Why You Need to Celebrate Accomplishing Your Goals

What will you do when you accomplish one of your goals for the year?1

Should you cross it off your list and move straight to the next thing without missing a beat?

No, you need to pause to celebrate.

What Celebration Means

Celebration doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t need to involve a party. It doesn’t even need to involve spending money or “rewarding” yourself for all your hard work on that goal.2

Maybe the terminological difference between “rewards” and “celebrations” is largely semantic.3 But to me, emphasizing the language of “celebration” has two material upsides.

First, it relates more readily to gratitude than does “reward.” Second, “celebration” suffers less from the possibly consumerist or entitlement connotations in language about “reward.”

What counts as a “celebration” for you can be something comparatively small. It might mean

  • Telling someone close to you that you finished that article and got it submitted to a journal,
  • Having a special dinner with your spouse,
  • Taking an extra few hours away from your academic work to spend with your kids, or
  • Doing any of a host of other things that might, yes, also sometimes even include having a party. 🙂

Celebration Is about Thankfulness

The point is that celebration is about thankfulness. It’s about gratitude. It’s about being intentional in noticing that where you are isn’t where you were.

You can plunge straight ahead from accomplishing one goal into the next. But doing so ignores that you haven’t gotten from where you were to where you are on your own.

And especially over the long haul, it will be good for both you and those around you if you intentionally find ways to celebrate progress that reflect that gratitude.

Conclusion

So, if you don’t already have plans for how you’ll celebrate when you accomplish the various goals you have for this year, take a few moments to start thinking about that.

You might even make some notes alongside your goals. That way, you can have some prompts about how you’ve decided to pause to celebrate and give thanks as you complete your goals through the year.

As you do, remember that the point isn’t to do anything fancy. It’s simply to be intentional about how you choose to mark, celebrate, and be grateful for the progress you’re making.


  1. Header image provided by Erwan Hesry

  2. For pressing the value of commemorating goal accomplishment, I’m particularly grateful to Michael S. Hyatt, Your Best Year Ever: A Five-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018); Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2019). 

  3. For example, Hyatt tends to discuss commemoration in the language of “reward.” But he does sometimes talk explicitly in terms of “celebration.” So, the semantics for him may simply connote something a bit different than they do for me. 

Why You Need to Identify Your Motivations for Your Goals

You need to know where you’re going with your time and attention.1 So, it’s important to identify where you want to be at the end of the year, which will help you your days toward that end.

But it’s also important to know why you want to be there. With anything that’s challenging enough to become a goal, you’ll benefit from having some clear reasons for seeing it through.2

Clear motivations can be especially helpful when you get into the challenging middle of a goal. At that point, the finish line will still look quite far off. So, knowing why you’re pursuing a goal can help you

  1. answer your own questions about why you’re continuing to pursue it,
  2. focus on achieving your goal amid possible distractions, and
  3. take the next non-overwhelming next action.

1. Answer Your Own Questions

Maybe you’re in the middle of the large, multi-year project called “doing a PhD.” Or maybe it’s something else.

Whatever it is, the scope of your goal may well mean that, at some point, the steam of your initial enthusiasm for the project will peter out. When it does, you might still find yourself too far from the finish line to get much motivation from how close it is.

At points like this, it’s useful to have some clear notes about why your project was important in the first place. These notes don’t need to be lengthy or fancy. But it does help if you have them written down.

That way, if you find yourself thinking about throwing in the towel, you can easily remind yourself of all the reasons you’re forgetting for why you want to see your project through.

2. Focus on Achieving Your Goal

Alternatively, you might have plenty of motivation for the goal you’re pursuing. You just have plenty of motivation for other things too. Whatever’s new and “shiny”—either physically or cognitively—might distract you from where your attention really needs to be.

At some point, your larger goal probably won’t provide the immediate dopamine rush of something easier to tackle. But allowing your focus to drift simply for the satisfaction of completing something—no matter how fleeting—won’t produce the sustained results you’re after.3

Being able to review why your more demanding goal is worth a lack of immediate dopamine can help you resist the urge to digress into busywork. Confronting yourself with why your goal is important clarifies exactly what the cost of that busywork will be. You’ll be trading progress on your important goal that you adopted for definite reasons for what? Reminding yourself of your reasons for your goal can help you see why trade isn’t one you actually want to make.4

3. Take the Next Non-overwhelming Next Action

According to G. K. Chesterton, “if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”5 That’s not because it wouldn’t be nice if it were done better. But it’s because having it done in any degree is better than leaving it undone.

