything shuffled away so you can start resolutions on time. It’s too harsh for me 🙂
    Great post!

  10. Valerie

    Hey Tsh, the link for ePantry isn’t working. >_<

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