Here we are again: the start of a new year! Happy 2024, everyone!
It’s the season in which many people create (and cough typically fail at) new years resolutions. Personally I’ve never been a big resolution person.
But I am a big fan of goals.
I’ve seen far too many people fail their resolutions, and then not attempt to improve their lives for another 320 days or so. That is an inefficient way of improving your life.
Goals are one of the primary ways that humans experience positive emotions. If you want to feel good more often, then work on your goals. Not only does this help you to feel positive emotion, but it helps you to feel like your life is moving forward and not stuck in a rut.
Many of us only work on implicit goals. Getting married, having kids, retiring, getting a job: we don’t necessarily write these goals down, but many of us have them, and we rejoice when we finally accomplish them.
Do you want more of those good feelings? Then try setting more goals.
Table of Contents
- SMART Goals
- Creating Goals in Obsidian
- Why Quarterly Goals?
- Why Weekly Goals?
- Why Daily Goals?
- Setting it Up
- Quarterly Goals Template
- Weekly Goals Template
- Daily Goals Template
- Periodic Notes
What makes a good goal? The best framework I’ve found is called SMART.
SMART stands for:
SMART is a way to judge whether your goals are good goals or not.
Let’s go through an example:
- In 2024 I want to lose weight
Is this a smart goal? I would say no. It is not specific, and a whole year is too big of a chunk of time to stay focused. Instead, I would word it like this:
- In the first quarter of 2024, I want to lose 10lbs.
This is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. That is a SMART goal. Next, you have to create actions from that goal. Those actions might look like:
- I will throw out the sugar in the house
- I will limit myself to one drink per week
- I will only eat out once per week
- I will eliminate my afternoon snack
Do you see why this is so much better than a new year’s resolution? Even if you fail your goal, you’re still making healthy progress. To risk a quote from Confucius:
It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.
Goals give you consistent forward momentum throughout the year. If you want to make consistent and lasting change in your life, then goals are the best way that I have found to do it.
Creating Goals in Obsidian
Obsidian is a note-taking app. It has no focus on goals, which means we have to build them ourselves. We need to build a system for goals.
The simplest system is a single file, called “2024 Goals”, with a list inside. But to be honest, I tried this system, and I rapidly forgot about it. If you’re like me, you need a system that holds you more accountable than this.
I often lose sight of goals. Since they are rarely urgent, I end up either working on little things that don’t contribute to my goals. Or I work on my goals to the exclusion of everything else, even good habits and things that need to happen regardless of my goals (like paying bills, or watering plants).
So I needed to find a way to focus on my goals every day, without losing sight of everything else I need to do.
My solution? I find that it helps to have three layers to your goals. Instead of a single file, create a new file for every quarter, week, and day. Why is this helpful?
Why Quarterly Goals?
Quarterly goals are big goals. Things that take focused effort over a long period of time. Quarterly goals shouldn’t be something that you can do in a few days, or even a few weeks. Think big here.
A quarter is three months, or roughly thirteen weeks. Three months is a big enough period to do something life-changing, but a small enough period that it feels real. Yearly goals, for me, have always felt too big and too intimidating. Quarterly goals are much more manageable, and they give you four chances to do something big throughout the year, rather than only one chance.
I also limit myself to no more than three quarterly goals. Preferably two. That helps me ensure that I keep my goals big, rather than setting small goals only to “check the box”. Goals are only helpful if they stretch you, and force you to do something that you otherwise wouldn’t do.
Why Weekly Goals?
After quarterly goals, I skip monthly goals and go straight to weekly.
Weeks fly by: in my opinion, they are the fastest unit of time. Days and years are long, but weeks are short.
Weekly goals give you thirteen chances to complete your quarterly goals. If you set 3-5 weekly goals that directly affect your quarterly goals, then you almost can’t help but complete your quarterly goals.
Why Daily Goals?
Last but not least, I also like to sketch out a few simple daily goals.
Unlike weekly goals, I don’t think daily goals need to directly impact the quarterly goals. Sometimes there are things you need to get done that don’t impact your goals. My daily goals capture many things that are urgent but not important: things that need doing regardless of my goals.
I also schedule tasks in Obsidian for those urgent-but-not-important things, which helps keep my goals more focused on the important, rather than the urgent.
So that’s the theory behind my Obsidian goals. But everything works in theory… How do we do it in practice?
