The new year has begun, and this is always a period of time when I do a lot of thinking about the 12 months to come and what I hope to achieve during that time. The new year is the perfect time to reboot our thinking and focus on a concrete set of goals. Everybody has hopes and dreams, but setting goals forces one to add deadlines, quantities and accountability to those dreams.
In this post, I will share my method for goal setting, refined and simplified after years of experimentation. It isn’t perfect, but it works for me. Let’s get started.
Step 1: Generation
I begin by generally thinking about what I hope to achieve in the year, and let my mind run wild. I don’t want to restrain my thought process into thinking of only “realistic” or “important” things, as this hampers one’s creative ability. Goals should be deeply emotional, as emotion leads to drive and motivation. I write down the first thoughts that come to my head, in no particular order. These aren’t necessarily remarkable or fantastical, but rather just things that I know I want to accomplish in the year ahead. Here are a few typical examples:
- Grow company revenue to X
- Close X,Y key deals/partnerships
- Become a better connector
- Go on holiday to an island for a week
- Get leaner and healthier
- Save/invest X amount of cash
Even seemingly strange, less important goals that come from an emotional place should be captured at this stage, for example:
- Learn to dance salsa
- Learn a foreign language
- Try Yoga
- Read up on a particular topic of interest
- Cook a great dinner for my family/friends
Once completed, I usually end up with a list of 15 or so items that get me really jazzed up when I review them. I know that a goal is a good one when I can read it, close my eyes and the thought of achieving it makes me feel genuinely happy and excited. If a goal doesn’t begin from that point of inner hope and belief, it would probably be very hard to stick to and follow over an entire year (and why would you be going after it anyway?)
Step 2: Categorization
In the next step, I try to find any blank spots in my plan, so I take a top down view of my important life areas and write them down as categories. These are:
- Health & Body
- Mind/mental stimulation
- Personal Finance
I then place each item from my original list under the appropriate category. If any category is left blank, I take the time to generate a goal to fall under it, and make sure it passes the emotional relevance test.
Step 3: Quantification
This is the part where the wording and structure of each goal is analyized. It is imperative that every goal starts with a verb (to inspire action), and is specific and measurable.
For example, using this approach I would rewrite two of the example goals generated in Step 1 in the following way:
- Original statement: Get leaner and healthier
- New statement: Lose 10kg to weigh X.
- Or, even better: Reduce waist to 28” at 7% body fat with defined abs.
- Original statement: Learn to dance salsa.
- New statement: Become an intermediate grade level salsa dancer.
Notice how adding specific detail to the goal clarifies the picture and makes it easier to measure success. While some of the goals I generated in Step 1 would be perfectly fine as is, I go through the entire list and rewrite the ones that are too vague. This process also forces me to add a reality check to my emotional dream, i.e. to go after something that I truly believe is attainable within the time frame of one year.
Step 4: Refinement
Now, I have a list of 15 or so goals that are highly specific, get me genuinely excited when I think about achieving them, and are categorized into 5 or 6 areas.
As this is a list that I would need to read often and memorize, I have learnt from experience that the life categories become a hinderence to that process and need to be dropped. Instead, all goals are sifted into two lists: Professional, and Personal. Stuff that helps my career move forward is Professional. Everything else is personal by default.
Next- and this is the hard part- the list actually needs to be pruned a bit. Trying to store a list of 15 items in your head is difficult at best, and having too many goals can also take away from the sense of importance that the list is designed to generate. To combat this, I force myself to prioritize the goals in each category, and elimate a few until I am left with a very strong set of 10 goals. (OK, this year I cheated and went with 12). Ideally, these should be equally split between Professional and Personal targets, or at most one could have 1-2 more of the one type over the other.
That’s it! From the initial session, along with two subsequent reviews to double check that I am 100% satisfied with the list, my time investment is usually around 2 hours.
Step 5: Creating Commitment
It’s no good to do this exercise, write down your goals, and then forget about them. I believe that constant revision and interim goal setting is absolutely necessary to stay on track.
So, armed with the list of annual goals, it’s time to break them down into 60-90 day “short term” goal setting periods, depending on what makes more sense for me at that time (usually, I go after 90 day periods). So for example, I would create a “3 Month Goals” list, that would re-analyze my annual list, pick what is most important for the next 3 months (not all goals need be on it), and reframe them into achievable milestones. To continue from the example above:
- Annual goal: Reduce waist to 28” at 7% body fat
- 3 month goal: Reduce waist to 32” at 12% body fat
- Annual goal: Become intermediate grade level salsa dancer
- 3 month goal: Start weekly salsa classes and memorize beginner steps
The “short term” list should always contain less items than the annual list (e.g. 6-9); this breeds greater focus on a few important things. Moreover, having a “short term” list allows me to reward myself at more frequent intervals throughout the year if and when I achieve a target, and ultimately keeps me on track to those big, exciting, annual goals.
Once I have finalized my “Annual” and “Short Term” goal list, I write it down somewhere that’s easy to recall, such as putting a note in my bedside drawer and having an electronic copy on my phone. Upon waking every morning and before going to bed each night, I read through the list and briefly visualize the outcome of each target. This process ensures that my goals are top of mind and that I can’t ignore them. This is a seriously motivating force.
Okay, perhaps this method is not exactly simple (and it will improve with time), but I think it works for me. What are your thoughts on my approach?
Good luck with your goal setting and all the best for 2013!