Goal Setting and Planning

I recently received a request to take a closer look at goal setting and planning.  I ask for your indulgence as I attempt to explain the process I follow.

“Goals are dreams with a deadline”

“Goals have to be big”

“Goals drive productivity”

I’ve seen so much information about goals over the years that it can be confusing as hell to actually figure out what a goal is (or ought to be).  I’m afraid that I don’t have a great definition to help lift the scales from your eyes and make it all clear.  SMART goals have been used for years organizationally and tend to cause great anxiety  as we attempt to work toward accomplishing them.

Here is my take on goals.  Goals are simply the object of our ambitions or efforts or an idea for a future or desired result.  They can be lofty and humanitarian or simply related to survival.  They are your goals, so you get to decide.

Categories of Goals

I have 3 categories of goals.

First I have long range goals.  Long range goals are the first set of goals I write about a future desired result for as far out as I need in order to accomplish them.  Some goals have 1-5 year timelines, some have much shorter life spans ranging from 1-6 months.   Regardless of the length of time for the life of the goals, they have a common characteristic in that each one will take multiple actions to successfully achieve them.  Long range goals are generally pretty broad and represent the bigger picture of a future result.

My second category is intermediate.  These goals are created directly from the long range goals and allow me to get more specific about the steps needed to achieve the long range goals.

Here is an example.  The long range goal could be simply stated as “I want to be out of debt in the next 5 years or by a certain date (October 1, 2024).”  No problems there, the goal is not ‘due’ until 2024 so there really is no sense of urgency and it can be easily procrastinated.  Intermediate goals help you get a little more focus on what it will take to reach your long term goal.  Intermediate goals start getting you more to thinking about ‘what’ you have to do to reach that bigger goal.  Examples might include “Pay off credit card debt by March 2020”  or “Develop savings and investment plan by January 1, 2020.”

Will those intermediate goals help you focus your efforts on achieving the long term goal?   Will they help you place a bigger sense of urgency on the actions you need to take in order to reach your goal?

My final category of goals are daily goals.   These are the concrete and discrete actions I take each day in order to reach my desired results and are written using the long range and/or intermediate goals as a starting point.  These goals should be very specific along the lines of “Pay Chase credit card bill” or “Open savings account with $500 deposit”.  The daily goals go into your daily action list.

Daily actions fit well within several different time management philosophies.   GTD adherents will recognize this as “next actions”.   7 Habits folks ought to understand how this really is Habits 2 & 3.  Bullet Journal users can relate collections and rapid logging to this concept.

Putting it into action

So, where should you start?   You could go out and buy a dedicated goal planner or a new Franklin or Daytimer and purchase the unspellable and unpronounceable Lachtrstuemos BuJo and get right on making a layout.   Or…grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and lock yourself away for a few minutes and ask yourself “What is it that I want out of life?” or “What is the most important thing I want to accomplish this year?”  If you’re like me, you have goals floating around in your head and have had them for years.  Its time to make them concrete and write them down.

I suggest only writing down 1-3 long range goals to start.  We tend to have so many things floating around in our brains and lives that it is easy to become overwhelmed and then just get paralyzed into inaction.  So, be gentle on yourself and start with a few baby steps.

After you’ve written those long range goals consider some of the things you will need to do in order to accomplish one of them.  Can you break that big goal into smaller chunks that will be easier to manage?

Let’s use the example I shared earlier about getting out of debt.  Getting out of debt is pretty broad.  As you write down that goal, you’ll start thinking about the behaviors and events that caused you to get into debt.  Credit cards, car repairs, medical bills, mortgages and etc., all contribute to debt.   Intermediate goals give you the framework to get more specific about how you are going to get out of debt.  Here are some examples:

  1. Pay off all consumer credit card debt by October 1, 2020
  2. Pay off all medical bills by March 1, 2020
  3. Develop debt snowball strategy to pay off debt starting on October 27, 2019
  4. Save $3,000 to buy a new used car with cash by May 1, 2020

Now you have something that you can apply the GTD method of Next Actions to.   In your daily planning time (you are using 10-15 minutes every morning to plan your day, aren’t you?) you will plan out your daily action list to accomplish those intermediate goals.

  1. Pay XYZ card bill
  2. Pay Heartless Medical Corp bill
  3. Deposit $50 in savings account
  4. Update budget to reflect recent cut in hours

As you consider this approach, I hope that you can see that this method helps give you continuity from your bigger general goals through the daily actions you take.  Hopefully you can see this consistency and apply it to other goals in your life.   Maybe you want to lose weight.  Rather than flicking from diet to diet and watching YouTube videos on the latest pain free lifestyle change or incredible supplement that will melt the pounds off, set your goal to lose a certain amount of weight and really spend some time making that a priority through planning your actions.  Then, daily, as you check off the items that you know will help you reach your goal, then you get a boost of confidence that ‘yes indeed, I can do this!’

One quick caveat.  This method only works if you work it.  I highly suggest that you commit to trying it out for at least 21 days.   You may have to force yourself.  But, in the end, it is worth it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s