What Do You Really Want to Accomplish in 2021?

What do you really want to accomplish this year?1

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.

To avoid that, it’s important to take some time to identify what you want to work toward achieving.

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 what you can do to move toward one or more of your goals.

1. Reflect on your experience.

Before you start making plans for the year, it might be helpful for you to reflect on what you’ve learned from the last year.

At least for me, when I do this, I inevitably pull out some things that help me plan better for the future.

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.

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 those larger—but possibly more important—items could get lost in the shuffle. So, in response, I’ve tried to be more mindful about chunking down larger projects into smaller units that can fit into single quarters.

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 will take more to complete.

So, having any given quarterly goal will be pretty achievable within that quarter has been helpful.

It gives me a better sense of just how committed the year and its quarters already are. It also helps me see better throughout the year how I’m progressing on larger-scale projects.

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 going to require meaningful chunks of time in other quarters too, what’s still more helpful is again 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.

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 item(s) on your list needs to be subdivided?

Don’t worry about making any of these subdivisions too detailed. All you’re trying to get a handle on are the major component pieces of any larger goals you’re considering putting on your plate.

As an example, you might have on your list “Write my dissertation.” That’s not something you’re going to finish all at one go. Nor is it something you’re going to be able to do all in one quarter or semester.

You’ll want to subdivide this project, and 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” immediately becomes 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.

What do you do if you find yourself with more than 12 items in your brainstormed list (like I have)?

It’s tempting to think you can do it all or fit everything in that you want in the scope of a year. But that’s rarely realistic, and if it is, that probably means your goals 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 this planning stage the strain that these goals will put on your time, attention, and resources as the year moves along.

Anything that goes 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. And whatever doesn’t make the cut for this year you can definitely save as ideas for another time.

The important thing is make space to think and intentionally commit to what will be most important to you this year.

3. Turn your brainstorm results into goal statements.

Once you have your main yearly objectives, take a few minutes to turn them into SMARTER 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 the rest of each weekday” are much more specific targets to try to hit.

Measurable

“Make progress on my dissertation” doesn’t cut it because “progress” is very vague.

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

“Draft my first dissertation chapter” is 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”? That 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 in that area.

Realistically Risky

A good goal should be doable but stretch you. 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? What kind of time would that free up? What steps would you need to take to get that much more focused during your writing time?

Time-keyed

By 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 “due by” time key, you’ll naturally match that time key to the part of the year to which you assign that goal.

Exciting

Whether a goal is exciting can be related to how much it stretches you, or it might be something you just simply enjoy doing. So, this criterion has more to do with the topic of the goal than with how you frame it.

If you look over your goals list and you find something that makes you yawn, ask yourself why. As you do, consider removing it to concentrate on something more important. Or if it’s something you need to keep, try reframing it in a way that piques your interest.

Relevant

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’d back off this goal to something more preparatory like “Plan a semester abroad at INTF.”

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 do sometimes overlap in odd ways with academic semesters. So, choose whatever approach seems most natural and least likely to create friction for you.

In either case, the point is to avoid letting 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’ll be still incomplete at the start of next year.

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

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

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.

5. Each week, ask what you can do to 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 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 its on a small handful of meaningful tasks. Overtime, 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 free 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” of what you’d like to have done this year once it is at an end.4

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. A possible exception is if you’re running a habit goal throughout the year like “Bike for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.” In that case, you might need to have that habit goal in each quarter or semester. And you can decide whether the time commitment for that goal is small enough for it not to occupy one of these 3 quarterly or 4 semesterly slots. 

  4. 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. 

You Need to Budget Your Time to Avoid Guilt and Shame

Different people prioritize different things.1 To a large degree, that’s a good thing.

It means that different people act in different ways. It means that whole swaths of things happen that wouldn’t if everyone only ever prioritized the same things (cf. 1 Cor 12:12–31).

But to put it mildly, the world doesn’t always work as it should. Sometimes, that means other people will have (or you will find reason to think they have) different expectations for what you should prioritize.

These real or suspected differences in expectations about where you should be spending your time can then easily result in social pressure.

And that social pressure is there ready to serve up a healthy portion of guilt and shame if your time budget differs from the norm it decrees.2

1. You will prioritize.

If you don’t create a budget for your finances, someone else will.

That “someone else” might be the group that designed the impulse buy area at a favorite brick-and-mortar retailer. Or it might be the marketing department that put together that advertisement campaign for that slick technology company.

