A New Year really feels like a fresh start, even if it’s really just the beginning of a calendar year. Let’s take some time to start 2018 strong by working through effective goal setting together.
Why set goals? A well-defined goal gives us focus and direction so that we can achieve results. Without that level of focus our goals are only dreams– the imagine-ifs, what-ifs, wouldn’t it be nice-ifs that seldom happen. NFL coaches don’t have their players just wander onto the field for each game; they spend hours working out plays, strategy, and training. Think how much more productive and effective you can be if you put that kind of attention and planning into what you want to do in your life!
What’s interesting is that research into goal setting in the workplace shows that people are actually more likely to perform better if they have input into their goals (and financial incentives aren’t as big a motivator as giving employees some autonomy to set goals they care about!). Perhaps the best-known example of this in practice is the success Google has had allowing employees to use 20 percent of their work time to pursue a work-related goal (The New York Times and others have termed this The Google Way).
Having a plan makes sense. Setting goals gives shape to our days, weeks, and months so that we stay focused and on task. You can track your progress, refine the process if necessary, and feel the satisfaction of moving forward (it’s very motivating to draw closer to the finish line, confident you’ve achieved milestones along the way!).
I recommend you take at least an hour of uninterrupted time (it’s possible if you turn off your notifications on your cell phone and email!) for your 2018 goal setting. If you can’t carve out that much time in one block, tackle each step in 15-minute blocks.
You can use a blank notebook or download our customized goal setting worksheet here.
Here’s how to work through setting the right kind of goal:
Step One: Clearly define your goal
For goal setting to be effective, we need to set realistic goals that are specific, actionable, and measurable. Goals that are too broad or too difficult can be discouraging (and are likely to fail). Conversely, goals that are too simple may not be motivating and can fizzle out as enthusiasm wanes. Like Goldilocks, we need to find the goal that is just right.
Additionally, we’re all more motivated to work towards goals that really matter to us. Think about “a bigger than average thing” you want to accomplish as a personal or professional goal. What will change when you achieve this goal? How will achieving this goal affect your life? Why does it matter to you? It may be helpful to quickly create a personal vision statement to help align your life goals with what matters the most to you.
You should be able to define your goal in a few sentences. Once you’ve written it down, we’ll move through the next steps to figure out how you’ll work toward it and what might block you, how you’ll measure the success, and give yourself a deadline or completion date.
Step Two: Explore your obstacles
It would be wonderful if goals unfolded as planned once we write them down, but that’s not the case. Start a list of everything you think could stop you from achieving this goal. Just make a big list. Think about problems honestly and list internal and external barriers that you might encounter. Remember, this plan, and this step in particular, is just for you, no one else needs to see it. Be brutally honest with yourself. If you’re using our worksheet, list them all under the “IF” column.
Working through potential obstacles gives you the opportunity to figure out ways to deal with problems or complications as they arise. Thinking in terms of “if” this happens, “then” I will take this action is empowering and will help ensure your goal is not derailed by obstacles along the way. Being prepared to deal with the unexpected allows you to regroup, adjust, and tackle the issue without giving up. Take some time to now write your “THEN” column – if that happens, then you will do this. You don’t have to write full solutions, but perhaps just how you will find the solution. IF “I get bored or distracted with the details,” THEN “I will call Jill B. Friendly to brainstorm ideas because she’s been through something similar.”
Step Three: Refine your goal
Striking the balance between short-term and long-term goals is tricky, and after we’ve considered barriers or obstacles that original goal might need to be tweaked.
Sometimes as you start working through your goal on paper, you may discover what you’ve set out initially isn’t quite right – and that’s okay. Maybe you realize it’s not big enough. Or, it’s too big and could be two goals. Goal setting isn’t a result in itself, it’s about figuring out the results you want, so what you write isn’t set in stone – rethink it, rewrite it, take some time to reflect. When you do you’ll feel more confident in your goals.
Step Four: Make it S.M.A.R.T.
You can take any goal, and make it SMART. This process helps to give your ideas more purpose and direction by giving you some criteria as a framework to help you achieve your goals. Answering these questions honestly can help you to refine your goal so that it is something you can realistically accomplish. Essentially you want to ensure that your goal is:
Specific – Does your goal set out exactly what you want to achieve, including who is responsible and what supports can be leveraged?
Measurable – How will you know when you achieve your goal? You should be able to define how many, how much, or how often to give your goal some metrics.
Achievable – What makes this achievable? This is where you can review your IF…THEN obstacles list. Is it likely that you can achieve this goal given the supports and resources available to you? If it’s not achievable, rewrite the goal to be achievable OR review your IF…THEN list and add in the obstacle that makes it unachievable, and see if you can find a “THEN” to address that obstacle.
Relevant – How important is this goal to you personally or to your work and why does it matter? What difference will this goal make in your life? Write that stuff down – when it feels tough to reach your goal, rereading the relevance might get you back on track.
Timely – What is your target to complete this goal? Is it realistic to achieve? (Remember that while a stretch goal can be motivating, if the time frame is too challenging it can be demotivating and if the time frame is too far out, you’ll lose momentum.)
Here’s an example:
S – write a TED talk
M – have a well written and edited talk of 5 – 12 minutes in length that has been peer-reviewed by at least two other people.
A – use my expertise, experience, and reference three recent studies to support my theory
R – so many people ask me about this subject I can offer insight to help others and feel I have contributed to bettering my community while also gaining visibility!
T – rough draft in two months; final draft in three
Step Five: Break it down and make your action plan
Taking any goal and breaking it down into steps is valuable. A big goal can be daunting and overwhelming, but manageable steps are easy to start. Working your way through milestones is a great way to feel accomplished and keep you motivated.
Consider your timeframe and work through what you need to accomplish. Depending on your goal you may want to set weekly, monthly, or quarterly milestones. Go with your intuition for what feels challenging enough to get your adrenaline going but not so tight that you’re already thinking you can’t do it!
In our example we might have:
- Pull together research on the topic from X Book, Y.com, and my own notes.
- Write an outline of my talk – the core idea, the main message, two to three anecdotes or stories, two to three pieces of evidence, the hook, and call to action.
- Draft first draft based on outline – not based on time.
- Review draft for general direction – have I made the case?
- Edit draft based on timing – what’s not necessary?
- Review draft for clarity and general direction. Am I still making the case?
- Send draft to two to three peers for input.
- Consider feedback and edit as necessary.
Be sure to go through the plan and add some timelines and, if others are involved, be clear about who has to deliver what, and when.