There seems to be a common misconception that once you’ve set a goal it’s a rigid, unmovable stone that’s located way out along the horizon with only one available path to be taken in order to get there. The problem with this idea is that it doesn’t allow much room for the reality of daily life with all the issues or unforeseen opportunities that may come your way.
In the past when I set goals, I would create a structured routine and it would inevitably lead to frustration when the tasks weren’t met within the timeframe I designated. More often than not I would get stuck on the “right” way to complete the milestones. Over time I’ve come to realize that being inflexible and getting stuck on only one way to reach those milestones is the opposite of what I needed to do.
Flexible goals in practice and strategy
Setting flexible goals is about adopting a mindset that there’s more than one path that can be taken to reach them. Ignore rigid guidelines and plans. Rather, set your goals and focus on the most decisive steps towards achieving them, while also being flexible in your responses when adversity arises. Working this way provides a loose outline to achieve your objectives while allowing yourself the agility to change your direction and approach.
You are not able to control every factor that may have an impact on completing your goals.
In my case, my health was a major unpredictable factor in my first years of self employment. My goals of growing my portfolio of artwork, marketing myself, and acquiring new clients wasn’t something I was able to fully work towards at first. I needed lots of breaks and a shorter work day with lots of self care.
However, over time I started to recognize a pattern that when I picked up where I left off as soon as I was able, I was still completing most if not all of my milestones I set out for myself. It was just at a slower pace and sometimes off the path I had originally thought it would take to finish.
Benefits of integrating flexible goals
- Flexibility makes way for adapting, offering spontaneity, and the ability to handle issues as they arise.
- It allows for changes in tastes, preferences, and trends; preventing boredom and keeping your work relevant for the markets you are working in or pitching to.
- Studies indicate that flexible work helps people be more productive. Knowing this provides a solid argument that it accelerates productivity and allows you to have more growth and development.
- You’ll have greater work-life balance by allowing yourself to catch your breath instead of indulging in productive procrastination or creative burnout.
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How to set your own flexible goals
Define your markets and themes you’ll need to create for your portfolio. This will determine your target audience and help in figuring out the content you will need to create to help meet their needs — Shannon’s Portfolio Masterclass helps surface designers do just that.
This’ll be different depending on who your target audience is but it might be the art you create, the educational content you develop, or the channels you use to market your work. Once you’ve defined these items, you’ll have your basic outline and it will be about utilizing your skills and ability to adjust when there are setbacks.
Thinking about the possible challenges you might face is a good way of preparing yourself while setting goals. However, it would be good to keep in mind that the future is not predictable and it would be best to ultimately take deliberate steps towards your goal with an open mindset.
Flexible goals in practice
Once you’ve created your framework for your goals, monitor and keep track of them. Set a schedule for evaluating your goals whether monthly, quarterly or yearly. It may seem contradictory but I’ve found utilizing all three schedules when evaluating is best for allowing the most flexibility for changes that may occur.
Remember, being flexible isn’t the same as ignoring your plan.
Also, think of how you will measure your success. Some examples to measure success are using a spreadsheet program to track the number of portfolio pieces you complete throughout the year — like Airtable (affiliate link) — or recording your monthly income to trace the income goal you set for yourself. Another typical way of gauging success is to record and check off key tasks you’ll need to complete to reach your milestones.
The key to remember when measuring your goals is to be strategic by adapting them to the changing environment. For example, a big creative goal of mine has been to exhibit at a trade show but when the pandemic hit in 2020 it put this goal on hold for a while.
However, last year I decided to attend a virtual trade show and reached out to the attendee list to introduce myself. And this year I have exhibited virtually twice. Now I’m planning on exhibiting in person next year, which I wasn’t anticipating at all with all the uncertainty about in person trade shows in response to the pandemic.
The ability to adapt to changes in your creative business that are outside of your control is an essential part of fulfilling your goals. It’s not in our best interest to fixate on what we perceive as the one correct way of doing things.
We all have different needs, circumstances, and sets of skills. It’s about our ability to use our skills to adapt and continue taking the steps needed to complete the goals we set out for our creative business.
Written by Cody Alice Moore
Cody is an illustrator & surface designer with 16 years of experience. Cody discovered surface design while working as an art buyer for a national photo lab. Since 2019, she has been creating art full-time for her budding portfolio & growing collection of licensed designs.