Our daily workload often comes to us at a never-ending pace, and the tasks are usually posed as urgent and important, but life is about more than just fighting the daily workload. To achieve your dreams, you have to work on your plan and priorities instead through goal setting. Goals are the most important part of the plan, describing what you want to achieve. They also provide focus because once you have a clear target in mind, you can rededicate yourself and confidently neglect ideas that aren’t contributing to your success.
Every individual or organization should have a vision as well, a set of dreams and big or audacious long-term goals that provide a solid base for the goals you set. Your vision inspires you and gives you energy, guides you and gives all efforts a purpose. It connects goals with your deepest motivations and purpose.
The Many Types of Goals
Not all goals are the same, though. Some goals focus on the outcome, while others concentrate more on performance.
These are the most common type of goals. They focus on achieving something at a particular point in time, like reading a certain book by the end of the month. If the goal is too big, split it down by year, quarter, month and even week. Outcome goals tend to be harder to reach and therefore more frustrating if not achieved, but they also provide the clearest and most important guidance.
Also known as performance goals, these goals focus on the doing side, or rather the duration spent working on your plan. It plots out the activity to be done daily or weekly, like reading every day for at least 5 minutes. It concentrates on the behavior and personal development that will get you to a certain goal. Creating a routine that aligns with the goals instead of just trying to work on the outcome directly allows many people to be even more successful.
And the advantages to this type of goal are plentiful: It creates habits when scored on a regular basis, making it the easiest to stick to because habits make difficult things easier over time. With this type of goal, because it is not binary, you are also potentially less prone to dissatisfaction. An 80% completion could still be treated as an achievement; and overachievement of the outcome, such as a 120%, could even be celebrated. An execution goal, i.e. to go for a run every morning before work, would create a habit once successfully executed a few times whereas an outcome goal does not create the habit; either it is accomplished, or it is not, i.e. to lose 10 pounds.
How to Set Your Goals Right
Whether you choose outcome or execution, what is important is to get down to the grit and set some goals.
Step 1: Remember your vision and identify all possible goals attached to it. Ideate deeply. Again, goal setting is the most important step in planning. Compared to just collecting tasks, with goals you are taking a step back first by separating the desired outcome from its execution.
First, get clarity on what you want to achieve. Then, find the best ways to get there. Goal setting is not an easy task. Take your time and choose wisely. Be sure to include different aspects of both your business and life.
Some example questions to get you inspired during this step:
- What is your single most important goal this year? This quarter? This month? Alternatively, what is the number one thing you want to accomplish in the next 100 days?
- When reviewing all that worked well in the past, what could you continue doing or increase?
- What could you do to improve your position substantially in every aspect?
- What could you stop doing right now that is detrimental to your vision and core values, your physical or financial health, relationships and partnerships, or happiness?
Think really big and push yourself. There’s a tendency to make goals as “realistic” and “achievable” as possible. That should be your starting point, but you should stretch it way farther. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Feel confident that you can and will achieve your dreams. Steve Jobs once said, “Everything around you has been built by people not smarter than you.” Isn’t that encouraging? We all achieve what we believe deep down inside.
Start with the end in mind. What is your desired result? Get to the root of why you want to achieve a goal. Have you identified one that’s worth solving? Do you actually want to solve this? Is this something you can do, or that is a strength of yours? Once decided, imagine your goal and all the actual benefits attached to reaching it. The more personal it is, the better. The more benefits you attach to each your goal, the more likely you will keep working towards it with all of your efforts.
Step 2: Pick your most important goals for the upcoming period and flesh them out. Choose a few goals that you are committed to, rather than listing everything you think you should do out of obligation. Break down any big goal into smaller goals. Most research backs up the idea that setting short-term goals is more useful than looking at the big picture. So it is better to break goals down into smaller monthly or weekly targets, even if you have a larger list of long-term goals.
Be specific and clear. Be concrete. Think of particular things that you want to undertake or achieve, not goals too abstract to grasp. So instead of, “Find happiness in life,” try, “Become a loving and caring father.” One way of checking whether your goal is clear enough is to ask yourself: How will I know when I have reached my goal? How will I measure success?
Step 3: Plan individual projects and tasks to reach this goal and the period in which they are tackled and by whom. Focus on what needs to be done. Every small accomplishment along the way will further boost your morale. Split your goal into small individual steps as tasks, grouped by projects or milestones. Professionals call this work breakdown structure.