Similarly, if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing piecemeal. So, if you’re grinding to a halt because your goal seems too big, knowing why you’re committed to seeing it through can help motivate you to find the next small step that will set you moving again.

Conclusion

Goals can be daunting. They can also be draining. But you have them because you’ve intentionally decided they’re worth doing.

At some point, you might question why you’re pursuing them, you might be tempted to dilute your focus into other areas, or you might be paralyzed by how much remains to be done.

But when any of that happens, reminding yourself of why you’re pursuing a particular goal in the first place can help keep you on track and see that goal through to the end.


  1. Header image provided by Annie Spratt

  2. On the importance of clear motivations, see Michael S. Hyatt, Your Best Year Ever: A Five-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), 151–66. 

  3. See Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (New York: Portfolio Penguin, 2019); Cal Newport, A World without Email: Find Focus and Transform the Way You Work Forever (New York: Portfolio Penguin, 2021). 

  4. For more on avoiding distractions, see also Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019), 205–21. 

  5. G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1910), 320. 

How to Make Your Goals Even More Actionable

Good goal statements are already actionable.1 They’re specific enough to focus on things that you can accomplish, even if those things themselves contribute to something bigger.

For instance, you can’t do “being in shape.” But you can “Bike for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.” And over time, that practice can lead to “being in shape.”

But when it comes to accomplishing even an actionable goal, you can almost never directly do a goal itself. This might seem odd, but it derives from how goals naturally have larger scopes and, therefore, constitute projects rather than one-off actions.

Goals and Actions

Not all projects are goals. But all goals are, by definition, projects. That is, achieving a goal is a result that requires more than one action to complete.2

So, accomplishing even an actionable goal is never the direct result of simply taking the action that the goal describes. You can’t do a goal itself because a goal is a project. And “you can’t do a project … [y]ou can only do an action related to it.”3

The project, or goal, itself is too large and complex for you to accomplish it in one fell swoop. That’s true even if the goal itself is actionable, meaning that it has in view a well-defined action.

To say this, though, isn’t simply to voice a semantic quibble. This observation serves an important function in how you make your goals doable, even when they’re challenging or “big,” “hairy,” and “audacious.”4

Next Actions

The only thing you can ever do is a “next action.”5 A next action should always be small enough to be something you can easily do and large enough to move you toward completing a larger goal or project.6

So, for instance, accomplishing a goal to successfully complete a textual criticism seminar becomes a series of next actions like

  • Obtain the syllabus.
  • Read the syllabus.
  • Obtain the required resources.
  • Put all reading and assignment due dates in my task manager (or onto my calendar or both).

And so your list could go on. These are the things that then you can make time to do and that will move you forward to your ultimate goal of successfully completing the seminar.

Conclusion

As you have a larger and more complex goal or set of goals,

  • The more you’ll find it helpful to be clear about the very next action(s) you need to take to accomplish a given goal. Without that next action, the goal just sits there, staring you in the face like an impenetrable block of intimidation. But also,
  • The less you need to be able to identify all of the next actions you’ll need to do to complete a given goal. There’s no use planning 16 steps ahead when all that matters right now is the first and second step. And as you take those, you might well realize that something needs to change in how you previously conceived of the 16-step plan.

So, the main thing to keep in front of you is the very next action you need to take to accomplish a given goal. Once you’ve finished that, you should clearly see the very next action after it until, one small step at a time, you arrive at your destination. And if that next action’s ever unclear, your next action becomes to identify what the next action toward completing your goal should be.7


  1. Header image provided by Annie Spratt

  2. I’ve adapted this definition from David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin, 2015), 41. 

  3. Allen, Getting Things Done, 21. 

  4. For more on this terminology, see Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, 3rd ed. (New York: Harper Business, 1994), 91–114. 

  5. On the concept of “next actions,” see especially Allen, Getting Things Done, 253–65. 

  6. On the smallness of next actions, see especially Michael S. Hyatt, Your Best Year Ever: A Five-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018); Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2019). 

  7. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 220–21. 

10 Reasons You Need to Read Your Bible

Academic biblical studies requires a lot of time in an array of primary and secondary sources.1 And among these sources, the Bible itself is the most primary. So, it’s important to maintain a regular habit of reading it for at least 10 reasons—namely, to

  1. Remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.
  2. Remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.
  3. Understand the biblical authors’ worldviews.
  4. See things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.
  5. Correct your reading of one passage against another.
  6. Focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.
  7. Sharpen your languages.
  8. Find things you won’t in translation.
  9. Notice scribal errors.
  10. Learn vocabulary.

