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Forget about goals this year—here’s what works much better

Table of ContentsUpdated Jan 04, 2021

It’s January, which means everyone’s going crazy about setting goals for the year.

Whether you’re clipping along nicely with your goals or still trying to figure out exactly what you want to do this year, there’s something you must know:

Goals don’t work.

I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to studying the effectiveness of goals. And guess what: 92% of people who set goals, never reach them.

When it comes to building your own freelance business, setting huge goals for your company might be doing more damage than good. And there’s something much simpler and more impactful that you can do to take your business to new heights this year.

What’s more powerful than a goal?

A habit.

I’m not the first to say it: habits are better than goals.

Habits run circles around goals.
Habits eat goals for breakfast.

As an example, in 2018 I decided I was going to forget setting goals around losing weight and instead develop habits that mapped to my desired outcome (being healthier). So I started keeping simple habits like eating more vegetables and going for a walk/run every weekday.

The results? In less than a year, I lost over 70 lbs (32 kg) and I ran my first 5K with a pretty great time.

It works the same in business—building habits into your daily work will get you much further than setting some arbitrary, sexy goal in January which you promptly forget about or get frustrated by before March.

Here’s why:

When you set a goal, you’re challenging yourself to some lofty aspiration months or years down the road.

Let’s say, for example, that you have a goal to make $100,000 from your business this year. An admiral, doable, exciting goal.

You start down the path—you divide $100K by 12 months in the year and come up with $8,333 per month to hit your goal.

Then you get started.

You work your butt off every day— you’re hustling. You’re putting in the hours it takes to reach that $8,333.

At the end of the month, you’ve reached $7,000 in revenue. Not too shabby. But at $7K/month, you’ll only see $84,000 in revenue from your business this year.

84% of your goal.

So what happens at the end of January? You get discouraged. You start to realize how hard it’s going to be. Maybe too hard. Maybe you ought to just…quit.

You might keep this lofty goal in the back of your mind, but you realize it will probably never happen.

  • Which makes it much easier to take that low-paying client who sucks all your time away.
  • It makes it easier to feed the fear of calling new clients.
  • It makes you give half-effort in your marketing.

You become lazy and compliant because, after all, what’s the use of hustling if you can’t reach your goal, right?

You basically give up. You slip. You slow down.

By October, you’re completely demoralized, you take a couple months really slowly, using the holidays as a good distractor.

And next January it starts all over again.

Has this happened to you? (Share your story in the mastermind.) It has to me. In business, in health, in spirituality, in lots of things.

And why wouldn’t it? We’ve been trained to set lofty goals and “make plans” to achieve those goals.

But it’s so much easier to throw out a huge lofty goal than to throw out a simple habit.

Let’s take the $100K example again. What are some of the habits you have to adopt in order to hit $8,333 each month?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Every afternoon, get in the habit of checking your email and responding to any potential client inquiries or solving any problems with current clients. This 30-minute habit can compound for major improvements over weeks and months.
  • Every month, make a habit of following up on outstanding payments with clients—this will help you recover any missed payments before they’re too far gone to reclaim.

Consistency—in whatever you choose to do—is what will set you up for long-term success.

Then, when you don’t hit the $8,333 per month the first month, you don’t give up, you adjust and you keep moving forward with your habits.

After the first 30 days, they’re easy now. You just sort of do them. You don’t have to torture yourself to do them. You don’t have to trick yourself into doing them. You just do them.

Mondays, you write. Tuesdays you promote your business. Wednesdays you network with other creatives.

Whatever it is, be consistent. Get in a rhythm. Once you’re in a rhythm, it’s much easier to stay in one. And if you miss a day or week, it’s easier to get back to your daily habits than to try and ramp yourself back up to a gigantic goal.

So forget enormous lofty goals this year.

Build a habit to last the entire year and beyond.

You’ll be amazed what kind of progress you’ll see.

Have something to add? Share it in the mastermind.

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Written by Preston Lee

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Preston Lee is the founder of Millo where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade. His advice has been featured by Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, Adobe, and many more.

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  1. Keith Shackleton says:

    This is so true! Good habits (and bad…) are engrained in our neural pathways through years of repetition. This means they become automatic, and are less taxing on our energy levels than striving for those lofty new goals. The real trick, is to adjust our habits slowly over time until they are totally beneficial to us and those around us. Then I believe, the sky is the limit. It’s hard, but regular networking, and feeding the creative spirit through reading good stuff like Millo, really helps.

    Thanks for your wise words!

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Thanks for adding that, Keith. Really appreciate your comments! Best of luck.

  2. Steven K. says:

    Great advice as always, Preston. I’ve been following Millo/GDB quietly for 2-3 years, but I recently took the dive, quit my agency day job and started freelancing. It’s amazing; I actually enjoy every work day now!

    I have so much to attribute to this blog and it’s fantastic writers. Thanks again for your team’s great weekly tips and inspiration, I couldn’t have made the move without you ; D

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Steven, oh man! That’s awesome! I’m so excited for the adventure that lies ahead of you. Thanks for the kind words. We really appreciate it. Glad to help and thrilled to be part of your journey. 🙂

  3. Hi Preston, Just discovered your blog and as I am just making the move to go part time at work to begin freelancing, this article is great inspiration to help me organise the amount of things I currently feel I have to sort out to make it happen! Sorry that this isn’t adding much to the discussion, just wanted to thank you and let you know I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Thanks, Gary! I appreciate you chiming in. Best of luck as you move forward with your business!

  4. Ivan Andelovic says:

    Another good one is: “Dreams don’t work unless you do!” and that’s absolutely true. If you just set goals and don’t make consistent work and daily habits that will bring you to those goals (dreams), then it’s for nothing.

    Setting daily habits and improving day to day is very important. I would also recommend you this. For example, break your goal into smaller ones. So, you didn’t make $8.3k, but you did $7k. Don’t take it as a discouragement, look at it like this – what I’m doing “wrong” or what I’m missing to make that additional $1.3k.

    Try to set a goal for each next month to get better. It doesn’t have to be regarding money, it can be a goal to bring %10 more traffic than the previous month, 50 more subscribers, 20 additional products sold etc. At the end of the year, you’ll be amazed how much you’ve improved from the beginning of the year.

    1. Preston D Lee says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on all of this. I agree about not getting discouraged when it comes to missing your goals. Goals are meant to make you stretch.

      I will say, though, make sure you don’t get caught up in “just growing” in other ways. Your growth should be focused around the business objectives that ultimately lead you to make money. If not, you’re not running a business—you’re running a hobby. 🙂

      It can be so easy to get caught up in being a little better in traffic, getting a few more instagram followers, etc. But if they don’t ultimately lead back to revenue for your business, it’s never going to work from a business point of view.


      1. Ivan Andelovic says:

        Of course Preston,

        that is what it’s all about. Grow your traffic, social media, SEO etc. and then turn that into leads and customers > revenue.

        Anyways, good article and keep up the good work man!