Working Backwards Towards Your Goals (Beginner Series Part 2)

Working Backwards Towards Your Goals (Beginner Series Part 2)

This post is Part 2 of a 5-part series written by photographer and creative consultant Amelia Bartlett, about how she uses her Ink+Volt Planner.

New to our planner or looking for inspiration? Catch up on the series in Part 1.

We have our yearly plan written and ready, we’re leaving some pieces of our lives behind, learning new things, and improving ourselves along the way. Now, we have a general picture in mind of what the year would look like if it went perfectly.

We have our theme, it’s become our daily bread, and the year’s goals are in place, ready to be actualized.

In Part 1 of this series, we took a super macro look at what you want out of your life and explored our greater purpose. With that, we use the Ink+Volt Planner to jot down our informed yearly plans.

That’s the big picture. It’s important and fun to think about, but now it is time to write down how we’ll get there. It’s time to look closer at the things you have to do in order to make progress on your biggest goals.

We have now reached what may be my most neglected part of my Ink+Volt Planner: that little sidebar to the right of the calendar.

Working Backwards Towards Your Goals (Beginner Series Part 2)

Focus and Notes

What is your month all about? What do you have time for? And where is that time best spent?

Here is how I worked backwards to my biggest goals for one month this year.

One of my yearly goals is to earn a living and savings for my family via online business.

Without going into great detail, this is very important to me and something I’ve been working on diligently for about six months. This business has a strategic plan, goals of its own, and is given dedicated time each week in my personal schedule. With this in mind, and the overview of my month showing that I would mainly be stationary in my city (without travel), I decided that October would be a good month to focus on this business.

Therefore, my focus for October was to build my personal brand.

From there, I broke that down into smaller and smaller steps. What could I do every single day to achieve the somewhat vague idea of brand-building?

To build my personal brand, I know that I need to blog, share photos, and promote my content. On my calendar, then I started by filling in the opportunities that were already in place and looked for ways to add tasks that would help me achieve my focus: I’m going camping for the first time, that’d make a great blog post, and I’ll take photos! [Noted] I go into Knoxville, TN from the small town where I live twice each week, I’ll take photos then! [Noted].

Now take a look at YOUR month.

If you’re traveling or going to be way busier than usual, what part of your yearly goals or theme would be a healthy balance to that? If you have to make more purchases than usual, are there efforts you could make to bring in some extra cash or cut down expenses elsewhere?

When it comes to the Notes section (which is just below the Focus section), it tends to go one of two ways for me: I write notes about to-do items borne in response to calendar items or, I’ll make notes throughout the month that are important to remember, such as people I meet, things to look up, or items to add to future calendar dates.

I’d be full of it if I pretended I had this all figured out, but the key is not feel constrained by the size or the title of the box. The four ways I just mentioned are a small idea to get you started.

Finalizing the Monthly Calendar

Make sure that all of your important dates for the year (birthdays, anniversaries, death days, school schedules, work functions, etc) have been transferred from the big two-year spread calendars at the front of your planner, to the more detail-capable monthly calendar for the upcoming month.

We’re establishing the existing boundaries on our schedule so we have a clear view of how much time we actually have.

I call these boundaries within my calendar my “protected time”. At each stage of planning — monthly, weekly, daily — protecting your time gets rid of the “oops, I doubled booked myself!” and “how am I going to get all of that done in time!?” moments. Keep this in mind when we move forward in the Volt Planner.

As a mid-twenties woman without kids, living in a new place without too vibrant a social calendar, and lacking a formal schedule structure like a location-specific job or education commitment, my monthly calendar tends to be a little light. My first instinct is to just step over it, to continue on to the lists (much more comfortable for my brain) and into the weekly action plans, but over time I’ve come to love the preciseness that acknowledging my focus for the month can bring.

This month, I will…

Monthly goals or action plans, whichever version suits you, are the committees that carry out your yearly goals.

Some stand alone, giving you the major warm-and-fuzzies when they are checked off the list, and others serve as milestones along the long pathway to a major yearly goal. Each month, you get ten lines, each with its very own coveted check-box. Do you use them all each month? Can you handle the empty space left by using only some of the lines? Is ten enough?

Depending on your goal-setting style, the monthly goal section may be a godsend or a grievance. I still wonder out loud “What is the appropriate goal threshold?” In fairness, it varies by person. No amount or intensity or magnitude of goal can work for everyone, so strategies for determining your threshold are paramount.

My point here is that you can use these lines as you see fit. Don’t feel hemmed in by the structure; this planner is supposed to help you achieve your goals, so make it work for you in a way that will help you achieve those goals.