Of these, the first 6 apply whatever language you’re reading in. The last 4 are special benefits if you’re reading the Bible in its primary languages.

1. Remind yourself that biblical studies is about the Bible.

A lot of academic biblical studies has to do with thinking critically about the biblical text. It has to do with bringing preconceptions into question and making judgments like historians. It has to do with looking closely at the text again and again.

This work is good and important. Nothing can substitute for detailed, careful attention to a particular book, a given passage, or even a single verse.

But with this kind of close attention also comes the danger of paying so much attention to the individual trees that the forest fades from view.

There’s a risk of increasing knowledge of a small slice of the biblical literature at the cost of increasing unfamiliarity with other parts.

To counteract this tendency toward unfamiliarity, it’s helpful to cultivate a regular habit of Bible reading.

2. Remind yourself that the Bible is Scripture.

Not all biblical scholars claim membership in a particular faith community—especially one they see as relevant to their scholarship. But biblical scholarship is a coherent discipline only because of the faith communities within which biblical texts emerged.

In practice, “Bible” might mean quite a lot of different things. It might be

  • A “Hebrew Bible” without a New Testament,
  • A “New American Standard Bible” with a New Testament but no apocrypha, or
  • A “New Jerusalem Bible” with both a New Testament and apocrypha.2

But whatever its specific content, speaking of a “Bible” as such inevitably requires reckoning with a text that has been deeply embedded in the faith and practice of the communities that have cherished it.

Ignoring this history is then precisely a historical oversight. And critical biblical scholarship undertakes precisely the task of avoiding historical oversights.

In addition, if you come to the biblical text from one of the communities that hears in this text the divine word, reading the text for its own sake can help remind you to cherish it—whatever else you also then do with it, either analytically or critically.

3. Understand the biblical authors’ worldviews.

H.-G. Gadamer helpfully reflects on what it means really to understand a text, saying,

We can set aside Schleiermacher’s ideas on subjective interpretation. When we try to understand a text, we do not try to transpose ourselves into the author’s mind [in die seelische Verfassung des Authors] but, if one wants to use this terminology, we try to transpose ourselves into the perspective within which he has formed his views [in die Perspective, unter der der andere seine Meinung gewonnen hat]. But this simply means that we try to understand how what he is saying could be right. If we want to understand, we will try to make his arguments even stronger.3

Understanding “how what [another person] is saying could be right” can be a tall order even toward those who share our same cultural contexts, or our own homes. Understanding the “perspective within which [another person] has formed his[ or her] views” can take consistent time and effort, even if that person is present. So, it’s certainly to be expected that similarly sustained effort will be required to understand the biblical authors.

4. See things you won’t by reading only isolated passages.

Specialization can be logical. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of not knowing other primary literature that might also prove relevant. And specialists in any given book or corpus have a real tendency toward functional ignorance of other books and corpora.

For instance, Luke and Paul shouldn’t be confused. Yet they’re both very early witnesses to the memory, faith, and practice of the Jesus movement.

So, these texts might, in principle, have just as much to say about each other as would Josephus or Philo. Readings of Luke might then feasibly enrich readings of Paul, at least as much as would readings of Josephus or Philo, and vice versa.

But literature you don’t know the contents of can’t help you. So, it’s helpful to read widely across the biblical text, as also in other primary literature outside it.

5. Correct your reading of one passage against another.

Related to the prior benefit is the fact that seeing things you won’t by reading only isolated passages can help you correct your interpretation of one passage against another.

Everyone understands some things better than others. And the more widely and carefully you read, the more the text has a chance to “push back” against interpretations you may have that are less than fully adequate.

Insight from Gadamer

Gadamer usefully reflects on this dynamic as well, asking,

How do we discover that there is a difference between our own customary usage and that of the text?

I think we must say that generally we do so in the experience of being pulled up short by the text. Either it does not yield any meaning at all or its meaning is not compatible with what we had expected. This is what brings us up short and alerts us to a possible difference in usage.



A person trying to understand a text is prepared for it to tell him something. That is why a hermeneutically trained consciousness must be, from the start, sensitive to the text’s alterity. But this kind of sensitivity involves neither “neutrality” with respect to content nor the extinction of one’s self, but the foregrounding and appropriation of one’s own fore-meanings and prejudices. The important thing is to be aware of one’s own bias, so that the text can present itself in all its otherness and thus assert its own truth against one’s own fore-meanings.4

A Personal Example

A personal example of this would be in my reading of 1 Cor 15:3a. There, Paul says he communicated to the Corinthians “ὃ … παρέλαβ[ε]ν” (“what [he] received”), but the text doesn’t specify from whom he received it.

