A new year kicked in and, for many of us, so did a handful of resolutions. Three weeks after resolving to drink less coffee or exercise more or launch your website, how is your progress? Have you already, like me (*sips coffee*), fallen short of your goals? It’s not you. It might be your frame of mind, say some experts. Or your process, say others.
For three weeks, I have made myself a test subject. I watched TED Talks, listened to podcasts, read content and books, tried time management apps and tools, and solicited friends and colleagues for their best goal-setting practices. I have implemented many of these strategies to help me formulate goals, develop good habits, and track my progress.
Pick from our list of more than 40 great tools—tested by us—to take your goals from vague resolutions to measurable action plans powered by positive thinking.
🎧 Goal-setting podcasts 🎧
My biggest takeaway during this process is that there are two camps within the goal guru community: the positive-thinking camp and the planning-and-action camp. Many of the frameworks for achieving goals, however, marry these two in some way.
1. Side Hustle Pro
Episode of note: #63, How to Run Your Side Hustle in 1 Hour a Day
Side hustler Nicaila Matthews Okome shares how she achieves her goals one hour at a time.
Biggest takeaway: Don’t compare yourself to people who are years ahead of you. Make your goals realistic to your own level and timeframe.
2. The Robin Sharma Mastery Sessions
Episode of note: How Billionaires Set Giant Goals
Biggest takeaway: You are a genius! You just don’t know how to access it because there’s too much noise. Block out what’s not important to allow yourself to singularly focus on your goal. Get out into nature or try meditation.
Episode of note: #25, Making Change Stick
Biggest takeaway: You can manifest good things and achieve goals through positive thinking and learning to redirect your focus.
4. Goal Digger
Episode of note: #115, The Best Kept Secret for Setting Goals You’ll Actually Achieve
Biggest takeaway: Goals that rely on motivation only will be less successful than those with an implementation plan. And that plan should include how to celebrate!
Know your outcome. Be clear on your intention. Once you have clarity, let nothing stop you.Marie Forleo
5. Shopify Masters
Episode of note: Using Free Digital Products to Grow Your Business. In this episode, host Felix Thea interviews Alexandra Eidens of Big Life Journal about building a successful business after a failed fundraising effort.
Biggest Takeaway: Missing your target isn’t the end of the world—use the experience to pivot, set a new goal, and change your approach.
6. Lessons Learned with Komal
Episode of note: Lesson 11: Creating Routines that Work for You. A cancer survivor, chronic illness advocate, investor, and producer shares lessons she’s learned through her own personal and business experiences. This episode is great for those who need routines to boost creativity and be accountable to goals.
Biggest takeaway: Allow yourself time to plan even if you’re on vacation. Letting your brain unload can unburden you so that you can truly benefit from moments of rest.
7. NPR’s Hidden Brain
Episode of note: #30, WOOP, There It Is! Four Steps to Achieve Your Goals
Author and psychologist Gabriele Oettingen explains the WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) strategy for achieving goals.
Biggest takeaway: Positive fantasies can trick us into thinking that we’ve already accomplished something. Mindset isn’t the answer on its own—it’s just the first step.
📚 Books about goals 📚
It’s my goal to read 24 books this year. Thankfully, research for this article helped me make some real headway right out of the gate! I have also embraced Audible to maximize time during driving or housework to help reach that goal. If you’re even more strapped for time and just want to get the big takeaways, try a tool like Blinkist.
8. Atomic Habits by James Clear
Best for: Slow-and-steady types
Biggest takeaways: Engineer your environment to create positive cues (the first of four steps in developing habits). Associate objects with certain actions and arrange them within your environment in a way that triggers that action: a desk for work that is removed from your living space, full water bottles placed around your home. Second, focus on the trajectory, powered by incremental changes over time, not your wins today.
Bonus: James’ website is full of additional resources to help implement his methods into your own healthy habit-building journey.
9. Nine Things Successful People Do Differently by Heidi Grant Halvorson
Best for: A quick read (finish it on a round-trip commute)
Biggest takeaway: “Get better” goals are more effective than “be good” goals. The former allows for mistakes and a learning curve.
10. Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals by Michael Hyatt
Best for: Those who like sports anecdotes, people with baggage
Biggest takeaway: It will be hard to work on new goals if you’re still burdened by your previous failures. Confront your past and process your disappointment—unfinished business can impact your future.
Don’t let outside forces like haters, doubters, or people who don’t have the vision you have slow you down.Goal Setting with Daymond John
11. The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin
Best for: Anyone who starts a conversation with “What’s your sign?”
