What to Do When You’re Not on Track to Meet Your Goals

Stephanie Wasylyk
6 min readNov 13, 2023

In the Northern Hemisphere, September is often a time of reckoning: school starts back up, new habits are declared, and we re-look at our goals. For small business owners who set goals back in January, September is crunch time. After a summer of working as little as possible, it’s time to get back to a routine, which includes taking stock of where your business is, so you know what to do next.

Unfortunately for many people, me included, September might mean facing the reality that we’re not on track to reach our goals for the year. This realization can come with an array of emotions including disappointment, fear, frustration, and inadequacy.

I know I’m making a big assumption here that you in fact did set goals in January (most people don’t), and that you are tracking your progress on your way to reaching those goals (even fewer people do that), but even if you didn’t set goals, you still may be feeling like you aren’t where you thought you’d be by this time of the year. Regardless of if you set goals or not, most business owners feel perpetually behind and like they’re playing catch-up, so it’s likely you can relate to not being on track.

First you should know, like the birth of many of these articles, I’m speaking from personal experience this year (and many other years). Despite having a solid plan, despite tracking my numbers, despite taking consistent action each week, I’m not on track to meet my financial goal this year. I knew a few months ago that I wasn’t keeping pace with my target, but then summer came and went in a blur, and I hardly had time to catch my breath, let alone troubleshoot my business, so now I’m facing reality much later than I wish I had. In today’s article I’m going to walk you through my thought process as I approach the last quarter of the year on the back foot.

Regardless of what path we took to get here, where do we go now? There are only a few months left in the year, and it’s looking less and less likely that we’re going to end the year where we thought we would. Let’s explore our options together.

Acknowledge the Emotions

Take some time to process your emotions around this. I’ll be the first to admit that this is something I usually don’t do well, but this time I’ve done a better job of sharing my emotions and allowing myself to feel them rather than just diving in to working harder. In my interview with Daniela Hofmann she shares a technique for non-linear movement that is pretty cool, and my colleague Laura Perkins is brilliant at guiding me through this every time it comes up. Here’s a great article of Laura’s to start with.

Is this a pattern?

Sometimes there are tough years, sure. Things don’t go as planned. However, I have seen many people get very stuck on a hamster wheel of success, where nothing is ever good enough. They keep striving and think life will be better when they reach a particular milestone, only to find that nothing really changes. This is not what we’re talking about today. If you’re noticing this to be your pattern, read some of my colleague Susan Doerksen Castro’s articles all about redefining success. They’re the gentle hug you need to start a new path.

Check Your Math

Before you go into panic-mode, do some quick math. How far off from your goal are you really? It’s easy to skip this part and just use your intuition, but I have found that intuition is very bad at math. Our intuition makes all sorts of rounding errors and completely exaggerates numbers in both directions. Hope is also terrible at math. Take the time to track down the real numbers, write them down, and see what it would actually take to reach your goal. It’s much better to know now and it will inform the rest of your decisions.

Uncover the Real Problem

This is the hardest part and may require you to get some outside perspectives. Before you can move forward, it’s worth digging deep and figuring out what the actual problem is.

  • Was your goal unreasonable or unrealistic compared to your strategy to get there? Did you just guess at a goal that sounded good? Did someone else encourage you to set that goal? It’s possible that a lower goal is actually perfectly fine and probably what you should have set in the first place, and maybe everything is on track for that.
  • Was your strategy to reach the goal realistic? Was it the right strategy? Was it effective? Sometimes the goal is fine but the strategy to reach the goal was faulty. I think this was my problem this year; my goal was reasonable, but my strategy didn’t involve growing my reach or visibility.
  • Did you follow your plan? If it was reasonable and it would have been effective, did you take the action to make it happen? Where did you get off track? What got in your way of executing the plan?
  • Was self-doubt a factor? Self-doubt could have caused you to set an unreasonable plan or strategy in the first place, and it could have also prevented you from taking the required action.
  • Do you just need more time? It’s possible that you’ve spent the whole year until now preparing, and picking up momentum, and it will all pay off in the last few months of the year. Do you just need to stick to the plan and be patient?

Make a Pivot Plan

If you’ve checked the math and revisited your goal and you still aren’t on track to reach it, then it’s time to revise your plan. I don’t think you should pivot in desperation, however you might need to take some steps you weren’t expecting. If it’s a financial goal, where else can you find the money you need, even if it’s not through the main services of your business? Who do you need help from? Is there someone you could collaborate with to get results faster? Where should you reassign your time and energy? What projects need to be put on hold while you work towards the goal?

Importantly, take some time to remember your values as you come up with a plan to pivot. I would never suggest you compromise your core values to reach your goal at all costs. This is more about getting creative and resourceful as you aim to finish the year strong.

Get to Work

I’m not gonna sugar-coat it…it might take a little more work and focus to reach your goals now. In my case I’m staying as focused as possible and making sure that I use my allocated work time to work. That said, it’s never a good idea to push yourself so hard you burn out. Not only is that completely against everything I talk about, but that will inevitably set you back even worse than you are now. And even if you meet your goal this year, you’ll be starting next year from a depleted place.

Instead, I’ll be starting by making a courage-based plan (like a to-do list, but better!) I’ll continue to use time blocking to make sure I have enough time in the week to take action on my plan, and I’ll keep up with my weekly content schedule, but I’ll also pursue the other ways I can reach my goal, even if they aren’t what I was originally planning.

We’re all in this together, figuring it out as we go along, and I hope this gives you permission to revisit how things are going and pivot to get to where you want to go.

Key takeaways:

  • It’s okay if you’re not on track to reach your goals for the year. The important part is to acknowledge it now so you can do something about it.
  • Check your numbers instead of guessing so you have concrete information to go on
  • Review what didn’t work and what has prevented you from reaching your goal so far
  • Make a plan to get as close as you can to your goal (without burning yourself out), even if it includes some outside-of-the-box ideas that weren’t in your original strategy

Looking for an alternative to the mainstream business advice you read online? Stephanie gives you practical guidance to do business on your own terms. No nonsense, thorough, and immediately useful, these weekly emails cut to the chase of what you really need to succeed without compromising your values or working yourself into the ground. To get articles and behind-the-scenes business insights delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to her weekly Permission Slips here.

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