Goal Setting & Planning for Creatives
Understanding where you are going will help you build a process for getting there. 

I love resolutions. I love goal setting. Planning is my jam. Every year I ask my Facebook friends for their New Year resolution, and the next year I find that post and follow up on them. Many of them do not make much progress on their resolutions, but that isn’t uncommon, studies show most people have given up on their New Years resolutions by the second week of February! I missed some of my resolutions this year, and as I plan my resolutions for next year I want to remind myself to take my own advice and share my tips with you. 


My Strategies for Setting Goals as a Creative 

Set Goals You Can Measure and Timelines That Are Manageable

Whatever goal you choose, make it specific. It’s tough to tell if you’d made it somewhere if you don’t know precisely where that place is. For example, if you are a musician rather than saying “I want more people to hear my music” your goal may be “I want to hit 20,000 streams on Spotify.” This is a measurable goal. This goal allows you to create a plan to reach that goal.

Goals should also be on manageable timelines. I don’t mean they can’t be huge goals but for example, If you want to hit 20,000 listens on Spotify but you work 60 hours a week and haven’t released any new songs in 6 months you’re going to have a heck of a time getting there in 30 days. Time is a precious commodity, probably the most valuable thing we can spend. Think realistically about how much time you can contribute towards your goals when you set them. I always take my initial goal and add 25% to the timeline because I know I am super optimistic about my potential.

Something else you want to consider is how long it takes to master something. You’ve likely heard the statistic that you need 10,000 hours to be a master. That means you need about 40 hours a week for five years to hit 10,000 hours. If your creative based business is not your full-time gig, it’s going to take some time to hit that. Let’s use the musician example again, if you spend 40 hours a week at work and 20 hours a week working on music you probably have about 20 hours per week you can use towards any other aspects, even inside of that 20 you would be breaking that up into chunks for admin work etc. Setting realistic goals will help you stay motivated.


Set Your Goals & Forget Them

The first thing I do with every person I work with is set goals. The second thing I do is forget them. That probably sounds weird but hear me out. My client’s goals often include things like, win a Grammy and play the main stage at a major festival or go full-time selling my art. These are fantastic and lofty goals! The problem with lofty goals is if we only think about those giant goals we’re going to get discouraged pretty quickly because lasting motivation comes from progress, not from passion.

We can only “white knuckle” our way through anything for so long, no matter how much we love it. When the delta between where you are now and where you want to be is too vast, you won’t be able to stay motivated long enough to get there.  So, set lofty goals and set them aside. Instead, focus on your process. When we focus on the short-term tasks necessary to reach a goal we get a hit of feel-good hormones from checking boxes that help us keep going.


Create A Process & Build Habits

I love a good process because it is all about building on your momentum. It’s a lot easier to stay on track when you are hitting small goal posts along the way because our brains respond well to quick wins. Every process I build starts first by thinking about how I can make something a habit. Using the Spotify stream example again, I would start by breaking down what marketing techniques would be necessary to hit that 20,000 stream goal. Methods for increasing your Spotify streams include getting on playlists, releasing new singles on a regular schedule, getting your current fans to add you to their Spotify catalogs, etc. The process would be “Spend 1 hour each day on techniques to increase Spotify plays.” From there you would chunk that out further into your schedule as tasks, “Monday = Research 10 new playlists I could fit on & reach out to them. Tuesday = Conduct a Facebook Live where I also mention I am on Spotify and ask to have them subscribe. Wednesday = Create my playlist that includes my song + other artists,  Thursday =, etc. etc.” At first, this is going to feel daunting, but once it’s just part of your routine, it becomes effortless to accomplish.

When possible, I add any new habits I am building to the morning, that way I am not trying to “will” myself into doing something at the end of a 12 hour work day. Our brains get tired throughout the day, and it becomes increasingly easier to negotiate your new tasks when you are exhausted. It is scientifically proven you have more self-control first thing when you wake up so set your self up for success and wake up an hour earlier to add your new tasks to your schedule.


Make Your Process Tasks Non-negotiable

How can I make whatever I am trying to get done a non-negotiable? Basically what I am trying to do is remove the decision fatigue from the equation. A significant shift I am making in my mindset around goals is changing my language. I am removing “can and can’t” from my vocabulary in 2019 and replacing it with “do and don’t.” There is no longer ‘want’ there is only “do.” I workout three times a week. I just commit to in-person events and projects four evenings a week. I don’t miss therapy.


My new process tasks are just non-negotiable. It feels so aggressive to change these words, but they have already created momentum. This post is the perfect example. I send a resource to my email subscribers every month. To send that resource, I need to have a new resource. So here I am writing a resource for my subscribers. I’ve spent an hour each evening after work this week plus I am currently writing this line from my couch at home at 8:20 am before my Friday client meetings. My tasks are non-negotiable.


Frame Your Goal in A Positive Light

Negative vibes are a no-go in every aspect of your life. I don’t much care for negative reinforcement of any kind, especially in goal setting. For example, your goal might be “stop playing shows for free.” Try reframing your goal to be less negative and less restrictive when possible like “generate an average of $500 per show this year.” It’s easier to stay engaged with the meaning and passion of your goal if it is a positive one. It also won’t trigger that part of your brain that wants to be self-destructive, and it doesn’t rely so heavily on self-control. I find if I tell myself I can’t have something it tends to be the only thing I think about and crave doing. Is that the case for you? Let me know in the comments below.


Talk About Your Goals With The Right People

An essential part of setting goals is sharing your goals to help create some accountability, but it is important to share those goals with the right people. Goals are designed out of an area of vulnerability, and not everyone has the skills to handle your vulnerability. We’ve all had the experience of telling a loved one about our goals only to have them immediately start asking questions or giving advice, often with an underlying vibe of “you’re never going to make it.” Even though we know they are just trying to protect us, that hurts and does impact your ability to reach your goals and how you go about those goals. Even for people who think they thrive on that, i.e., the “just watch me” personality type is affected by these interactions. I have seen people become ruthless in their pursuits just to prove a point, often leaving chaos in other areas of their lives in their wake. Carefully consider who gets the privilege of being part of your goals.

For many of my clients working with me is the first time they’ve ever even considered writing down their goals around their art. Many have full professional careers in other fields that they do this exercise for but never considered applying it to their creative pursuits. If you need help with goal setting, please reach out to me for a one-time planning session which is available outside of my coaching programs. Even if you are not ready for a session, send me your goals via email if you don’t have anyone you trust with your goals. I am here to support you!

Hey! I’m Nikki! I am a marketing expert with over a decade of experience. I hold a technical degree in graphic design from North Seattle College. I’ve been a photographer for over 15 years.  I offer short-term marketing and business coaching to creatives as a way to help as many creatives as I can, while still going after my own career goals as the Head of Marketing at Mastin Labs.  Nikki Barron



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