What I’ve Suggested Previously

I’ve previously suggested in passing that this reception is “from others who also preached” the same message as Paul.5 In particular, I’ve noted that “part of what Paul likely received is a summary of the key components of the message that he rehearses in 1 Corinthians 15:3b–5.”6

This kind of interpretation is reasonably common for 1 Cor 15:3a.7 And it allows a few options for how one might understand 1 Cor 15:3 as consistent with Gal 1:12 and 2:1–10.

Options for Integrating 1 Corinthians 15:3 with Galatians 1:12 and 2:1–10

Among these are that,

  1. Both passages refer to the same core gospel, but they speak about Paul’s reception of it in different ways and at different times. Galatians stresses his initial reception of the gospel from Jesus; 1 Corinthians mentions how Paul later had this same message echoed back to him by others besides Jesus (cf. 1 Cor 15:3, 11; Gal 2:2, 6–10).
  2. Galatians refers to the essential content of the gospel, which Paul received from Jesus. But 1 Corinthians is concerned with the specific form of the condensation of this gospel that appears in 15:3b–5, which Paul may have received from others besides Jesus.
  3. Galatians refers to the essential content of the gospel, which Paul received from Jesus. But 1 Corinthians is concerned with additional information about Jesus (e.g., details of his post-resurrection appearances in 15:6–7) that Paul might not have been privy to the details of previously but that also didn’t pertain to the core message he preached.

What I’m Now Pondering

That said, Paul also says that he “παρέλαβ[ε]ν ἀπὸ τοῦ κυρίου” (“received from the Lord”) information specific to the Eucharist’s institution (see 1 Cor 11:23–25). That specificity makes me wonder afresh about the source Paul implies for “what [he] received” in 1 Cor 15:3a.8

Resolving this reopened loop will take some more work. But it’s good that it’s reopened. And at least in the interim, that reopening will cause me to downgrade the “receiving from others besides Jesus” interpretation of 1 Cor 15:3a from “likely” to merely possible or to re-entertain the idea that both Jesus and others are included.

6. Focus more fully and hear things you won’t by reading silently.

When you think of Bible reading, you might tend to think of silent reading. But reading the text aloud can be beneficial too.

In a group, reading aloud helps everyone follow along at the same place. If you’re reading aloud to yourself, that’s not such an upside. You always know where you are.

But if you read the text aloud—even by yourself—you engage another sense in the reading experience. By doing so, you push yourself that much more into the experience of reading.

Do you ever get distracted when “reading” a page silently? You then suddenly realize you have no idea what you’ve supposedly just seen while your mind was wandering.

By contrast, if you’re reading aloud, you’ll probably realize much quicker that your mind has started to wander when you run out of words coming out of your mouth.

Engaging another sense also gives you another chance to make connections in the text that you might read right over on paper but pick up when hearing yourself repeat the same phrase.

7. Sharpen your languages.

When you read the biblical text in its primary languages, you can hone your ability to work with these languages. You’ll get a better feel for the languages by experiencing them first hand rather than only reading about them in a grammar.

Of course, grammars make very profitable reading on their own. 🙂 But they can’t substitute for deep, first-hand familiarity with the literature they try to describe.

If you’re reading in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, you can even take the opportunity to read the text aloud too. That way, you can practice your pronunciation and develop your “ear” for the language.

Don’t worry too much about your choice of a pronunciation system. And don’t worry if it sounds bad or halting. As a child, that roughness was part of your learning process for your first language. It will be here too.

But gradually, you’ll find yourself making progress. You might even see things in the text that you’ve previously missed because you heard yourself saying the text aloud.

8. Find things you won’t in translation.

To communicate some things in whatever language, translators inevitably have to obscure others. This fact is wonderfully encapsulated in the Italian proverb “traduttore traditore​”—”a translator is a traitor.”9

From an English translation, you might well learn about a time when a ruler of Egypt dreamed about cows. But English simply isn’t able to communicate the humorous irony involved in having פרעה (paroh) dream about פרות (paroth; Gen 41:1–2).

Many translations do a great job with rendering the core of what a passage communicates. But for the fine details both within and across passages, there’s no substitute for reading the original text.

Here also, your lack of familiarity with a biblical text’s primary language can be an asset in some ways. In translation, you might tend to read the text too quickly. As you do, you might gloss over important elements within it. But by reading the text in a primary language, you might pause long enough to consider it more deeply.

