Thrivister Academic Coaching

Developing Executive Function Skills How to Do Better In School Organization Time Management

Setting goals the simple way

Setting & reaching goals takes time, practice, and dedication. Learn how you can use action, instead of motivation, to succeed.

Setting goals the simple way

Are you overwhelmed when you try to accomplish your goals? We’ve all been there, myself included! It can be frustrating when you feel like there are so many things you want to achieve and you don’t know where to start. When I’m overwhelmed I tell myself, “if I can just get motivated, I’ll reach my goals”. But, here’s something I’ve learned: motivation won’t get things done. Action does! Anybody feel me? All over social media, we’re bombarded with quotes about motivation. I see them, get excited, and then a short time later, I forget and move on – squirrel! 


Every day we’re flooded with stimulation on our phones, computers, watches, TVs, iPads – distraction is coming at us from the time we wake up to the time we go to bed. So, how can we rein it in and get focused on our goals?


Since I‘ve come to this realization about action, I don’t think about motivation the same way I used to. I think more about how I’m going to take action so I can make progress on my goals. It all starts with, “What exactly do I want to do?” If you don’t know what you want to accomplish you can’t take action to complete it. So, I create goals to direct my focus.


Here’s my process:

  1. What do I need to focus on?
  2. How do I get there?
  3. And especially, what is my timeline: when do I want to achieve this?


With this process, I get up every Monday and evaluate the progress on the goals I’ve previously set and add new ones I may have. I decided to pair this with eating my breakfast, an already established habit to make it easier to remember. I sit down at the kitchen table, pull out my planner and write down my what, how, and when for each goal. I’ll also add ‘where’ so that I can get really specific. If I am going to go grocery shopping I write down what store. That way, I never get hung up on a detail I didn’t plan for.


There are all kinds of goals rolling around in your head, some related to school and others to your personal life. As a person who’s been inspired by the great and positive quotes and stories on social media, it can be hard to set realistic goals. Instead of relying on temporary spurts of motivation to achieve success, let’s take the more effective and realistic step – make an action plan for your goals.


Write your goals down


Write down your goals to increase the chance that you'll reach themIt’s important to understand that setting a goal is the easy part. Doing everything we need to do to make it a reality is the hard part. I’ve set many goals over the years. I’ve accomplished some, while others have died out due to lack of “motivation” and effort, and life getting in the way. Here’s what I’ve learned: you must write your goals down if you want to make progress. Don’t believe me? It’s okay. I need proof for claims like this too. Check this out: 

A Dominican University study of 149 people found that participants were at least 20% more likely to accomplish or make progress towards their goals when they wrote them down and shared them with a friend than participants who only thought about their goals. Participants were an extra 14% more likely to make progress when they shared their goals and sent weekly progress reports. Now, let’s set some goals and an action plan, step-by-step.


Creating an action plan for your goal


Simple is best, especially if you’re new to goal-setting. One of my personal goals is to eat healthier. So, I will need to create an action plan for accomplishing that goal. That way I can avoid having to order takeout because there’s nothing prepared when it’s time to eat. (Chick-fil-A, here I come!) Do you see the pattern? It’s harder to be successful when you don’t have a plan. 

Here is an example of how I would do this:

  • What do I need to focus on: Healthier eating 
  • How do I focus on it? 
    • Write out a healthy grocery list
      • Google healthy foods and pick my favorite for inspiration
    • Grocery shop on the same day every week
      • Make sure other plans don’t conflict with this time
      • Schedule it and set reminders
    • Meal prep
      • Make sure I have containers to store food in for the week – if I don’t have them, I will add them to my grocery list for my next shopping trip
      • Schedule prep time and set reminders
  • When will I do these things?
    • Create the grocery list every Friday morning while I eat breakfast
      •  Add to my iCal and set a reminder on my phone
    • Go to the store on Sunday mornings at 9AM
      • Add to my iCal and set a reminder on my phone
    • Meal prep on Sunday afternoon and store in my fridge
      • Play my favorite podcast while I prep to make the time go faster, or have a friend come over to meal prep with me

Choose your academic & personal goals


Now, let’s talk about you. Start small and pick two goals to start. Choose one academic goal and one personal goal. You can use a notebook, planner or type them as a note on your phone. Bonus points for writing on a whiteboard in your study area because you can see your goals every day and plan out your course of action. Not sure what to choose as a goal in one of those categories? Ask yourself a few reflection questions to get started:


  • Scheduling your goals around your existing schedule helps make them more achievable What classes am I struggling with? Why? (ie. Spanish class, because I have a hard time remembering vocabulary words)
  • Which subjects do I excel in? How can I apply those skills in other areas? (ie. literature, because I devote time to focused reading each day)
  • What habits could I build to make my life better? (ie. getting better sleep would make it easier for me to get up on time and complete my morning routine)
  • What existing habits are holding me back? (ie. cutting out junk food after a certain time could prevent a sugar crash in the afternoon)


Stop reading for a moment and write your two goals down. Include what (the goal), when (target date to achieve your goal), how (what are the steps you need to take to accomplish it), and where (the locations where you’ll work on your goal). Ready? Go!


Academic: Have a B- grade in Spanish by 11:59 pm on December 20.

Every day I will practice vocabulary flashcards on the bus at 7:45AM. I will practice speaking with my classmates or Spanish-speaking friends every Friday night for 30 minutes at 5PM when we go for coffee.


Personal: Have the first two parts of an effective daily weekday routine in place by September 30.

I’m going to jog around my block every weekday for 15 minutes at 6:45AM. Then shower, eat breakfast, and leave for the bus by 7:40.


Be detailed in your goals & share them


If sticking to new routines or remembering new tasks is challenging, start with the things you already do on a regular basis to practice. Take the important things in your day that need to get done (what you already do) and give them a specific time you will do them every day. No exceptions, but start small and be realistic. For example, you already do your homework after basketball practice but you don’t always do it at the same time or in the same place. So, decide what time you will do it and where. Add reminders to your phone to keep you on track. When you’re done, add a reward to incentivize yourself, like playing your favorite video game. Once you’re able to plan the things you do already with more intention, try adding a new goal or task.


The last tip for creating an action plan for achieving your goals is to share your goals with your support system. Don’t think they care? As an academic coach, I can tell you that we definitely do! We care about helping you succeed. Tell your friends, family, and coach, maybe even share it on social media if you want to. This will keep you accountable. You need someone checking in on you—we all do. Not only has it been proven to help people accomplish their goals, but accountability with your friends, family, and coach is also a great way to stay motivated and give you that extra ‘oomph’ for taking action on your plan. Give goal-setting a try and just watch how it will change your life.

Build a foundational understanding of ADHD to create an effective path forward.

Navigating ADHD as a Parent

Disclaimer We’re not healthcare professionals. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. It also should

Student studying using techniques from academic coach

3 Tips for Effective Accountability with Your Student

Achieving lasting habits and behavior change takes time and consistent effort. Instant transformation is unrealistic, but by incorporating effective accountability practices, neurodiverse students can make significant progress. In this blog post, we’ll explore key strategies for fostering accountability and supporting students in their journey toward a successful fall semester.

Leave a Reply