Tips on Setting and reviewing your Goals

In my last blog postI talked about the first step I take in setting goals for the Year ahead, and that is reviewing how I fared against my goals for the year just gone.

I also made a weak excuse for why I’m posting this blog entry in February 2009 and not January 2009 like normal organised people. 🙂

Seriously though, if I’m finishing my goal setting for 2009 in February, and you’re reading this having not written down any goals for the year at all yet, then I’m still miles ahead of you – so you definitely should at least read some of this stuff.

That aside, here I’ll share my process for how I set goals for myself for 2009. That process begins with me re-iterated that I think writing down your goals is important.

Why bother writing down goals?

Well there’s a famous story about a Harvard Business School study conducted on students in an MBA program. In that year, students were asked “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”. Only 3% of the graduates had written goals and plans, 13% had goals but they were not in writing, and 84% had no specific goals at all. So the story goes, ten years later the members of the class were interviewed again with the following findings. The 13% of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84% who had no goals at all. What’s more, the other 3% who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% put together.

Wow. I’m not sure if that story is true or not, but if it is then it sure makes a compelling case for writing down your goals eh?

Reviewing Goals

One of the main obvious benefits of writing down your goals is that it makes it easier for you to review where you are against those goals.

In 2007, I reviewed my progress against my 2006 goals at the start of the New Year. The trouble with that is, if you’ve not achieved a goal by the time of the review, you’re not going to achieve that goal this year because your year has run out!

In 2008, I tried something different – I reviewed my progress against my 2007 goals on a weekly basis. How? I simply kept a Journal. I’m not talking “Dear Diary” here – but something that takes 3 minutes every morning at most. I’ll talk about what I write in my Journal and how it helped me in my next blog post, but the point is, I was regularly reviewing my goals, enabling me to take action on those goals I wasn’t making good progress on, and to reward myself for those goals that I was achieving.

Whatever method you use, make sure to review your progress against your goals. Quarterly at a minimum, but preferably monthly or weekly.

How to decide upon goals?

So, how to set Goals for the next 12 months? There’s plenty of web-sites out there that can help you with this, and I encourage you to go looking for them (some key-words to search on are GTD and SMART) but here’s my own process for doing it.

First off, I grab a pen and large sheet of paper and sit down to brain storm.

I find setting Short Term goals fairly simple. When I start brain storming, they are the first images or ideas that pop into my head as things I’d like to achieve soon – so I write them down and can flesh them out later.

If you’re anything like me though, those images that pop into your head will mostly be material in nature. I want a nice car. I want a nice holiday. I want a TV so big that it needs planning permission to install in my house.

Material things are nice, but it’s no use having a 90’ Television if you’re never at home to watch it. So I start to work backwards from those images to work out what I *really* want. So I want a large TV. Why? Because I enjoy watching movies on it at home. Why? Because I enjoy turning off from the outside world and immersing myself in the thrill and excitement of a movie. So it becomes a bit more clear that actually, my dream is not just to have a large screen TV, but to have the time to be able to turn my phone off, ignore the e-mail, and sit and watch my favourite movies in glorious large-screen.

So now you’ve got two goals for the next year – a large screen TV and making more time for relaxation.

Continue this process until you have a few things written down, and try to think about different areas of your life such as health and wellbeing, personal relationships, travel and leisure and finances – not just about business or work.

Let’s not worry about how we’re going to achieve these goals for a short while yet, because now you’ve started thinking of goals that are not just material things, let’s see if we can find a few more of those types of goals.

Dream Boards

This is where you might find a “Dream Board” useful. Before you stop reading and think this is all a bit hippy – remember back to when you were a kid and used to cut pictures out of catalogues of cool stuff you wanted to own and then looked at them from time to time. You stopped doing that when you were an adult, right? Why? Having visual reminders of things you’re aspiring to is a great way to motivate you to achieve!

So grab a big large piece of card, some glue, and a ton of your favourite glossy magazines. Flick through them, and any images you see that take your interest, cut them out and put them in a pile. This might be material things again, or it might be images that suggest something to you – for instance my Dream Board for 2008 contained a picture of New York City, some Walking Boots, a picture of people partying and a cottage in the country – representing a desire for me to visit New York City again, to start regularly walking again to improve my fitness and health, to spend more time with friends and a long-term goal of a relaxed life somewhere quiet.

When you’ve finished massacring the magazines, start sorting through those cut-outs and start picking out the ones that are really important to you.

Grab the glue, make a mess, and paste those images onto your card until it’s full up. Voila – one “Dream Board”.

