Five Tips for Goal-Setting in Chaos

Last updated: November 16, 2021
Estimated reading time: 3 min


When there is a lot going on in the world, your organization, or your personal life (or all three!), goal-setting can feel like an insurmountable task.

There is so much to do. Your staff, community members, students, and families are struggling. You made big promises about advancing racial equity and you need to deliver on them. You were supposed to start strategic planning yesterday. School is in session. You have an election to win. Where do you even begin to prioritize and plan?

The good news is that goal-setting doesn’t have to add to the chaos; it can help you move through it. When there’s immense change and uncertainty, goals can help you get clear on what’s most important and transform your intentions into concrete plans and action.

Here are some tips:

1. Find the North Star.

When there’s a lot going on, it can be easy to get lost in the galaxy—but find your North Star first. Take a deep breath, clear the clutter in your mind, and connect to your team’s purpose. What are the headlines of what your team needs to accomplish?

2. Seek perspective and surface assumptions.

Trust in your team’s collective wisdom. Reflect individually and with your team at all levels of the organization—especially with those most marginalized and those closest to the communities you aim to serve—on this question: “What do we assume to be true about the following year?” If you’ve already done scenario planning, you can pull assumptions from your scenario plans. Here are some things that might be on that list:

  • The office will remain closed.
  • We want to prioritize serving the most marginalized people in our community—that’s X and Y.
  • The legislature will have a regular session during X period and might have a special session during Y period.
  • Our funding levels will remain roughly the same, with a potential 10% increase.
  • We’ll have two vacancies on our operations team.

This exercise will smooth the path to goal-setting, like applying primer before painting. Establishing and aligning on a few knowns will help identify what is realistic (the “R” of SMARTIE!) while bringing in more perspectives.

3. Prioritize.

Identify the 3-5 most important things you need to achieve next year as an organization. Your goals will fall into a few broad categories, such as: programs (campaigns, student learning, projects, coalition work), people (hiring, staff development, leadership), fundraising and finances, and infrastructure (culture, internal systems, policies, and processes). Force yourself to prioritize by asking: What is the one thing we need to accomplish in this category to be successful?

4. Leave space in the suitcase.

The lighter your load, the more nimble you can be. Approach goal-setting as if you’re packing for a trip. If you’re bringing so much stuff that only a Tetris master can get your suitcase to close, you’ll have no room for souvenirs or emergency supplies, and you’ll end up jettisoning some items anyway. Prioritize just a few goals so you’ll have room to pursue emergent opportunities and respond to curveballs.

5. Let good enough be good enough.

There are two ways that you’ll need to resist perfectionism creeping into your goals. First, don’t spend months perfecting your goals down to the last word, metric, and footnote. Instead, give it your best shot, build in time to revisit them, and tweak as needed. Second, depending on your context and capacity, what felt realistic this year might feel incredibly ambitious next year. Acknowledge the places where success is just getting the thing done, and resist your urge to overachieve.


Want more? Check out these resources and offerings:

return to COVID-19 Resources main page return to Roles & Goals main page