When I was a teenager, my father decided we would build a A-Frame cabin on the lake. Over the next few years, I spent some mostly wonderful times heading up to a lake house every weekend morning. When we were not building, we were planning and preparing to build. One thing I learned as we went along, you cannot create something big without a plan. The better we planned, the easier the job was once we got down to doing the actual building.
This lake house lesson is one I have tried to apply to everything I do in life. Sadly, I have failed too often. While I have accomplished much, I find that most things I wandered into by accident. As I have looked back over the last year or two in my annual review, a lack of planning and acting on the plans has become painfully clear. I have now taken some serious time to explore and learn from others (and my own successes and mistakes) what really works.
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Topic of the Week: Setting Goals for Next Year
Over a period of four days I have taken the time to do some serious planning. Here is the process I am completing today. In case you have not started, I explain the “getting-started” process as defined in these two previous episodes.
- Episode 35: Planning for Next Year | The Best Year Ever
- Episode 37: Debriefing: Five Key Questions to Plan for Next Year
“If you are not getting the results you want, you need to get more specific on what you are trying to achieve.“
Michael said it a few times and it hit me like a load of bricks each time. Lack of specifics is one of my big problems. In my experience with coaching others, lack of specific goals is the biggest obstacle to success. We often have no idea what we want or we are fuzzy in the view of what success looks like. The following process I have used to remove the fuzziness.
1. Who? Start by making a list of those people who depend on you. What does each person or group need from you the most? Stephen Covey called this defining your roles. Do not forget to include how you depend on yourself.
2. Organize ideas into stacks. From here take those key roles and make a stack for each. Take all those other things you need to do and ideas from each role and put them into the appropriate stack. For instance, my stack of family includes things I have to do around the house to keep things running and functional. I printed out my many notes in Evernote related to house projects. All of them went into the FAMILY stack.
3. Write goals. Next, take a clean sheet of paper and write out goals as you look through these stacks. I tried to include everything I cared about and did not worry about the number of goals. I ended up with over 20 goals. Too many to really deal with, but at least everything was included.
4. Plan for 90 day sprints. I have been impressed (change that to convicted) by Jonathan Milligan and Michael Nichols that using a 90 day planning cycle is better than a one year cycle. Too much happens over a year. Having 90 days keeps the pressure on in a way that pushes you to get real results. (This is pretty much the formula that I used to get my PhD.) My 90 day sprints fall in these periods. While not all perfectly 90 days, close enough.
- January 1 – March 31
- April 1 – June 30
- July 1 – September 30
- October 1 – December 31
5. Decide which are most critical. Now that I had all these goals listed (over 20 in my case), I needed to get serious. For me, I needed to get that list of 20 down to about 5. To shrink a list, you have to prioritize. I needed to look over my list and decide which goals mattered most, and move them to the top. For instance, one of our top family goals is to move into a new house. But before we could move, my partially completed bathroom remodel project must be complete. I sorted through my list of projects and goals and decided which objectives were critical by talking them over with my wife, Lea. We picked some big things. In my case I am guessing there will be about 5 when I am done. Pick your number, but keep your list of goals few enough and balanced on work, family, self, etc.
6. Create folders: Yes, I mean a physical manila folder. Inside the front cover, write down the goal.
7. Title the folder. I use a system where I title the folder like “P: Complete Bath Remodel.” The “P” stands for project (in David Allen style) and keeps all projects stored in my file cabinet together since they all start with “P”.
8. Define the steps. Now write out each step you need to take to accomplish this goal. I do this on paper and put the paper in the folder. Often these steps might be things you need to learn. For instance, when I was rebuilding a shower, I had a step called “Learn how to tile.”
9. Schedule time on your calendar for each goal: I then open my Google calendar and put time in for each goal. This is an appointment with me for me. Practically I do not know how long things will actually take, but I do put things on the calendar for the first few steps. Then when I complete that time slot, I make a note on my calendar (or new appointment) what NEXT ACTION I need to take.
One special time I put on the calendar is a 90 day review. I will use this time to repeat this process. My plan is to get out of the office and pull away from everything for a day or two to do this review.
10. Create a folder for “Other Goals”. This folder is titled “P:Other Goals” in my case. I now use this folder to catch those other goals I have set. (Remember that list of 20 things?) We don’t dismiss our long term goals, or ignore the other 15 things I wanted to get done. We prioritize, we organize, we conquer. This folder is where the “next goals” are kept. I also use it to capture other ideas I create and find through the week. Weekly I review this to see if anything needs to move out into another goal.
Now you have a plan set. It is not perfect, but a plan nevertheless. Now comes the hardest part – staying motivated and making things happen. I have developed my own personal process that is taken from David Allen’s Getting Things Done and modified from what I have learned from many others. I will cover this process in Episode 40.
This process seems like a lot of steps, but I have found that it works for me. Using a simple process breaks down the work and keeps you from forgetting something critical.
Making Them Happen – From Written Goals to Accomplishments
In Episode 40 I will explain the process to create habits to actually make things happen! Hope you can join me then.
Special Christmas Podcast
In Episode 39 (December 24th) I will be doing a special podcast. I few years ago a faculty Christian group asked me to talk about the nature of light and Christ. The Bible often makes a comparison between light and Christ. One of the faculty thought someone who understood light could come talk on the subject. One of my early specialties being lasers and photonics, they asked if I would do the talk. I have since delivered this presentation a few times, and thought since Episode 39 will come out on Christmas Eve, this will be a perfect topic. Christian, or not, I hope you will find it interesting.
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Question: What other ideas do you have for setting goals? You can leave a comment by clicking here.