Getting Started: Setting Effective Goals

Welcome to Little Farm in the Alberta Foothills’ first blog post!

I will be sharing more specifically our 2017 personal homesteading and farm goals in my next blog post, but today I would like to talk a little bit about goal setting and planning in general and how you can get started with yours! I bet I know what you’re thinking when you see the words “goal setting”! You are either thinking “that sounds like a pointless exercise, why bother!” or “goal setting is difficult and I’ll never end up doing the things I said I would do anyway!” I know this because I used to feel this way myself. Just hear me out….

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Getting started with anything new can seem doggone daunting sometimes! Work through the ruff stuff and you will be rewarded.

When it comes to the farm we have come to appreciate the value of planning and goal setting. In fact, I would say that it is an imperative step on your road to success! Remember that at any point in the process you can readjust your mission, redefine what is important to you, or completely scrap the old plan in favour of a new one. Your plans do not need to be anything fancy or elaborate. If they make sense to you and help to keep you focused, motivated, and on track that is all that matters! Many of our Little Farm projects have started as a rough sketch on a scrap piece of paper with a few point form notes and have evolved into a final product that we can be proud of.

Goal Setting: Getting Started

I encourage you to start somewhere, with whatever you have right now! You do not need to possess several acres of property, expensive farming equipment, and infrastructure to house large livestock in order to begin becoming more self sufficient. Even if you do not have a backyard you can still get started! For example, many urban centres have community gardens for people to grow their own produce. Other areas offer courses relating to homesteading such as apiculture (beekeeping) or at-home first aid. You can also find many other valuable resources and support online.

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Lovely words written by my childhood heroine.

When defining goals and making plans it is very important to first identify your vision (where do you want to end up in the short, medium, and long term?) and values (what is important to you? how would you like to live your life?). There is no point in focusing on projects that are not contributing to your vision and values. We have a broad vision in mind for our farm. Independence, self- sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and healthy living (mentally and physically) are the most important outcomes we hope to achieve.

Each year we have discussions about what is important to us and from there we can define the tasks and projects we wish to focus on for that year. I jot down ideas in a notebook to keep track of our brainstorming and from there I often edit and rewrite the plan several times to make a reasonably polished draft that we can refer to. Point form notes are just fine – in fact, the more clear and concise, the better! We also break down our tasks into a rough timeline based on our availability, budget, and the seasons so that we can follow week by week and month by month which projects we plan to focus on as we go along.

Your homesteading goals cannot and will not be achieved overnight. It is important to take things slowly, especially at first. It is easy to get excited and overly optimistic in the beginning but taking on too much at once will likely cause you to feel overwhelmed and unsuccessful. It is simply not practical to try starting everything at once. Perhaps you’d like to begin with keeping a few hens for eggs and a small garden or compost bin. Or maybe you would like to reduce your household waste. By setting small, realistic, achievable, clearly defined goals you will set yourself up for success! Master one or two things at a time and from there you can decide what is next in your homesteading journey.

Be sure to start small with your short term goals but remember that you can also begin thinking about and writing down your medium and long term goals as well. Doing this will help to keep you focused and on the right track as you will have an idea of where you would like to end up and a plan for how to get there! Goals can also be action-based or learning-based. For example, “Build a greenhouse” is action based and “Learn to knit” is learning based. Try to include both types of goals in your strategies as a way to diversify your approach to farming and homesteading.

How to Set Effective Goals – The 3S Approach

While planning this blog post I began to think about how to effectively set goals. I came up with a “3S” approach – Specify, Simplify, and Satisfy which you might find helpful. There is no right or wrong approach to goal setting but it helps to begin the process purposefully. Let me explain:specifysimplifysatisfy

Specify – By saying this I mean that it can be very helpful to quantify your goals. Be specific (where applicable) about your numbers – time, cost, inputs (ie. how many square feet of carrot seed you intend to plant), and outputs (ie. how many pounds of carrots you want to store for the winter). If you do not wish to be this detailed, you can stick with time, costs, and materials needed. Keep records so you have something to refer to in the coming years as you continue to plan and take notes to help you remember what worked and what did not. Don’t forget that it is perfectly fine to adjust your plans and strategies as you progress! You can be both flexible while staying on track simultaneously.

You can also clarify how you are going to work toward your broader goals. For example, if one of your goals is “Reduce the amount of money spent on groceries for the household by x (amount of $)” it is a great idea to jot down some strategies of how you will achieve this and what cost saving measures you are going to implement such as: “Learn to grow carrots, potatoes, onions, and peas to save money during this year’s growing season” and “Prepare all of the household meals at home and eat out only on special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries”, etc. The more you can plan and strategize the more successful you are likely to be. You can take this concept one step further and – for example in the scenario given – plan other grocery bill cost saving measures you intend to implement in the future as part of your medium and long term goal setting.

By being specific about what you are setting out to achieve you will have an easier time evaluating your success at the end of the day. You can compare the intentions and expectations you have outlined during each stage of the goal setting process to the results you begin to see as your dreams become a reality over the short, medium, and long term.

Simplify – Sometimes it can be easy to become bogged down when you are looking at the whole picture and this can get discouraging. How in the world will you ever have enough time, money, and know-how to get where you want to be? Believe me, we have had these worries and fears, and we still sometimes have them! At times, this journey can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. Don’t hold yourself back by doubts. Just dig in and start – don’t concern yourself with the idea of failure; accept that not everything you take on will be a success. It is helpful to begin by breaking your tasks and areas of focus into smaller and less daunting pieces! Keep it simple, especially in the beginning. Remember: you want to set yourself up for success, so don’t “bite off more than you can chew”. Again, as mentioned earlier, start small and build from that starting point – define those short, medium, and long term goals and the tasks and action items that will help you to get to each point in the process.

Regardless of how small, every accomplishment or achievement is a step in the right direction. Try to focus on the positives of what you have already done rather than the things you have yet to tackle on the to-do list. No matter how much you do, there will always be more to do and learn – so don’t get burned out! Make sure your goals are achievable. It is better to set simple and realistic goals that you know you can achieve than to set yourself up for disappointment. Try not to compare what you are doing to others around you or to those you see in the media or online.

Satisfy – To me, it is important to make sure that your goals and activities provide you with a sense of fulfillment. It is up to you to decide what exactly will bring you pride and satisfaction – but it is important to identify exactly why you want to live a certain way! Take time to enjoy your successes and congratulate yourself for a job well done. I think that these “feel good” rewards are the best motivator in the goal setting process. For example, perhaps you want to spend more time with your family by spending more time working toward your homesteading goals. Or maybe you find it deeply satisfying to grow your own produce and reap the rewards of your hard work. These outcomes are deeply personal but very important! Why waste time and hard work on activities that do not bring you personal gratification or improve your quality of life in a meaningful way?

A great example of “satisfy” – last summer one of my goals was to cook a meal entirely by using ingredients we had grown ourselves at Willow Lane Farm. In August, we did just that – enjoying and celebrating a supper of one of our very own chickens and some of our delicious fresh garden produce. We found the experience to be very fulfilling and we took great pride in achieving something so simple yet symbolic.

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So there you have it! My two cents on planning and goal setting for the small farm and homestead. Remember: you will find your own effective methods and preferred strategies as you go along and you will gain confidence with what you are doing. Just don’t be afraid to get started! Good luck and happy homesteading! 🙂


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