The point is culture constantly suggests mutually exclusive options about where you should spend your money.

The same is true with your time. As Greg McKeown has rightly observed,

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.3

The only trouble is that “someone else’s” values might not be yours.

The “someone else” might think you should spend your time one way. Or you might at least think they think that.

But if you haven’t budgeted your time to decide what you think you need to prioritize, you won’t know whether going with the flow helps or hurts your values.

And if you don’t know what helps or hurts, there’s a good chance you may get pulled along in the wake of the social pressure coming at you from “someone else.”

2. You will give an account.

On the other hand, on the last day, none of us will be able to pass the buck to “someone else.” We’ll each be held accountable for the choices we ourselves have made (cf. Rom 2:16; 2 Cor 5:10).

Those choices will include how we decided to spend our time—whether those decisions have been intentional or by default.4

So the real question is not “How can I avoid running counter to the social pressure headed my way?”

But even assuming that it is headed your way, the question is, in the end, “Who would you rather disappoint?”

If “someone else’s” values are different from what you’re convinced yours should be, let that “someone else” be more disappointed.

Let yourself, instead, be more likely to hear that the judge thinks you’ve done well (cf. Matt 25:14–30; Luke 19:11–27).

Conclusion

If you’re at all connected to other people, they’ll make requests, present needs, and show opportunities to you for things you can do with the time you have.

When it’s the right thing to do, saying “yes” to helping (and following through!) is an excellent and commendable way of showing kindness, among other things.

And if you’ve put the work in to budget your time, you’ll have a better sense of when saying “yes” is, in fact, the right thing for you to do.

On the other hand, saying “no” to a commitment might be less comfortable in the moment.

But that “no” might be what’s necessary for you to devote yourself to something more important. And when it is, it’s also a necessary exercise of self-discipline, among other things.

It’s a delicate balancing act. But when last I checked, both kindness and self-discipline were fruits of the same Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22–23).

And if you carefully work through how you need to prioritize your time, you’ll have a much better idea of how you should be exercising both your “yes” and your “no.”


  1. Header image provided by STIL

  2. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  3. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 10. 

  4. For related discussion, see McKeown, Essentialism, 33–40, 49–62; Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done, expanded ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014). 

You Need to Budget Your Time to Avoid Schedule Crises

Life happens. And when life happens, plans often need to change.1 The same is true for time budgets.

But budgeting your time can help put you in a better position to avoid additional time and energy spent managing schedule crises.2

1. Schedules don’t always go as planned.

When you’re budgeting your time, there’s always the danger of unintentionally falling victim to the “planning fallacy.”

More often than we might care to admit, we tend to underestimate how much time a given commitment will really require.3 When that happens, schedules get pinched.

Fulfilling your commitments becomes more difficult simply because you’re operating under the greater constraints that have followed from that overly optimistic planning.

2. Schedules unplanned don’t always go.

But if you haven’t budgeted your time in the first place, you’re even more vulnerable to scheduling crises.

The tendency to fall into planning fallacy is still at work. But you haven’t taken the initial step toward confronting this tendency that budgeting your time entails. The tendency to exaggerate what can get done by when doesn’t get reined in.

All of this means that, when challenges arise, you’re more likely to find fulfilling your commitments to be even more difficult. You’re also more likely to find that you’re not in a position to fulfill them, either at all or at least as well as they deserve.

If you haven’t budgeted your time, your schedule might actually be over budget. But you have no way of knowing. Your only sense is your current guess at whether it’s balanced or not.

Conclusion

If your time budget is overspent, you might not immediately get hit with the reality of having too little time for too many commitments.

It might take some time. But inevitably it will come to the point where too many commitments cross the line of too few hours.

Still, that doesn’t have to happen, and creating a time budget is a great way to start having fewer crises come up in your schedule.


  1. Header image provided by STIL

  2. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  3. For further discussion, see Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 182–83. 

You Need to Budget Your Time to Get the Most Out of It

Budgeting your time helps you get the most out of it in two ways.1

1. You can do more things.

First, just like budgeted money, time tends to go farther when you have a plan for it. So, budgeting your time will help you get more things done with the time you have.

Getting more things done is a good thing. But that’s actually a less important way of getting the most out of your time.

