3 approaches to setting timelines for goals

3 approaches to setting timelines for goals

March 23, 2024

Goal-setting is important. I won’t go into the details of how to set goals or why it’s important.

Here’s a cheesy quote about this…

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” Tony Robbins

Here’s another one…

“Begin with the end in mind.” — Stephen Covey

But when it comes to setting timelines for your goals, this is what trips most people up. 

I’ve learned there can be 3 ways to set timelines for your goals.

“I Want” approach.

“I Can” approach. 

“As long as it takes” approach. 


“I Want” approach.


Here’s a few examples of goals set with this approach (they’re inspired by what the conversations I have with other professionals):

“I want to have an online business that frees me from my 9-5 in the next 6 months.”

“I want to become a millionaire before 40.” 

“I want to open a school for underprivileged Muslim kids in the next 10 years.”

Let’s say that you have set a goal that is “Specific”, “Measurable”, “Achievable”, “Relevant”, and “Time-Bound”. You have been SMART. 

For example; “I want to have a $60K (measurable) online coaching business (specific) that frees me from my 9-5 (relevant) in the next 6 months (time-bound and Achievable).” 

Is the timeline achievable? “Person X, Person Y, and Person Z are like me and they have achieved this goal in this exact time frame”. So you tell yourself, why not? 

Here’s how I summarize this “I Want” approach:

  1. I want to do this
  2. Other people are doing this
  3. I will do this in this timeframe because I want to and because others have


When you set a goal and give it a timeline primarily focused on what you WANT, here’s what happens:

  1. You realize the goal is bigger and demands more work than you thought – your timeline doesn’t look long enough 
  2. You face unforeseen problems (like everyone else) – time is lost in trying to overcome the problems 
  3. You get stuck – time is lost in trying to figure out your next move 


But your deadline is hovering over you like an ominous sign of impending failure to achieve the goal in the timeline… 

“How did Person X, Person Y and Person Z achieve it in this timeframe?”

“If Person X did it, I can do it too! I just need to power through and work twice as hard to catch up!”

So what do you do?

How do you find the time you need to 1) catch up on learning and building skills needed to achieve the goal, 2) solve unforeseen problems, and 3) get unstuck


You take that time from other areas of your life. You start to feel overwhelmed all the time and start compromising Ibadah, me-time, and family time…

Your work time seeps through into the rest of your day until you’ve overworked. Again. 

You are being preached that you need to “power through” and work “twice as hard” to catch up with the financially successful Muslims. 



You extend the timeline and feel like a turtle, maybe even label yourself a “failure” who couldn’t achieve the goal in the “said” timeline…

Your self-esteem takes a hit when the goal looks like it will take you “5 years” instead of 5 months like you wanted – Oh, how could that happen! What am I doing wrong?!

Seems like a lose-lose situation, don’t you think?

And shockingly, this is how most people set goals! (I know I did for many years!)

Let’s try an alternative approach to setting your goals.


“I Can” approach. 


Let’s add to the previous example. 

Instead of setting a SMART goal based on your perception, let’s revise the goal using concrete data from your real life. 

This way of setting a goal would be first clearly drawing out your real life time and energy constraints:


  1. Here are my duties as a husband/wife/ parent that I can’t compromise on.
  2. This is how long all of my duties take, how tiring they are, and these are the time blocks in which I’m busy taking care of my duties.
  3. This is the time I’m left with to pursue my ambitions.


This approach gives you a much better chance of setting a realistic timeline for your goal. 

When your goal is “Time-bound” and has a “Realistic” timeline, you can pursue it while maintaining your state of equilibrium/ balance. 

This way, you can pursue your ambitious goal, without working yourself to the ground and without suffering from overwhelm all the time. 

That’s because you’ve left space in your timeline for:

  1. All the work it will take that you are underestimating because of your lack of experience in that goal (if you’re doing something for the first time, despite how much you read about it, you will likely be surprised at the type and amount of work it takes)
  2. Solving unforeseen problems without the pressure
  3. Giving yourself time to figure out your next move and get unstuck


Now let’s revise the goal with an extended timeline based on your unique constraints: 

For example; 

“I want to have a $60k online knowledge business that frees me from my 9-5 in the next 6 months.”

changes to… 

“I want to have a $60k online knowledge business that frees me from my 9-5 in the next 12 months.”

Now you believe you CAN achieve the goal in that timeframe if Allah SWT wills.

Proof – How “Realistic” the goal is has not been calculated based on what the industry says, or what Person X, Y, or Z did. 

It’s realistic because you have the potential for it and you can achieve it in that timeframe WITH your constraints. 

Here’s how I summarize this approach:

  1. These are my non-negotiable boundaries
  2. These are my time constraints based on my duties
  3. Here’s what I want to do
  4. I have this much spare time
  5. What can I achieve using this time and based on that, how long will it take me to achieve it?


I teach you how to design your weekly schedule step-by-step in Balance Deen and Dunya.

Now I love this second approach. It’s very useful as humans are result-oriented creatures. We don’t shy away from hard work and sacrificing personal comfort when we are focused on reaching a set goal under a predetermined timeline. We love proving things to ourselves. 