Setting up Obsidian Goals
When it comes to implementing goals in Obsidian, the most important features are all built-in. You could do this without installing a single plugin.
What does this plugin do? It allows you to create templates for quarterly and weekly notes. The default Daily Notes plugin (which I use for journaling) in Obsidian only creates daily notes, so Periodic Notes helps you to automate the creation of notes for different time periods.
If you install the Periodic Notes plugin, then you can create templates for quarterly, weekly, and daily notes. And when you create those notes, Periodic Notes will also help fill in some of the information. It’s not essential, but otherwise you would have to do more busywork.
Whether you use periodic notes or not, you’ll want to create templates for your quarterly, weekly, and daily notes. Store these in your templates directory (if you’re new to templates, see Getting Started with Obsidian Templates)
Quarterly Goal Template
Let’s start with quarterly. Remember, quarterly goals should be the big goals, hard things. We could set up our template to look something like this:
## Quarterly Goals
### Goal 1: _Goal 1_
### Goal 2: _Goal 2_
- Review this quarter here
Note: if you use Periodic Notes, by default the title of this note will look something like
2024-Q1. If you don’t use Periodic Notes, all you have to do is create and title this note manually.
Nothing too fancy about this template. The key here is that you create this every quarter, and add two to three big goals. If you do that, your work here is done.
I also like to review each quarter after it’s over, which is why the review heading exists in this template.
Weekly Goal Template
Once you have your quarterly goals set up, your weekly goals become much easier.
Weekly goals should be designed to move your quarterly goals forward. And with that in mind, it’s nice to have quick and easy access to the quarterly goals inside of your weekly template. With that in mind, here’s how I set up my weekly template:
## Weekly Goals
- [ ] Do something
The trick here is the embed. This file uses template notation in order to link back to the quarterly file, and it also links directly to the Quarterly Goals header. This will embed your quarterly goals inside your weekly goals notes, so that you can quickly reference them as you create your weekly goals. That will look something like this:
In the image above, you can see this is a weekly note (for Week 3, specifically), but the quarterly goals are embedded for easy reference when setting weekly goals.
Daily Goal Template
Last but not least, daily goals. With dailies, I use the same trick as above, as you can see here:
## Today's Goals
- [ ]
## Journal Entries
## Day Planner
- [ ] 05:45-06:15 WHM
- [ ] 06:15-7:00 Writing
- [ ] 08:00-10:30 Obsidian work
- [ ] 10:30-11:30 Client work
- [ ] 11:30-12:30 Lunch
- [ ] 13:00-13:30 Client work
- [ ] 13:30-14:30 Backyard
- [ ] 14:30-17:00 Client work
My daily note has weekly goals embedded in it. I don’t embed my quarterly goals here. If I did my job when setting up my weekly goals, then I shouldn’t need to worry about my quarterly goals on a daily basis.
This template also includes a section for journal entries, and a day planner, which allows me to timebox my day. Timeboxing is a practice that I find extremely helpful, see Planning Your Day in Obsidian if you want to learn more about that.
My daily note also houses a number of automations that do things like display recently create notes, tasks completed on that day, and more. But I’ve removed those things in the example above for clarity.
Using Periodic Notes
Once you’ve created these three templates in your templates folder, you can use the Periodic Notes plugin to create the actual files.
You may have to adjust the settings a bit. Go to the Periodic Notes settings and enable both “weekly” and “quarterly” notes. If you already use the Daily Notes plugin, Periodic Notes should give you the option to transfer your existing settings over. Otherwise, you can adjust the settings yourself: just configure the template for each note type, along with the note folder.
If you’re curious, I call my templates
Templates/[Daily or Weekly or Quarterly] Template and my note folders look something like this:
But the choice is up to you.
Then you can create each goal like this:
Open the command palette and type “Periodic”, and you will see all of the options available to you:
Select the note you want to create (or open), and the note should open with your selected template pre-filled. Handy!
For the record, I also use the Calendar plugin to make the creation of weekly and daily notes easier. Also not necessary, just a nicety.
And that is my simple system for tracking Obsidian goals. It’s easy to set up, but just complicated enough to be effective.
These goals along with timeboxing has drastically changed my day to day work. I’m able to do much more of the work I value, rather than chasing emergencies all of the time.
If you find that you’re often working on the “urgent” rather than the “important”, then I would encourage you to give this a shot!