2. You can do more important things.

Second—and more important—having a time budget will give you an important tool for getting the most out of your time qualitatively. That is, it will help you focus on doing better things than you might otherwise.

Often, restriction or not doing or not being able to do something comes to mind pretty readily when thinking about budgeting. But a budget isn’t simply a negative plan.

Instead, whether it’s a financial budget or a time budget, a budget presents only what’s included in it. And what’s included is there because you’ve chosen to prioritize it. You’ve determined that what’s in the budget is more important than what isn’t.

If you decide something else not currently in your time budget needs to take priority, that’s great. You can always change your time budget as you need to.

But by adding a commitment, you also need to subtract somewhere else to keep your time budget in balance.

And when you do that, you have a mechanism for making yourself feel the cost of that new commitment.

If it is a higher priority than something else currently in the budget, press ahead with the change. But if not, do you really want to spend your time, your most finite resource, on something less important?

You’d probably never choose that intentionally. But having a time budget can help keep you from regretting effectively having made exactly that choice unintentionally or by default.2

Conclusion

Building a time budget helps you wrestle through intentional decisions about the trade offs that different commitments require.3

Once you have that budget, its hard-won “balance” is an incredibly useful tool for reminding you of the costs that different current and possible future commitments entail.

It’s a mechanism for helping you actually prioritize what you find important, even amid constant pulls to do otherwise.


  1. Header image provided by STIL. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  2. See also Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 33–40. 

  3. For further, helpful discussion of trade offs, see McKeown, Essentialism, 49–62. 

You Need to Budget Your Time to Manage Your Commitments

If you think in terms of financial expenditures, you have vastly more opportunities to spend money than you have funds available to you.1

If you’re Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, the size of your financial net might be wider. But it’s still quite limited by comparison with the world’s total opportunities for expenditures. Even if you use debt, there’s a ceiling to how much you can use.

1. Your time is limited.

The same is true with your time—only more so. Everyone gets only 168 hours a week to spend.

You might incur “sleep debt” to try to stretch the number of hours you have. But that’s a losing proposition.2 And it still doesn’t allow you to spend more than your 168 hours from a given week.

Time is a zero-sum game. When you spend it on one thing, you can’t spend that same time on anything else.

So, any commitment you make—whether it’s to a person, a project, an event, or whatever—represents a claim on your 168 weekly hours.

2. Your possible commitments are unlimited.

But there’s nothing out there in the aether stopping you from committing to more than you can do in the hours you have. So you can very easily make more commitments than you have the time to fulfill.

The only trouble is … that’s not honest to yourself or to the other people involved. Any excess commitment you make is, by definition, going to get shortchanged in some amount or left entirely unfulfilled.

And shirking commitments you’ve made isn’t a good practice—for you or anyone else.

Conclusion

But that doesn’t have to be your story. You can start “right-sizing” your commitments to your time.

You just need to work through them both intentionally to decide what does and doesn’t make the cut.

That will be an iterative rather than a once-for-all process. But you don’t have to wait to begin. And the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be able to better fulfill the commitments you have.


  1. Header image provided by STIL. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  2. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 91–102. 

Why You Need to Budget Your Time

Budgeting time requires different strategies for different contexts and schedules.1

Your schedule might be regular, irregular, or some of both. But whatever it looks like, there’s a corresponding strategy you can use to budget your time.

Still, saying all of that leaves out one very important question: Do you really need to budget your time in the first place?

Reasons You Need to Budget Your Time

I’d like to suggest that the answer to this question is a firm “Yes” for at least four reasons.2

In particular, you need to budget your time in order to

  1. Manage your commitments because your time is limited, but your possible commitments are unlimited.
  2. Get the most out of it not only by doing more things but also—and more importantly—by doing more important things.
  3. Avoid schedule crises. Schedules don’t always go to plan. And if you haven’t balanced your scheduling budget in advance, you’ll find yourself in larger crises more often when the unexpected arrives.
  4. Avoid guilt and shame. You will spend your time. How you spend it reflects what you chose or endorsed as a priority. If you spend your time intentionally, you will disappoint someone at some point. But you don’t have to feel guilt or shame about that if you know you’ve done your best to choose what’s most important.

Conclusion

In short, you can spend your time intentionally. Or it will get spent for you.

Intentionality is critical to knowing what you should do with the time you have. And creating a time budget can help you ensure you’re making the choices about your time that you really feel are the best.


  1. Header image provided by STIL

  2. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.