Biggest takeaway: We all fit into one of Gretchen’s Four Tendencies, a personality framework that speaks to a person’s motivation for getting things done. How you approach goals may be different depending on your tendency. Are you an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel?
Bonus: Gretchen’s website has a free quiz to determine your type, and her podcast, Happier, explores each of the tendencies throughout several episodes. Start with Bonus Episode: A Deep Dive into the “Four Tendencies” Personality Framework.
12. Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals by Rachel Hollis
Best for: Women, those with lots of excuses
Biggest takeaway: Girls are raised to base success on the expectations of others. The trap of fitting in can create guilt and prevent women from seeking goals or cause them to give up altogether.
13. Powershift: Transform Any Situation, Close Any Deal, and Achieve Any Outcome by Daymond John
Best for: Those inspired to learn more from Daymond after completing his course
Biggest takeaway: We all have the ability to make any situation advantageous for ourselves—the challenge is to recognize and tap into that inner power.
📖 Planners to track your goals 📖
Personally, I’m a pen and paper devotee. The tactile motion of a hand stroking out a task or checking off a to-do is a motivating force for me. If you’re the same, or if “reduce screen time” was one of your resolutions, here are a few planners that go beyond a basic notebook or calendar.
14. Baronfig Clear Habit Journal
This journal was created in partnership with James Clear and is designed to work with his system (see Atomic Habits above). It also contains four toolkits, perforated trackers, and a quick start guide, in case you haven’t yet read the book.
15. Inkwell Press Productivity Co. Goal Setting Planner 360°
Buy inserts and covers separately so you can refill the cover of your planner each year and reduce waste. Buying the planner also gets you access to Inkwell’s Goal Setting Challenge on Facebook.
16. BestSelf Wall RoadMap
This is a simplified in-your-face goal tracker with space to track daily and weekly tasks that map you toward your goal. Hang it on the wall in a high-traffic spot for a daily motivational quote.
The only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.Michelle Obama
17. Free Period Press Habit Calendar
This is another wall calendar that tracks habits and has plenty of opportunities for highly satisfying checkmarks. The Habit Calendar is undated, so you can start your year in April or June instead of January.
18. Clementine Creative Essential Planning Kit
This kit is an economical option because it’s a digital product that you print yourself. There are 11 page templates, including a monthly planner, goals page, habit tracker, and to-do list. Just print, hole-punch, and pop into any binder (they’re already formatted to print on 8.5 x 11 paper).
19. Bullet Journal The Notebook
This one was recommended by several of my colleagues. Start with the book, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll, and use the notebook and companion app to implement your learnings. Bonus: check out our interview with Ryder on the Shopify Masters podcast.
Meet your goal of starting a business in 2021 and try Shopify free for 14 days
📺 TED Talks about about goals 📺
These bite-sized TED talks for entrepreneurs use entertaining anecdotes and personal experiences to illustrate the speakers’ own lessons about goal setting and success.
20. 5 ways to kill your dreams by Bel Pesce
Biggest takeaway: Reaching your goal is not a magical place where happiness is all around. It is a moment in time that passes. Enjoy the journey on the way there—every step of that journey offers something to learn or something to celebrate.
21. Why the secret to success is setting the right goals by John Doerr
Biggest takeaway: OKRs can be very successful tools for powering meaningful goals that have a strong “why.”
22. What’s your 200-year plan? by Raghava KK
Biggest takeaway: Forgetting is crucial to being idealistic—put an expiry date on your fears and past problems.
23. Try something new for 30 days by Matt Cutts
Biggest takeaway: If you want to make a change—no sugar, biking to work, taking up yoga—go whole hog and do it every day for 30 days.
24. What Bruce Lee can teach us about living fully by Shannon Lee
Biggest takeaway: “The how is the expression of our why in every what.” What are your values? How do they guide your approach to everything you do and aspire to do?
📱 Apps to track habits and goals 📱
In retrospect, testing 12 different goal tracking apps at once was fairly counterproductive. Rather than simplifying my life, the process added clutter—like 12 unique notifications to drink water every day. Here are my top picks (and those recommended by my colleagues). Choose the one—and I mean one—that’s best for your lifestyle.
What it is: a timer app you can tailor to habits. Set the length of time of the activity (say, yoga or working on your business plan), the length of breaks, and the number of intervals you want to complete within a set timeframe. A customizable alert indicates start and stop times of each interval.
Best for: Meditation, writing goals, working from home
What it is: A cleanly designed habit tracker that lets you set and monitor daily habits and visualize your progress in handy graphs. Three daily goals are available with the free version and unlimited goals with paid upgrade.