9. Notice scribal errors.

One way to notice scribal errors is, of course, to read the apparatus in your critical biblical text. But by reading the biblical text itself, you can also notice scribal errors—namely, your own scribal errors.

For me, reading aloud particularly helps in this regard. I’ll hear myself say something. I’ll then realize what I just read aloud is related to what’s in the text but isn’t exactly the same.

These differences often fall into well-known patterns of error that copyists might make during their work. And making them for myself gives me a more first-hand appreciation for when and how these errors might arise.

That better appreciation for possible pitfalls in reading a given text can prove helpful making text-critical decisions. It also proves helpful in making me a more aware reader the next time around.

10. Learn vocabulary.

When you learn biblical languages, you learn a certain amount of vocabulary that occurs frequently. But even with this under your belt, there is still a huge amount of vocabulary you don’t know.

Continuing to drill larger sets of vocabulary cards might have a place. On the other hand, you may well remember the language better by seeing and learning new words in context.

You’ll also learn new usages, meanings, and functions for the vocabulary you thought you knew. You may have learned a small handful of glosses for a word. But you’ll start seeing how a given term might have a much wider range of possible meanings than the glosses you memorized.

Don’t Settle for the Cliché

Unfortunately, biblical scholars who don’t have a regular discipline of Bible reading are common enough to be cliché.

Whether you find yourself in this boat or whether you’d just like to join others who are actively in the text, I’d like to invite you to join my students and me this term in our readings of the biblical text.

Every term, my students and I do a daily Bible reading exercise together. If you’re working in the original languages, I’ve scaled the readings to be short enough to complete without taking too much time out of your day. But the reading plan will work whether you’re using a translation or working from the biblical text in its original languages.

It would be wonderful to have you join us. To get started, just drop your name and email in the form below. You’ll then get an email delivering this term’s readings. And you’ll be ready to pick up in the biblical text right where my students and I are.

Looking forward to reading with you!


  1. Header image provided by Kelly Sikkema

  2. For further discussion, see my “Rewriting Prophets in the Corinthian Correspondence: A Window on Paul’s Hermeneutic,” BBR 22.2 (2012): 226–27. 

  3. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed. (New York: Crossroad, 1989; repr., London: Continuum, 2006), 292; Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Revelations (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 303; italics added. The German insertions are drawn from Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode: Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik (Tübingen: Mohr, 1960), 297. 

  4. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, ed. and trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, 2nd ed., Bloomsbury Revelations (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 280, 282; italics added. 

  5. J. David Stark, “Understanding Scripture through Apostolic Proclamation,” in Scripture First: Biblical Interpretation That Fosters Christian Unity, ed. Daniel B. Oden and J. David Stark (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2020), 56. For more about Scripture First, see “6 Ways to Make Scripture First.” For more about my essay, see “Behind the Scenes of ‘Understanding Scripture through Apostolic Proclamation’.” 

  6. Stark, “Apostolic Proclamation,” 56. 

  7. E.g., Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PilNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 745; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, First Corinthians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB 32 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 545–46; Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Interpretation (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 254–55; Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Corinthians, ed. William P. Dickson, trans. D. Douglas Bannerman and David Hunter, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1879), 2:42; cf. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 88–89; A. T. Robertson and Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, 2nd ed., ICC (1914; repr., Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1929), 333. 

  8. Cf. C. K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, BNTC (London: Continuum, 1968), 337; John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, trans. John Pringle, 2 vols., Calvin’s Commentaries (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1848–1849), 2:9. 

  9. For making me aware of this proverb, I’m grateful to Moisés Silva. 

What Do You Really Want to Accomplish in 2023?

What do you really want to accomplish this year?1

If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, hopefully one of the things was that we really don’t know what’s coming down the pike. There’s no way to tell what might happen over the next 12 months. Similarly, there’s no way to know what adjustments or pivots they might require you to make, however large or small.

Yet that’s no knock on the value of setting clear intentions for the year. In fact, quite the opposite is the case.

Why You Need to Think about What You Want to Accomplish

Without clear intentions, you’re liable to get to the end of it having done plenty of things except give enough attention to what you’d otherwise select as most important. And that likelihood only grows as a given day, week, month, or year requires more and larger pivots due to unforeseeable circumstances.

Sure, such circumstances might require changes in your intentions. But to change an intention implies both that you had a prior intention that you’re departing from and another intention that you’re adopting instead. That “adopted instead” intention could even be reducing the number of things you’re trying to fit into a given time frame.

So, in all likelihood, plans made will need to change more as the period of time they’re intended to encompass grows. But that’s not a reason not to plan—it’s just a confession that humans aren’t omniscient.