The world doesn’t talk about the behind-the-scenes process of struggle as much as it likes to talk about the end results people have achieved. 

And for good reason – the end destination has to be worth enduring the pain of the journey! 

Think of driving from your home to your dream destination. It’s a long journey that you’re undertaking. It might take months. But your life will be completely different when you reach the destination. So despite all the sleepless nights, uncomfortable travel, and doubting whether it’s worth it many times – you don’t stop. You must reach the destination. If you keep going at this speed you can reach it in your predetermined time frame. 

While this approach is extremely valuable in setting and achieving short-term goals, it can be pretty useless for staying motivated in your long-term goals (more than a year away). 


“As long as it takes” approach. 


Here’s 2 observations on the use of timelines in the Quran for motivating us towards the long-term goal of attaining Jannah [the final destination]:

Observation #1: Allah SWT has given no clear ‘timeline’ to achieve Jannah – the greatest ambition. The only timeline is the time until death. And since He SWT has not given any of us the information of when we will die, there’s no ‘measurable’ predetermined timeline (measurable by us, of course, Allah SWT has the measure of it). 

The opposite extreme would be to have no clear destination and only focus on the process.  

While focusing on the process is sound advice, that only works if you know where you’re going.

Plus, it’s not like there’s no destination in the Quran for Muslims – there is! 

Observation #2: Allah SWT has defined a clear visual in the Quran of our final destination. Jannah! He SWT describes it repeatedly in many places in the Quran.

The dream destination – Jannah – is a place of eternal living… Where you will be allowed to be your best version, have the best things, experience the best emotions, and do all things your heart desires.

Notice how the long-term dream destination is NOT a vague concept, it’s a clear end goal. 

So how do you apply these Quranic principles to setting timelines?

> Should you have no clear end-goal and solely focus on the process of becoming your best self every day?

> Or should you set a clear end-goal but don’t set a timeline for it?

I think we need a mixture of both. 

  • First, we define a clear end-goal and paint a clear visual of what the dream destination for that particular goal looks like.
  • You can certainly set a “dream timeline” that you would love to have (even the dream timeline can not be ridiculously unrealistic. It can be realistic or a little unrealistic.) 


But it’s important to detach your self-esteem/ joy from that dream timeline and remember that it’s Allah SWT who determines our timelines for everything. You can always make Duas over Tahajjud for that dream timeline. 

  • Then, we set the REAL timeline for the dream destination to be “As long as it takes/ To be Decided by Allah SWT”. 


Side note: you can only stay consistent in a long-term goal with no clear deadlines if your WHY for it is super strong! Make sure you have 100 reasons why you have picked that goal so that every time your motivation wavers, you are reminded of all the reasons why you NEED to do this!

  • Finally, we keep ourselves motivated daily by remembering that putting in the right effort TODAY will get us closer to attaining it at the right time predetermined by Allah SWT. 


Let’s apply these principles to the previous example. 

“I want to have a $60K online knowledge business that frees me from my 9-5 in the next 12 months”

…can become… 

“I want to build a $60K online knowledge business that frees me from my 9-5 in the next 12 months (realistic dream timeline). I want to become an expert coach entrepreneur in the next 2 years and have a 6-figure business that allows me to impact others with my potential (dreaming BIG and slightly unrealistic). But I leave the timeline up to the Qadr of Allah SWT and am in this for as long as it takes!”

How do you feel when you reframe your timelines? Excited? Relieved?

Isn’t this relieving? All you have to do is just start and leave the timelines to Allah SWT!

Let’s wrap this up with this conclusive hadith;

Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said to his wife Umm Habiba:
“Verily you have asked Allah about the duration of life already set, and the steps you would take, and the sustenance the share of which is fixed. Nothing will take place before its due time, and nothing will be deferred beyond when it is due.” 

Now remember – setting dream goals is pointless if it’s not followed by ACTION. 

“And that there is not for man except that [good] for which he strives” (Quran: 53:39 – Surah Najm (The Star)

I hope today’s newsletter will help you recalibrate some of your goal timelines and think BIG in terms of timelines. 

I enjoyed writing this newsletter, even though it gave me a little headache. 😀

I pray your Ramadan is going well and Allah SWT accepts all our good deeds in this Ramadan and forgives our shortcomings, Ameen.

🕋 Ayah of the Week

“He has certainly succeeded who purifies himself” (Quran: Al-A’la 87:14)


🕌 Hadith of the Week

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan due to faith and seeking reward, his previous sins will be forgiven. Whoever stands in prayer during the Night of Decree due to faith and seeking reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari 1901, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi)


🤲 Dua of the Week

رَبَّنَا لاَ تُزِغْ قُلُوبَنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنَا وَهَبْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّاب

“Rabbana la tuzigh quloobana ba’da idh hadaytana wahab lana min ladunka rahmah innaka antal Wahhab.”

“Our Lord, do not let our hearts deviate after You have guided us, and grant us mercy from Your presence. Indeed, You are the Bestower.”

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