Best for: Those looking for a clean, simple solution to track day-to-day habits
What it is: This habit-tracking app slices your progress data in many ways and visualizes it as graphs, tracking your streaks and overall success. A social component adds relevant “discussions” to each goal page so you can swap tips with those with similar goals.
Best for: data lovers, those looking for community motivation
28. Goals Wizard
What it is: A journal-style app to help develop routines. A daily morning routine feature asks you to set your intention, add to-dos, and capture your thoughts, while the evening routine prompts you to reflect on your day.
Best for: Those motivated by intention-setting, journalers
To ask, ‘How do you do it?’ is already starting off on the wrong foot. When reaching for the stars, there does not have to be a ‘how’ if there is a big enough ‘why.’Criss Jami, poet
What it is: Another super-clean interface by the makers of Done that allows you to track daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals on the same screen with a simple one-tap function. Goals reset after each set timeframe.
Best for: Tracking longer goals (like number of books you want to read this year, or number of pages of your manuscript)
What it is: A to-do app for up to six tasks per day. Tasks can easily carry over to the next day if they end up uncompleted. How do you feel about your progress at the end of each day? Add a quick 140-character reflection right in the app.
Best for: “Someday” goals. These are captured in another part of the app and can be moved into your daily tasks when you’re ready to tackle them.
31. Way of Life
What it is: This app tracks daily completion of goals, helps develop habits, and displays your progress in graphs.
Best for: Those with lots of overlapping goals and tasks. Add tags and leave notes on each “journal” to help organize, find, and reflect on your goals.
🐦 Motivational tweets about goals 🐦
Sometimes, the best advice and inspiration comes from your carefully curated social feeds. Follow accounts of people or brands you admire or who embody your goals to get a hit of motivation every time you’re distracted by your phone.
32. Lizzo on never giving up
8 years of touring, giving out free tix to my undersold shows, sleepless nights in my car, losing my dad & giving up on music, playing shows for free beer & food w/ -32$ in my bank account, constantly writing songs, hearing ‘no’ but always saying ‘yes’— Feelin Good As Hell (@lizzo) November 25, 2019
Glad I never gave up. https://t.co/kgjH5NhXEh
33. Justin Su'a on being realistic
If you’re going to set high goals for yourself, you have to consider the lifestyle it’s going to require to achieve that goal. You can’t commit to the destination if you’re not willing to commit to the process required to get you there.— Justin Su'a (@Justinsua) January 9, 2020
34. Marie Forleo on setting intentions
Know your outcome. Be clear on your intention. Once you have clarity, let nothing stop you 💛🙌🏼 #goalsetting— Marie Forleo (@marieforleo) January 7, 2020
35. Aretha Grant on filtering the noise
36. Kay Tye on setting expectations
When you can’t achieve goals, it’s time to set expectations...— Kay Tye (@kaymtye) January 8, 2020
- Email is not a reliable way to contact me, but a good vessel for shuttling content to look up later.
- I will be totally present and give you my undivided attention when we meet. #GoalSetting
37. Daymond John on pivoting
In order to maximize your results and achieve your goals, you must be brave enough to step back, examine your successes and failures, and go back to the drawing board. #Powershift— Daymond John (@TheSharkDaymond) November 3, 2019
📝 More resources for achieving goals 📝
And then, there’s everything else. From the simplest tools to smart devices that track your habits, here are even more resources to help you put everything you’ve learned into practice.
38. Health trackers
Much of the content I absorbed for this list used fitness or health as examples, as they are common themes in goal setting, especially in the new year. Try a wearable health tracker like those made by Fitbit. (There’s even a version for your dog.)
39. Smart water bottles
Remembering to drink water is somehow a challenging task for many. Smart water bottles and their associated apps track your water consumption and send periodic reminders to drink up. Try HidrateSpark, Sippo Smart Cup, or the kid-friendly Gululu.
My colleagues sent surprising answers when I was crowdsourcing ideas for this list. Many recommended simply pen and paper. Corey uses plain notebooks and his own adaptation of the Bullet Journal system. “Writing it down by hand feels better than tapping it into a phone or app. There’s something tactile and cathartic about it,” he says.
Shuang also uses journals for her long-term planning and goal setting, but she opts for a whiteboard wall in her home office for daily reminders and rough drafts.
42. Post-it notes
Braveen uses Post-it notes, one per goal each week, and posts them on the bottom of his monitor where he can’t ignore them. “On Friday or the following Monday, I’ll crumple them up, which is highly satisfying,” he says.
What are your tried-and-true systems for setting and achieving your goals? Share them in the comments below.
Illustration by Alice Mollon