If you want to avoid being swept along by the “tyranny of the urgent” and look back on this coming year (or your whole life) and see that you’ve done what’s important, it’s key that you take some time to identify what exactly that is.

How to Think about What You Want to Accomplish

How you do that will likely look a bit different from how someone else does it. But if you’re looking for a place to start, I’d like to suggest 5 steps to get you going:2

  1. Reflect on your experience.
  2. Brainstorm what you’d most like to accomplish this year.
  3. Turn your brainstorm results into goal statements.
  4. Assign each goal to a particular part of the year.
  5. Each week, ask how you can move toward one or more of your goals.

1. Reflect on your experience.

At least for me, when I take the time to reflect on what I’ve learned from a prior year, I inevitably pull out some things that help me plan better for the future.

So, before you start planning the year, it might help to try some similar reflection. You’ll have your own lessons that you’ve learned, but let me share an example of my own to help get your wheels turning.

1.1. A Professional Example

I’ve sometimes found myself with one or more goals that’s too large to accomplish in any one time period. (I structure my year into quarters. Semesters work great too, but more on that below.)

That meant larger—but possibly more important—items could get lost in the shuffle (e.g., finishing monograph). So, in response, I’ve tried to be more mindful about chunking down larger projects into smaller units that can fit into single quarters (e.g., finishing a monograph chapter).

This naturally means a larger project will have more discrete goals that lead up to its completion. But that’s part of the point. Larger projects are larger and take more time and effort to complete.

So, having any given quarterly goal be achievable within that quarter has been helpful. It gives me a better sense of just how committed the year and its quarters are. It also helps me see better throughout the year how I’m progressing on larger-scale projects.

1.2. A Personal Example

This is true whether that larger project is professional or personal. For instance, if I have a goal to take a certain number of days out of the office with my family by the end of the year, it does some good just to plop that goal down into the fourth quarter.

But if that goal is requires meaningful chunks of time in other quarters too, might be more helpful again is to segment that larger goal down into those major per-quarter chunks.

2. Brainstorm what you’d most like to accomplish this year.

You’ll certainly accomplish many more things this year than you can count. But what are the most important things for you to accomplish?

2.1. Make a list.

Make a list of what you think of. Be sure to think both personally and professionally.

As you do so, it can be easy to think about professional goals and ignore personal ones. But biblical scholarship isn’t about being an academic automaton.

So, it’s important to have a mix of both personal and professional goals that you’re working toward.

Do you want to write an article? Spend more time focused on your family? Take a class? (As a hint, if you’re a student taking a class, completing that class successfully should be one of your goals. 🙂 )

It might take a few minutes for you to get going. But once you do, your list is liable to grow pretty quickly.

Keep brainstorming until you have at least 10 items on your list.

2.2. Subdivide your list.

Once you get to this point, carefully review your list. As you do so, you’re asking one question: What items on your list need to be subdivided?

Don’t worry about making these subdivisions too detailed. All you’re trying to get a handle on are the major component pieces of any larger goals on your plate that are too large to fit into a single part of the year (e.g., a quarter, a semester).

As an example, you might have on your list “Write my dissertation.” That’s not something you’ll finish all at once. So, you’ll want to subdivide this project. As you do, you’ll start to see your list better reflect the complexity of what writing your dissertation requires.

You might subdivide this project into

  • completing your prospectus,
  • completing each of the individual chapters, and finally
  • editing, proofreading, and submitting your project.

So, for instance, if you have five chapters, “Write my dissertation” could immediately become seven discrete activities (one for each of the chapters, one for the prospectus, and one for final editing).

2.3. Focus your list.

Now, out of your subdivided list, you only get to pick 12 items at most to really work on.

If you only have 10–12 items, that’s great. But what happens if you find yourself with more than 12 items in your brainstormed list (like I usually have)?

It’s tempting to think you can do it all or fit everything that you want into the scope of a year. But that’s rarely realistic, and if it is, your goals probably weren’t really stretching you to begin with.

The beauty of limiting yourself to no more than 12 major objectives over the coming 12 months is that it helps you feel at the planning stage the strain that these goals will put on your time, attention, and resources as the year moves along.

Anything on this list ultimately means something else can’t be on it. So, to come down to your most important objectives for the coming year, you might need to reflect, write down, scratch out, reorder, and otherwise hash and rehash your list over a few days until you’re satisfied with it.

That’s okay. Whatever doesn’t make the cut for this year you can save for another time in a list of possible future goals. The important thing is to intentionally commit to no more than 12 major objectives to focus on for this year.