Once established, now comes the classical discipline of project management. You are setting yourself up for action. Planning is necessary, even if circumstances might change because of course, while we have heard, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy,” they also say, “failing to plan is planning to fail” and “you can always change your plan, but only if you have one.”
What are obstacles or challenges you need to plan around? Some might be obvious at first glance, but others can come in many different forms:
- Beliefs: When you have a belief that is preventing steady progress, write it down. Often when you find yourself saying things like, “If only I had…” or, “If that were possible…” — those are the phrases to write down. Once written down, work to dispel those limiting beliefs. Find any positive evidence against them plus think about how the beliefs formed in the first place. Sometimes the information you find while researching that particular belief will already destroy it. Other times, you might have to create an event that contradicts your previous experience to help erase that limiting belief.
- Facts: Question those assumptions we count as facts. Reasoning from “first principles”, Elon Musk attempts to achieve the most daring goals like “substantially driving down the cost of getting payload to earth orbit” with his rocket-launching and landing company SpaceX. While setting out to build a more affordable rocket from scratch, he chooses to draw his conclusions from first principles only, tests any assumptions in real life and, continually, adjusts his strategy through the learning process.
- Habits: As human beings we all form bad habits in life that might need reprogramming along the way. Think about those routine, subconscious things that could be hindering your progress, i.e. late night eating when your goal is to lose weight.
List all beliefs, facts and habits that are stopping you from giving your 100% to the goal right now.
Plan a time frame or deadline for each task of a goal. It is best to work backwards, with the final deadline in mind, what professionals call backwards termination. For more information, see Time Management and Task Management.
Achieving Your Goals and Turning Your Dreams into Reality
Systems you design or habits you form can be more important than the goals themselves. Chasing only specific goals is hard and risky. Instead, try to have as many execution goals as possible, of which you should nail close to 100% regularly. For example, one execution goal of mine that has quickly turned into a habit is my personal morning routine: every other day, right after getting out of bed and before heading off to work, I start with reading a book while having a coffee, then doing sports with my dog, and finally working on one personal and one professional activity that if accomplished, would make this day great. Another execution goal of mine is to finish at least ten items on my todo list every week, no matter how small they might be.
Having a few outcome goals, on a yearly and quarterly basis, is still important, though. These goals will guide you when executing your plan. For instance, I usually have one goal I focus on each month and further divide it into one or two weekly goals with pre-planned tasks for each day. For all longer-term goals, I keep a backlog of tasks that are grouped by projects from which I can pick when there is more room to work or I am blocked elsewhere.
One popular goal many people have is acquiring wealth. If you are aiming for that, first define a certain level of money you would like to have and try to break it down. Divide your monetary goal by months then by day and then figure out what type of job or business could get you to that level. If you do not have a number in mind at first, start by counting up the amount you need to achieve freedom or spendings that you have in mind, using a notepad or spreadsheet where you can track your expenses.
Often, however, we settle for popular but unspecific goals such as, “I want to become a millionaire and retire.” Aside of lacking aforementioned specifics there are two problems with that:
- People do not actually want to be millionaires – they just want to experience what they believe only millions can buy. However, research does show that people get happier as they make more and more money, but only up to about $70,000 per year. After that, the marginal improvements experienced due to a higher income are typically offset by other factors such as stress, more hours, etc. So when considering your monetary goal, consider doing all of the things you want to do, and not just buying everything you want to have.
- Retirement as a goal assumes that you dislike what you are doing so retirement should not be the goal. Experience actually shows that founders of businesses who sell their companies are very bored once they have sipped cocktails at the beach for a couple of weeks. They then usually go on to found their next business, because running a business is what they love and serves them as a purpose of being.
So maybe reevaluate that goal of becoming a millionaire and retiring. A reliable cash flow each day providing independence might be more necessary for your dream than to win millions in the lottery sometime, if ever.
Start Setting Your Goals Now
Be honest with yourself. Are you where you want to be? Not yet? Then let’s make a change, starting today. Give it a try now – you will be surprised how much fun setting your goals can be once you get started. So grab a pen and a sheet of paper, sit down and dive into a serious review and planning session.
One framework that helps you to set goals right is Objective & Key Results (OKR). It just might be the structured connection between your lifelong vision and your yearly, quarterly or monthly goals that you are looking for.