A good way to think about setting goals is this:

Goals have three cornerstones: time, resources, capacity.

  • Time: Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months. With regards to deadlines, interdependencies, expiry, and value.
  • Resources: What are they, how much do they cost, what are the circumstances of their success, how to acquire them, and how to implement them.
  • Capacity: Consider your personal bandwidth with regards to the rest of your commitments (including non-work-related basics like rest and socializing). Quantify the support and bandwidth of others (human or technology). Factor in the management of capacity outside your own, and determine the value of what you give up in relationship to your goal.

These cornerstones are, ideally, the basis of a project plan. In other words, these factors will determine the goals you set for each month and how likely you are to achieve them.

There is never a project to small for a plan. By taking the time to illustrate in words (or diagrams, colors, numbers, etc) the implementation of your goal, while paying attention to your limits, potential risk, and points of failure, and reflecting on your greater purpose, your goal becomes an actualization practice.

Throughout the year there will be weekly goals, monthly goals, and yearly goals; but what are easy to underestimate are the quarterly goals, the bi-annual, the two-day sprints. This is where that ominously unlabeled blank box underneath your goals list becomes the star.

Project management school (which has a formal name, I’m sure) will teach you that you need spreadsheets, accountability lists, formatting, lots of paperwork, and plenty of other very in-depth but largely cluttering materials to create a project plan. However, not in the Volt Planner.

That little blank box is the perfect place to take your Focus from the previous page – go ahead, flip to and fro, and place your Focus in this box. I use this box as a place to drill down on my Focus and create some monthly goals to make it happen.

Follow along with me as I do mine for October:

Focus: To build my personal brand
  • What does a successful accomplishment of my focus look like? I have a high engagement rate on my social media platforms, exponential traffic to my website, and I am being approached by brands for collaboration more than I am doing the approaching.
  • What are some ways to achieve those goals? I can create engaging content like quality photos and blogs and I can reply to people who engage with me; I can promote my blog on my social media platforms, on larger platforms like Medium, Pinterest, and local interest groups; and I can update my portfolio to be easy to access but tailored specifically to collaborators I want to work with, then share that portfolio within their networks or by tagging them on social media.
  • What specific actions should I take to accomplish the above list? [I won’t bore you with specifics]
  • Evaluating from the three cornerstones of goals, what actions from the above list am I capable of taking this month – and what actions will need to be moved to the future?

The answers to these questions will become part of your monthly goals list.

What tends to happen to me when I do this process is that I get extremely hyped on the clarity of my next steps, and then realize that it’s actually going to take me 3 – 9 months to accomplish something I had hoped to complete in two weeks.

While this might seem frustrating, you’ve actually just done yourself a HUGE favor by getting very clear about what’s possible, what it will take, and what it will look like when it’s complete.

You now know exactly what you can do in the next month, and what you can’t. You’re removing the stress of uncertainty from the equation, opening space for creativity and enjoyment along the pathway to accomplishment. 

On these pages, we started super fairly with the month’s Focus, then zoomed into the micro of what exact actions need to be taken to accomplish that focus. This process typically takes me 1 – 2 hours if I’m using the box beneath my Monthly Goals, but up to two days if I’m doing this exercise in a notebook or computer word processor.

The importance of milestones

While I’m not an authority on the terminology, in my world, a milestone is a goal with a date attached to it. It’s an accomplishment in its own right, whether step one or step fifty-one, but it is imperative that it is time-bound. Once you’re confident with the Monthly Goals you’ve listed, it’s time to make them real. Right now, they’re only theoretical. How does something become real?

It goes in the calendar.

Because each of these goals is informed by the three cornerstones, it has a time and place in this month and should get its day to shine. You know how long each one will take, which resources it depends on and how you will be capable of accomplishing it, so take the plunge and establish an appropriate date on your monthly calendar that your goal will be met. It’s that simple.

Fit your milestones into the boundaries of your protected time, staking their place in the immense of your calendar.

In the next part of this series, we’ll break those milestones down into easily-actionable steps scheduled each week during the month and learn what it takes to craft our lives exactly as we want them in the day-to-day playing field.

Amelia Bartlett is a photographer and creative consultant living and working in Tennessee, where she is converting a retired school bus into her home.

She is a new Ink+Volt Planner user, and has created a 5-part series sharing her journey of goal-setting and learning to use her planner. Follow along for inspiration, whether you’re a beginner or seasoned planner user! You can learn more about her work at

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