Here we are several weeks into January 2015, and this is typically the time when New Years resolutions start to taper off. As most goal setting experts share, the gyms are crowded the first week of January as resolutions are set, but by the end of the month, the gyms are empty again. Why? Because we don’t set our goals properly, commitments are not made to last and quite frankly, life gets in the way and we drift back to our comfort zones. The changes are not lasting.
I am a goal setting fan – and yes, I do my own little resolution exercise each year. I write out my reflections of the past year and projections for the upcoming year. I love the possibilities of what I can attain and the New Year provides the clean slate. It’s the excitement of the possibilities that fuel this yearly exercise of dreaming big. Ah, the possibilities – the opportunity! I list out my big dreams for the year, look over my list with pride and then… well… I go about my business while trying to keep in mind these goals that I must start working on. Last year, I came up with some major goals and I hit less than 25% of them. OK, that’s 25% further than where I was at the beginning of the year, but why didn’t I see a bigger hit rate? This post will delve into the lessons I’ve learned about goal setting and lay out an approach that will hopefully enable my success rate to be much higher this year.
Some goal setting advice seems like common knowledge. We all know the need to write down our goals. Experts have said that when we write them down, we have a significantly greater chance of completing them. We also know we need to be specific and set a time line. The acronym SMART has been listed by many as sound criteria for our goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. And the goals should be broken down into the major areas of our lives: Health, Career, Financial, Family, Spiritual, Personal Development and Recreation. There are so many goal setting books, articles and courses that delve into each of these guidelines that I won’t elaborate on them further. What I will share is the different approach I’m taking this year.
With all the ambition and confidence I start each year with, I fail to do two major things: Keep my target list in front of me and break down each goal into smaller steps. So… the strategy listed below outlines a very logical way of resolving both shortcomings.
1. One year goals
First, list out all your wildly ambitious goals for the entire year and review them regularly. Unlike last year when I typed my goals out, I hardly looked at them throughout the year. One of my goals was to read 10 books. It was mid-way through the year when I realized I had forgotten about this goal and I had only then read my first book. Not the way to stay on track. The next three steps will help to keep these goals visible.
2. 90 day goals
After you make your list of goals for the year, break them down into 90-day goals. For each of your major goals, determine how much progress you need to make in the next three months to stay on track to complete the goals in one year. If my goal is to read 20 books, I determine I need to read 5 books within the first quarter of the year. If a goal is an achievement, such as a certification, I calculate a measurable amount of the overall achievement I need to complete within that time frame. If my goal is to achieve a CCNP certification, I will make two of the four required exams my goal for that 90 day period.
3. Weekly goals
With the 90-day goals listed out, then break them down into weekly goals. Each 90-day period has roughly 13 weeks. Estimate how much you need to complete each week in order to achieve the 90-day goals. For example, reading 5 books in 90 days means reading over a third of a book each week. For a certification goal, I’ll determine how many chapters in a book to read or how many points on the exam blue print I need to knock out.
Then, for each week, schedule time the day before the start of the week to write out the goals for the upcoming week. I’ve set my target week to begin on Mondays since that easily coincides with the beginning of the work week. That means I set aside time on Sunday nights to review how I did the previous week and then lay out my plans for the upcoming week. That way, when Monday morning comes, I hit the ground running.
4. Daily goals
The list making doesn’t stop there! Once you know your weekly goals, determine what you need to accomplish each day in order to make progress throughout the week toward those goals. Write up your daily task list. This of course can be incorporated into any To-Do system you might use. I personally use Todoist, but there are so many resources out there. Whatever system works for you will suffice as long as you use it. Key principle: If you don’t use it, it doesn’t work. When you do use it, you typically stay on task because the action items are in front of you AND you receive the thrill of checking items off. Yes, we all love that feeling, so why not experience that thrill every day and be more productive in the process?!
So there it is… My four point system for manifesting all my dreams this year!
I give credit to Peter Winiarsky for providing this seemingly obvious approach. I recently read his book, Act Now!, which lays out the above strategy for achieving goals within 90 days. He provides far more detail in his book along with many other recommendations to keep one on track. I highly recommend picking up a copy of his book and employing some or all of his approach. Winiarsky’s book is only one of hundreds of goal setting books on the market. Any of them will have good advice, but the key principle with any program is to put the ideas into action.
I will call out one more helpful book that I’ve recently read – The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod. The point of his book is to lay out a morning strategy that empowers one to have the focus, energy, confidence (and time!) to achieve one’s goals throughout each day. There’s nothing new written here, but Hal packages it in an inspiring and memorable way to motivate one to get up early each morning ready to hit the ground running. I personally love my mornings, not just because it gives me a jump on my day, but because it’s sacred time – when the rest of my family is still asleep and the time is truly mine.
Other resources I’ve found to help me stay on track are podcasts. I am a podcast listening nut. I love my drive to and from work since that’s learning time for me. I have my iTunes favorites set to a number of productivity and business success podcasts. It’s truly amazing how much material is freely available. Some of the ones I’ve recently discovered are Achieve your Goals (Hal Elrod), This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt), The Portfolio Life (Jeff Goins), and Beyond the To-Do List (Erik Fisher). Of course I have all my Tech related podcasts to keep me up to date on the latest in the industry (In Tech We Trust, Speaking in Tech, Geek Whisperers, vBrownBag, VUPaaS, VMware Communities Roundtable,… and so many others). And that’s another way I leverage my time; I use my drive time to learn and keep my brain active.
Another great tool I’ve used for daily productivity is the “Pomodoro Technique”. It’s essentially a technique for maintaining focus when working on projects. It simply uses a timer set for 25 minutes during which time you work on a task with no distractions. Once the 25 minutes are up, you take a break for 5 minutes to relax the brain. Get up from your desk, grab a coffee, walk around, stretch, surf the web, or do whatever you want as long as you disengage. Then rinse and repeat. Studies show when you work with regular breaks, you actually work more efficiently and thus get more accomplished. For me, it helps me stay focused.
So there it is… a strategy and some additional tools and techniques for making this a powerhouse year! If you have additional thoughts, suggestions or resources, feel free to share!