Here’s a good article on Dream Boards to learn more, but here’s some of my personal tips – grab some magazines that you don’t normally read to cut out of – if you’re a geek and surround yourself with tons T3 or Stuff magazines, you’ll surely end up with a dream board full of pictures of just iPods and Suzi Perry– and I’m pretty sure your dreams stretch further than just geek-stuff (or maybe not…). Holiday magazines, Lifestyle magazines and similar can be a good source for your imagination.

There’s too much to do!

So now we’ve got some goals and dreams written down and in picture, but what exactly are you going to do to meet these targets? If you’re like me then you often look at big goals and get overwhelmed by how unobtainable they appear, and so become paralysed by fear and never even get started towards those goals. So to use another of my favourite expressions “How do you eat an Elephant? One bite at a time!” – simply chop those big goals up into a series of small goals.

For instance, that large screen TV you wanted. Well the first thing you might set as an action against that goal is researching which TV’s are best, and how much they cost. Once that action is complete, you might then realise you need to save money to afford that TV, so your next action is to setup a savings plan to enable you to raise the money to buy the TV by a certain date…. and so on.

This technique works really well, but I’m as bad as anyone for getting overwhelmed by all my goals – so when you find it happening to you, simply think about the next sensible small thing you could do towards achieving that goal and concentrate on completing just that one thing. It gets easier from there!

Being Held Accountable for your Goals

So we’ve now got some goals, we’ve set some sensible actions towards those goals, we have our goals written down and we’ll be reviewing them regularly. Now one last thing to do that will help you achieve those goals – start telling people about them! That Dream Board you created? Rather than drop it into a dusty draw, pin it up by your desk so that you see it every day and other people get to see it too! They’ll ask you what it’s all about and you can tell them about the goals it represents. By doing so you’ll remind yourself why you wanted to achieve those goals, and you’ll begin to make yourself accountable at a low level to others for achieving those goals, because they’ll start asking you “how’s it going with the plans for the trip to New York” or “How’s the diet going?” and so on.

You can announce your goals by telling your friends and family, by e-mailing people, or by writing it on your blog – but don’t keep them to yourself, because it’s a lot easier to give excuses to yourself for not achieving things than it is to explain to someone else why you’re not making progress towards a goal.

This works in business too. Once we’ve decided upon them as a group, I write down our goals for Netlink ITfor the next Quarter and for the next year and pin them to the Notice Board. Everybody in the office is then regularly reminded of what they are working towards, and when we have days when we’re getting a bit overwhelmed fire-fighting, a glance at those Goals can remind us we’re getting pulled off track and what would should be concentrating on again.

Taking it to the next level, our HTGgroup sets goals every quarter, and at the next meeting we are held Accountable for those goals. This is a great motivator because nobody wants to turn up to the next meeting and explain why they haven’t achieved a goal!

Likewise, If the group thinks the goals we’ve set are too easily attained, we push back and make them harder. If we think the goal is unobtainable or unrealistic, we voice caution. It works well – and you can easily do the same with friends, family or your peers. If you really can’t find anybody else, e-mail mewith your goals and it’ll give me great pleasure to become a PITA and regularly asking you how you’re getting on!

So now you’ve got some goals written down, you’ve got a plan to achieve those goals, and you’ll be held accountable for achieving those goals through other people and through your own review process.

Get on with it!

Blimey, I wrote quite a lot there didn’t I? One of my goals for 2009 is to learn to be more concise. 🙂

I’m constantly learning about this stuff, and I’m no expert (I’d strongly suggest talking to this guy, buying this book, or reading this web-sitefor people who really know what they’re talking about) but I do know that by setting goals for myself using the techniques above I achieve more than when I just fool myself into thinking that by being busy I’m being productive. The two definitely aren’t one and the same.

Good luck with the remaining 11 months of 2009!

Next blog entry I’ll talk a bit more about the Journal I kept in 2008, and some of the things that might get in the way of you achieving your goals.


  • Richard2009-02-06 14:53:50

    Chris - thanks for the kind comments. Nick - glad HTG is helping you in the same way it's helping us. GTD is also worth reviewing as a book from time to time to prevent you sliding into bad habits. Side note - Quick plug for the HTG On-Line groups that Nick is a part of - - well worth getting involved if you want to raise your business game.

  • Chris2009-02-06 14:00:49

    Ric.. You are a legend mate!! I love reading your posts very insiring.!!! Keep them up buddy.

  • Nick2009-02-05 23:06:11

    Another good post mate. HTG helped Sirona set goals for 2009, first time I'd actually considered it, but Alex and I sat down over Christmas and came up with some good ones. You've reminded me that I need to go back to them and review on a regular basis - in fact I'll stick them on the wall tomorrow!Good links at the end. Karl is the man! I've read most of Getting Things Done and half implemented it, need to go back to it. I think Merlin Mann has been on TWiT, time to check out his site.Nick

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