3. Turn your brainstorm results into goal statements.

Having these objectives, however, will do little good if they’re fuzzy or just going to be aspirational expressions. So, once you’ve identified the essential core of what each one will be, take a few minutes to turn them into SCHOLARLY goals that are

Doing so will help you crystalize for yourself exactly what you’re committing to accomplishing by when.

Specific

“Write an article” or “spend more time with my family” are too general. Aiming at them is much like trying to hit anywhere in a target rather than in the bullseye.

“Write an article about the land promise to Abraham” or “Be home by 5:30, and give my full attention to my family each weekday evening” are much more specific targets to try to hit.

Challenging

A good goal should be doable but stretching. For instance, you might have been comfortably writing academic papers at 200 words per hour.

But how would things be different if you tried to stretch that to 300 words per hour? That 50% increase sounds stretching. But what kind of time would that free up? Or what additional writing would you be able to do?

Holistic

As you made your initial goal list, hopefully, you took the opportunity to include both academic and personal items. Because you’re a whole person with a multifaceted life, it’s important that your goals are holistic.

Goals like “Write my paper for SBL” and “Take X days off by the end of the year” are both worth including. So, survey the 10–12 prospective goals you’re working on, and ask whether the balance of academic and personal looks appropriate. (If you’re married, you might also want to ask your spouse for his or her input on this mixture.)

On Your Calendar

When do you want to have this goal complete? Or how often do you want to do it?

For example, do you want to “Spend two hours a day, five days a week writing my dissertation”? Or do you want to “Finish drafting my last dissertation chapter by 30 June”?

If you’re using a recurring activity schedule, you’ll want to make an appointment with yourself by blocking that corresponding time off on your calendar. If you’re using a “due by” schedule, you’ll naturally match that time to the part of the year to which you assign that goal.

Linked to Each Other

Your goals shouldn’t pull against each other and make life harder for you. Instead, they should mesh well with and support each other.

For instance, dropping in only one goal to “Finish my dissertation” and then having 9–11 other goals for other projects or other areas of life is bound to create problems. All those other goals don’t sufficiently support your aim of finishing your dissertation because they’re not linked closely enough.

“Draft the first chapter of my dissertation,” “draft the second chapter of my dissertation,” and so on do much better.

Actionable

To “be less distracted while reading” is a great idea, but what do you need to do in order to be this way?

Do you need to “Use Freedom to block online distractions during scheduled reading time”? Now, that’s something you can do as you cultivate the habit of deep work.

By clarifying exactly what action you need to take to achieve a given outcome, you’re that much more likely to make good forward progress on that goal.

Realistic

If you’re working full time in a non-faculty post outside Europe, have an active family life, and have ongoing commitments in your community, it still might be a lot of fun to “Spend the semester at INTF.”

But it might not be realistic to pull up stakes and start actively moving on this goal in your current circumstances. At the very least, you could back off this goal to something more preparatory like “Plan a semester abroad at INTF.”

Limited in extent

“Make progress on my dissertation” doesn’t cut it because “progress” is very vague. What counts? How do you know if you’ve successfully achieved the goal?

In principle, one additional character in your dissertation file could count as “progress,” but at that rate, your project will outlive you and still not be finished.

“Submit my prospectus” is much better.

Yielding Important Outcomes

If you look over your goals list and you find something that makes you yawn, ask yourself why.

Should you remove it to concentrate on something more important? Or should you reframe it in a way highlights why it’s important?

“Spend less time on email” isn’t particularly inspiring. “Recover 30 minutes a day for writing by reducing how long I spend replying to email” clearly shows what the important end game is.

4. Assign each goal to a particular part of the year.

Academic life typically revolves around quarters or semesters. And that natural structure is something to consider when you think about how to segment your year—whether into 3 or 4 major parts.

Either should work. I’ve found the slightly shorter and more regular quarters to be more helpful. But they sometimes overlap in odd ways with academic semesters. So, choose whatever approach seems most natural and least likely to create friction for you.

4.1. Spreading Your Goals throughout the Year

In either case, avoid letting your goals slide in either planning or execution. The more of your important objectives get lumped into the very end of the year, the more likely they are to still be incomplete at the start of next year.

Instead, from your list of no more than 12 SCHOLARLY goals for the year, assign

  • No more than 4 to each semester (fall, spring, summer) or
  • No more than 3 to each quarter.

4.2. Two Options for Recurring Activity Goals

A possible exception is if you’re running a goal that’s a recurring activity throughout the year, like “Bike for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.”

