Goal setting can be overwhelming. Once we’re done writing down everything we want to do, become, see, and have in our lives, we are left with a prodigious to-do list and don’t even know where to start.
There are a variety of books, apps and processes that are supposed to help guide you in building your life’s mission, roles and goals, etc., and if you have something that works for you, by all means do it. Unfortunately, in some cases, the process of inputting data and managing the app, or writing down everything in the process, it doesn’t leave you with much time left to actually do the work.
I’ve used a variety of approaches to goal-setting, including: Anthony Robbins Rapid Planning Method ™, Stephen Covey’s Mission Builder with roles and goals, David Allen’s Getting Things Done, several varients of the SMART goal setting methods, and a few others. But, I’m about simplification. My approach incorporates what I believe are the best of these programs, along with some insights from other research.
I can do all my research and create the greatest flight plan to get from Point A to Point B, but until I go fly the flight, I’ve not gone anywhere.
I’m going to use Leadership Lessons from the Race to the South Pole: Why Amundsen Lived and Scott Died, by Fergus O’Connell (Praeger, 2015, Santa Barbara, CA) as a baseline reference. Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott were in a race to be the first man to stand at the South Pole. Amundsen and his team were successful and lived, while Scott and his team didn’t make it. The race is a case-study in leadership, and one we can use here in your goal setting.
- First, figure out what you want – what’s your outcome, what’s your destination? This is the most important step. In the South Pole race, Scott was perceived as being indecisive and uncertain, not qualities that you’d want in a leader so don’t establish those qualities in yourself. And if you don’t know which direction to go, take any path – it’s something extraordinary just to be on the journey.
- Figure out what needs to be done. This is our critical path – there are numerous things that may have to be done, but there are always a few that MUST get done or else the project/goal fails. Establish deadlines for these critical path items.
- If others are involved in you achieving your goals, set clear expectations and in some cases, you may have to show them what needs to be done. I know if I take an extra hour to show my assistant exactly what I want done and how, it will save me hundreds of hours later in not having to redo it.
- Program in a margin for error – John Lennon wrote life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans. Understand that life will always seek to get in the way of your plans. Many of us tend to underestimate how long it takes to get something done, so once you have an outcome in mind, add some time to your originally projected end date.
- Write down what progress looks like. What are the daily, weekly or monthly action items that must be accomplished in order to achieve the goal. Since I’m a writer, I operate on a word count basis. I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my daily writing goal, related to the project. I have a minimum word count that I know will keep me on track, and I program in some flexibility, like not writing on Saturdays (family day), or certain holidays or other activities.
- Establish accountability for yourself and others – periodically review progress. I can do this with my Excel spreadsheet. I know how far behind or ahead I am.
- Do an after-action report – figure out what works (or what’s working) and what’s not. Learn from it and make adjustments to you plan.
Your homework today is to think about what you want out of life.
If you want to start writing things down and take a few notes, that’s okay too. Don’t censor yourself. If it sounds interesting, jot it down and don’t worry about whether it’s feasible. What we’re doing here is getting your brain to focus for a few days on this question. This pre-frame is an important part of the process as it allows your subconscious to work on this topic. In Part 3, we’ll walk you through the process.