How to set goals during the Coronavirus pandemic according to experts

Setting goals is hard enough when there is not a global pandemic going on. But while we all practice social distancing, it’s hard not to think, should I be doing more to improve myself or my life with all the extra time I have right now? 

It is important not to put too much pressure on yourself– after all, we are living through an unprecedented pandemic. But if you are feeling motivated to tackle new goals with the extra time you may have, you might need some help on how to start.

Ladders spoke to two experts at setting goals, Natalie Zfat and Dr. Jennifer Levine, New York City professionals whom both own their own businesses, to find out their top six tips for setting goals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Make an “If I had time” list

While you will want to make a list of goals eventually, that’s not what we are talking about yet. To start, you should make a list of everything you have been wanting to do if only you had the time. Whether you have wanted to start a garden, finish a certain book, or learn more about personal finance, feel free to add it to your list. While you might not get to all of it, this is an important first step in beginning to realize what you want to accomplish.

After your list is complete, go through and pick the most important or interesting things that you have been meaning to do. You should start with only one or two items so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

Include daily tasks in your plan

“Who knew that having groceries delivered and then laying them out on towels and Lysol-ing them…who knew that would be part of your life?” wondered Zfat.

It’s likely your daily tasks have been at least slightly altered due to the coronavirus outbreak. Whether you are cleaning your groceries, making your own meals, or helping your children navigate online learning, make sure you include these daily tasks in your plan to accomplish your goals. Building these things into your schedule will help you realize how much time you actually have to work towards your goals.

Stick to a schedule

Speaking of a plan, you also need to stick to a schedule during this time in order to increase productivity. You are probably sick of hearing this advice by now, but it’s repeated because it is so true. People are most productive when they stick to a schedule and hold themselves accountable.

“This idea that you working are in the place that you also have dinner, hang out on the couch and watch Netflix, and also the place where you spend the weekends and bum around..that can be a really dangerous thing for people who aren’t familiar with carving out a schedule to work from that same space,” Zfat said.

She recommends setting a start and end time for work, and sticking to your work schedule within those parameters. She also recommends that you build breaks into your schedule so you don’t end up working too much or taking too long of breaks. If you have goals that are unrelated to work, set aside a specific block of time to work on those- one that is clearly built into your schedule after work hours.

Focus your goals on what you can actually do right now

“What’s interesting is that the things that used to be urgent are now very much nonexistent,” Zfat said, mentioning she used to have appointments for various things built into her agenda.

“That’s all over in terms of what we feel confident and safe doing,” Zfat said. “What I’m doing now is a little bit more about things I have been putting off for the more ‘urgent’ items, but now I realize are actually the ones that are going to help my business the most.”

Take a look at things that you have been burying at the bottom of your agenda. Can any of these things be done at home or online? Now is the time to tackle those items.

Break up long-term goals into short-term goals

The oldest trick in the book for getting started it to start small. When goals seem too large to tackle, breaking them into smaller goals and actions is the sure-fire way to get started.

“I have a pad that has five days on it. So I’ll say, ‘Okay, what am I doing in these five days?’ After I map that out then I’m able to figure out what I want to do in a month,” Levine said. “Right now since we’re all under such enormous stress, it’s easier to take it in smaller bight-sized pieces.”

Reaching a long-term goal is only possible by hitting a bunch of short-term goals.

“Sometimes it’s insurmountable to think about what this goal could be,”Levine said. “The most important things is to start with an action.”

Once you put an initial action into motion, it’s easier to see the next steps. You can plan all you want, but only by taking actions will you begin to see progress.

Finally, be cautiously optimistic when setting goals

“We all know of the horrors and the downsides here, but we know that we are eventually going to emerge from this,” Levine said.

If you are able to not succumb to the fear and use this time to work towards your goals, learn a new skill, or participate in an activity you haven’t had time for in a while, that’s great.

“I encourage anyone who feels that drive to try something new and really immerse themselves in a project to pursue it,” Zfat said. “That said, if you are someone who is not feeling inspired right now and you don’t want to learn how to play the violin or write a book or start a podcast, that’s okay, too.”

Part of being realistic is knowing that even with a plan and a schedule, you might not get everything done.

“Like a lot of social media professionals, I publish my daily agenda a couple of times a week and I get a lot of questions like ‘Hey, there are so many things on there, how many did you actually do?” Zfat said. “So I said, ‘I’ll be honest, I did six out of 10. Seven out of 10 on a good day. It’s not everything. I think that’s a really important thing to show is that we are doing our best. I have big dreams, like everyone else. Sometimes I achieve them. But most of the time I achieve 60 to 70% of them in a day.”