Last night, or this morning, I realised there is a mistake I keep making. When I’m doing great, and being productive, I try to take advantage of those times to get as much done as possible, knowing I’ll have down times later, and I need to make the best possible use of my up times. My mistake is that I just try to do as much work as I can. Instead, I should be using those productive times to set goals, review existing ones, set/adjust sub-goals, and work out action plans. Sub-goals are the major milestones along the way to the bigger goals. Action plans lay out the steps you will take to reach goals and sub-goals. As much for myself as for anyone reading, I’m going to review the overall guidelines for goal-setting, and give an example.
Goals have to be S.M.A.R.T.:
- S pecific
- M easurable
- A ttainable
- R ealistic
- T ime-bound
I’m setting business and income goals right now, but I’ll give a more universally relatable example.
So you want to read more books. Cool. Here’s the worst goal you could set: I’m going to read as many books as I can! It fails on the first two criteria for a well selected goal. So ask yourself, what does ‘as many books as I can’ mean? So let’s say you figure you can read 150 books in a year. Okay, now we’ve got something specific, and measurable – we’d measure it by counting the books you read. Sweet. Now Attainable: is it actually possible to read 150 books in a year? Yes, it is. There are people that can do that. If something is possible, it’s attainable. So, the goal “acquire flame-vision” would fail the attainability test. Now, on to Realistic: is this a reasonable goal for YOU to achieve? Well, how many books did you read last year? Six, you say? Well, 150 in a year is not necessarily unrealistic, but 150 THIS year probably is. But reading more is a life change you want to make, and your life (we certainly hope!) has more than a year left in it. So, we have to go to our T – Time Bound – to make 150 books in a year realistic.
Let’s look at that timeline. It’s 2016, and in 2015 you read 6 books. Depending how ambitious you feel about this goal, how high of a priority it is for you, and how much more time and energy you think you can devote to it, I’d probably set this as a 5 or 10 year goal. Personally, I’d set it as a 10 year goal to start. It’s a pretty big change, and it’s not intrinsically urgent, like a health-related goal. Given that, I would be conservative. When you reassess this goal and its sub-goals, and their action plans, it feels a lot better to reduce your timeline than extend it. Some people might find the opposite; the pressure/ambitiousness of the shorter time might be a strong motivator for them, so they like to have tighter deadlines. When you get to this point, don’t forget that any amount of progress is progress. If you’re getting any closer to the goal, you’re getting better at something you’ve decided is important to you. You’re also learning more about yourself, both on this specific thing (reading in this case) and what motivates you. If you’re setting goals, evaluating them, and moving toward them, you’re improving your life.
So we’ve got a goal: Read 150 books in a year.
We have a timeline: Do this within 10 years.
Let’s go back to S.M.A.R.T. and do another check. The first two criteria are “Specific” and “Measurable.” They’re closely linked a lot of the time. How will you know when you’ve achieved this goal? Obviously you’ll measure it by counting how many books you read, but that’s not the only thing you need to think about when you’re measuring. That goes back to Specificity; you go back and forth between these two a fair bit. There are three ways to define a year: 365 consecutive days (e.g. March 10 2018-March 9 2019), 12 consecutive calendar months (e.g. March 1, 2018-February 28, 2019), and one calendar year (e.g. Jan 1 2018-Dec 31 2018). Which one are you going to use? Picking 365 days, or 12 months might let you accomplish your goal sooner, because if you have any really productive reading months, you can set your start and end dates for the 1-year interval to the day, or month before you hit a really good speed. Essentially, you can always just check back one year from today, or from this month, and see if you hit your goal. Picking a calendar year is more rigid, because you have to restart the count on Jan 1 (or the anniversary of when you started). Ask yourself exactly what you want out of achieving this. Is it a challenge so you can say “I did this awesome thing?” Is it a life-long change you want to make in your reading habits? If it’s the former, pick one of the first two (365 day or 12-month span), because that gives you a better overall chance of success, and probably a better chance to accomplish the goal sooner. If you want a lasting change in your reading habits, forcing it to be a specific calendar year (eg. Jan 1-Dec 31, Apr 7-Apr 6) means you have to read through books at a pretty steady rate, and get better at this year over year. Let’s say your objective is the latter, so you decide it’s got to be a calendar year, from Jan 1 to Dec 31. Great! You’ve set your Main Goal.
Main Goal: Read 150 books within a calendar year by Dec 31, 2026.
Now we’ve got to talk sub-goals, and action plans. I’ll do that in a future post – stay tuned!