In this case, you need to decide whether that goal—when recurring like you’re planning—is a big enough commitment to occupy one of your 3 quarterly or 4 semesterly goal slots. It is, you’ll schedule it in each of the year’s quarters or semesters. If not, you’ll at least want it to show up in the year’s last quarter or semester since it’s at that point that your commitment to that practice over the course of the year will be complete.

4.3. Benefits of Assigning Your Goals to Parts of the Year

Just like limiting yourself to 12 annual goals, limiting yourself to 3 per quarter or 4 per semester helps you feel the constraints of that time in your planning process.

Reckoning with those constraints ahead of time can be key to helping you avoid larger-scale scheduling crises. After all, your time actually is limited. So, you want to grapple with that limitation as best you can on the front end.

5. Each week, ask how you can move toward one or more of your goals.

If you only have 12–16 weeks to complete 3–4 major goals, you need to be intentional about what you do each week.

So, however works best for you, schedule time each week to review your goals for that quarter or semester. Then, ask yourself, “What do I need to do this week toward completing the goals I’ve set?”

You might not be able to work on everything for that quarter or semester in a given week. That’s fine.

The point is to make regular progress, even if it’s on only a small handful of meaningful tasks. Over time, those small handfuls add up to much larger results.

If you want some ideas about how to structure your time, and your goals in it, see my complimentary guide, How to Budget Your Time: A Guide for Regular, Irregular, and Mixed Schedules.

Conclusion

By the time December rolls around, the year will be too far spent to change much of what it involves. So, don’t wait.

Instead, “begin with the end in mind.”3 Intentionally decide what you’d like to have done this year once it’s at an end.

Then, you’ll be ready to start taking deliberate, well-defined steps toward that end.


  1. Header image provided by Annie Spratt

  2. In this post, I’m much indebted to the advice in Michael S. Hyatt, Your Best Year Ever: A Five-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018). I’ve found this guidance hugely helpful for myself. And I’ve tried to supplement and apply it here in a way that addresses some of the specifics of life in biblical studies. 

  3. Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 102–53. 

Happy New Year 2023!

I hope you’ve enjoyed some enriching time around the Christmas holiday.1

Maybe you’ve focused simply on being with those who matter most to you. Maybe you’ve spent extra time on a hobby you don’t normally get to do or any number of other recreative activities.

At the end of the year, it’s somewhat more common for the generally frenetic pace of life to slow, however modestly. And that slight ebb can provide valuable space to pause and reflect.

Looking Back

The past few years have had some unique challenges, to say the least. But as 2022 winds to a close, there’s an opportune time look back over the year.

Freedom for your focus and imagination to wander can be an important aid in fostering creativity and insight.2

So, while you’re unplugged from your regular routine, you may be able to think more profitably and with more perspective about that routine. You can take stock of what worked, what didn’t, what went well, and what you’d like to do better moving forward.

You can think about the unexpected that happened and the unexpected things that really could have been anticipated. And you can consider the buffers you had (or didn’t have) to cushion the impact of the unexpected that couldn’t be anticipated.3

As you do so, be sure to reflect on your life both personally and professionally. You are, after all, a whole person. And it’s no good letting the wheels fall off either side of the cart. You want them both working together in the days, months, and year ahead.

I’ve recently done this kind of yearly review myself, and it’s always a helpful experience.

Looking Ahead

As your mind moves forward to next year, as it naturally will, start thinking about what you want to accomplish in the year ahead.

As you do, I’d encourage you not to do too much with these thoughts just yet. This is especially true for the time you’ve planned (and maybe committed to others) in which you’re stepping back from your regular academic activities.

Instead, take full advantage of any space the end of the year provides to be, do, and think in other ways than you’re able to in the week-to-week routine in the rest of the year.

But definitely capture your reflections someplace where you can come back to them. That way, they won’t get lost or forgotten (which they’re pretty liable to do otherwise). You’ll also free mental space that you’ll otherwise find taken up, even if subconsciously.4

Conclusion

As you’re thinking along these lines, you might think of something you’d like to see me discuss here next year. If so, certainly let me know.

I want to ensure I’m giving you the best help I can to hone your craft as a biblical scholar. So, I’ll be going through all of the feedback I’ve gotten about what you might find helpful early in January as I plan how to tackle that in the coming weeks and months.

Meanwhile, I wish you all the best for a wonderful New Year’s!


  1. Header image provided by Annie Spratt

  2. Chris Bailey, Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction (New York: Viking, 2018), 133–58. 

  3. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 175–84. 

  4. David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin, 2003), 23–26.