Goal-planning with pen and paper Goal-planning with pen and paper

Making objectives and writing them down in a notebook helps set a clear path to reaching them.

Medical Advisor Gina Margarita Ustariz – Psychologist, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare

Every day in the digital world, new programs are developed that help us to organize our activities: Excel (a tool that is simple and known to many) or applications such as Nozbe, Omni Focus, Wunderlist, Google Calendar and even Siri, among many others. Going back to pen and paper is more common than what we think, however, not only because writing by hand allows us to more easily remember and clarify our lines of thought in a more organized manner, but because each page of the notebook that is used can be personalized, making it a more enjoyable experience.

From a psychological point of view -and when it comes to actually achieving goals- it is very important to set short, medium and long-term goals; as it is a way of mapping out where you want to go and how you want to get there, asserts psychologist Gina Margarita Ustariz. Ustariz is a specialist in clinical psychology and group therapy at institutions and works at Coomeva Private Healthcare at the campamento de Mushaisa in Cerrejón.

Writing goals down in a journal or planner also helps observe their progress and helps you to write down what you feel after you accomplish or do not accomplish a goal, “This acts as an emotional release similar how a journal works. In addition to being a way to plan, it is a way to reorganize my day, how I feel, how I am going to do what I have planned; which will help motivate me to achieve these goals and analyze the circumstances of why some goals are not met. It helps me reconsider why some have been left behind and what is preventing me from seeing them through… I can analyze myself and evaluate my resistance to change, among other things, allowing me to detect if I’m procrastinating and helping me to avoid it.”

The benefit pen and paper has over technology, according to Ustariz, is that it is a good exercise, neuropsychologically speaking, “Without discrediting the convenience of technological tools, this type of planning opens up spaces that allow you to do things, it allows you to write, to plan in your own style and express yourself how you want to.”

When you do the exercise of observing, thinking, organizing and writing, more neuropsychological functions become involved such as attention, imagination, memory, making plans, concentration. This action is your motor and brings what you think together with what you write down, it also helps you to retain what you write. Essentially, you use more of your senses when you use pen and paper.


Goal-setting sometimes depends on a person’s age. For example, college students may have a short-term goal of passing their exams and a long-term goal of successfully completing their degree. If their goals are written in a notebook, they can update them and organize their study time in order to achieve them to satisfaction.

The main rule for setting goals is to make them measurable and quantifiable, because if you set a goal you cannot measure, this takes away objectivity. This is also important in order to learn something from them and evaluate your efforts when you achieve them. To make a measurable goal, you need numbers: a deadline, an exact amount of what you want to earn, or specifically describing what you want with numbers. “For example, ‘Buy a house with two bedrooms, a garage, etc.,’ or ‘I want to save seven thousand dollars;’ things that can be measured in order for them to be examined,” the psychologist says.

Creative goal-setting alternatives

The Bullet Journal

This is one of the strategies for schedule activities that is becoming more common lately. The idea is to take a moment at the beginning of your day to review your main goals and objectives, and another at the end of the day to evaluate your performance. As you go, include inspiring quotes that motivate you to complete a task or that reassert your effort to complete them.

How can you make one?

There are many tutorials available online that can give you an idea of how to do it. Even the tutorial of the official creator of the Bullet Journal system, Ryder Carrol, is available online. Carrol explains how it works in detail on her website, http://bulletjournal.com. The following are few tips:

  • It is best if you can have a notebook or notepad that has bullet points. A book with lined paper or graph paper also helps to organize the space. It is essential to number the pages in order to index the main contents of your planner such as with annual, monthly and weekly calendars. It is also important to create specific lists of your pursuits such as a workout routine or reading plan, among others. And even though you already have a goal, you can always change it to fit your needs with this system.
  • Prior to organizing the pages, know what you want to include in your planner. Make a yearlong calendar for writing your long-term goals in, make a vertical monthly one for your monthly activities that faces a page with the lists of the things that have yet to be scheduled. Also, separate your activities by week to better oversee them.
  • Using colored pens or thin markers also aid in this task, especially when tracking your routines over time and watching your progress.
  • Design and or use icons, codes or bullet points to place before each task, objective, goal, note, activity, event or idea in order to mark whether they are pending or have been completed, delegated, postponed or migrated to another day. This will help you evaluate how much you procrastinate.
  • Identify your objectives and separate them into tasks that can be arranged or scheduled by date, and if necessary, by hour. Select what your priorities are: what is important or not, and what is urgent or not. This will help you establish your priorities.
  • Write short phrases and keywords along with the numbers that you establish, if applicable, to better identify them. Be creative when trying to use motivational quotes and convey the feelings that arise when goals and other tasks are met or not met.
  • Personalize your planner by decorating it: use ribbon, different designs for each week, colors, or even leave it plain and simple. Everyone is free to design it how they see fit and in a way that matches their personality or goals.

Other methods


It is also common to see traditional whiteboards or corkboards divided into weeks that use Post-its with the tasks to be completed. In offices or workplaces, these types of boards are used to make the short-term tasks and goals of employees visible, acting as a type of reminder. People also use corkboards to pin up photographs of their favorite memories or letters and quotes written by their friends or loved ones. “They can be put in your room and you can use them to post and assess the goals you have and have not achieved. It’s not as organized as a Bullet Journal, but it is a little more flexible,” says Ustariz.

Dream mapping

Dream maps are ways to display pictures of the trips you want to take or of the things you want to have. They can be similar to the mentioned goal-setting methods as long as they are objective, realistic, and measurable and allow for the planning of more strategies.

The main recommendation that is always given is to just start, without being afraid of doing it the right or wrong way, just do it. Things become more fine-tuned in the mapping process, as it improves your strategy for designing your planner by providing new tools to help you organize, and helps eliminate those that are not helpful. The important thing is to have the motivation to start and the discipline to continue on and evaluate your map regularly. Be flexible with yourself as you set your goals or objectives so that your stubbornness does not make you suffer.