As we close out the decade and move into the 2020s, it seems appropriate to talk a little about goals and the goal setting process. I am seeing lots of social media posts from people announcing their goals for the next year and swearing that "next year will be way better than this year". Some of their goals are well written and well intentioned while others seem to be vague statements about "making things better". Any goal setting efforts are noble and a great start to getting where you want to go, but it seems that by the end of January, most people have fallen back into their daily grind and abandoned the goals that were so important to them only 30 days ago.
In my early twenties, I started taking the goal setting process seriously and actually wrote down goals that I wanted to accomplish over the next 25 years, dividing them into categories based on time horizons. I am proud to say that I have either accomplished or am well on the way to accomplishing every one of those goals. Of course, the completion of each goal has led to new, loftier goals that keep me reaching for new heights and levels of success (and failure). Here is a quick break down of the process that has worked for me. Each person may have to tweak and change until they find exactly what works for them but you have to start somewhere.
Step #1 - Your Big Why
I think that this is the most important step but find that it is the step that is most often skipped. This has to be done first. Without a Big Why, there is no purpose to your goals and no reason(s) strong enough to keep you on track if you start to wander. Your Big Why is the underlying reason that these goals are important to you, in other words - what are you ultimately trying to accomplish?. Opinions on this vary, but I think that it is OK to have a couple of Big Whys, just not more than two or three. Your Big Why has to be something very meaningful to you and something that doesn't change on a whim as circumstances change. "To make a million dollars" or "sell more widgets" are not strong enough or specific enough. I will give you a personal example: Most of the men in my ancestral lineage have not lived to very old ages due to various health complications. I most certainly don't live every day of my life in fear of the same thing happening to me, but do have a heightened awareness of our time limitations. Because of this, one of the Big Whys that drives me is: "To be financially free in order to spend my limited time traveling and riding bikes with my family and friends".
Step #2 - Where Do You Want to Go?
Now that you have the ultimate destination in the form of our Big Why, you can start to map out the path to get there. I start with the higher level, longer term goals that I know need to happen to achieve the Big Why. These may have time horizons of 5+ years and seem almost impossible at the time of inception, but don't worry, we're going to break these down into more manageable steps. Since these are the highest level goals, you should only have a few. It is fine to have a couple of goals in different categories but my experience has been that if you have more than five or six, you will get lost and not accomplish any of them. If your head is full of dozens of ideas that you think are goals, take a closer look and see if you can lump some of them together into one larger, overaching goal and then use those smaller tasks later in the process. Back to my personal example: One of my high level goals is to - "be financially independent through passive investment income". These don't always have to be financial or business goals. Another one of my high level goals is to - "ride my bike on six of the seven continents".
Step #3 - How Do You You Get There?
You have your high level goals and your reason for working toward them. The next step is going to be to break these lofty goals in to more manageable chunks and turn those into easier goals with shorter time horizons. I think of this as being like building a pyramid with the big goal as the peak of the pyramid and all of the steps to get there being the base. What are the two or three big steps that have to happen to achieve your ultimate goal? What are the two or three things that have to happen to make those steps happen? Work down the pyramid and assign each of those things a goal with a time horizon. Items closer to the top of the pyramid generally have longer time horizons while the very bottom of the pyramid are things that you will be working on now. Write these out as your 3 month goals, 6 month goals, 1 year goals, 3 year goals, whatever makes sense for you. The accomplishment of each of these goals should take you a step closer to your ultimate goal.
Step #4 - Stay the Course
You should have a nice road map in front of you now, listing your major goals and the smaller step goals you need to accomplish to them. The next step is to make sure that you keep these goals front and center in everything you do and continually work toward achievement. Here are a few tips that work for me to remain focused on my goals: