March 07, 2018 — 1.0.0
Goals are vital for continued growth and self-reflection. They help motivate us by establishing a clear and consistent personal vision aligned with actionable objectives. They drive us forward and enhance our ability to think critically, realistically, and conceptually about what we want to accomplish. I’d like to talk about my methods for setting goals — that is, how I go about selecting and defining my yearly goals.
This is not about achieving goals yet
Right now, we’re focused entirely on setting goals. How we actually achieve them will be covered in another guide. That’s an altogether different concern, and one with its own set of considerations.
Let’s talk about how to set goals.
Reviewing the previous year
To figure out where we’re going, we need to review where we’ve been. To do this, let’s answer a series of questions about the prior year:
- What were your accomplishments?
- What were your failures?
- What did you learn?
What were your accomplishments?
If you made goals for the prior year, that’s the perfect place to start. But don’t just end there.
Write down all accomplishments you had last year.
Here are some examples for me:
- Started working remotely for Differential
- Moved in with my now-wife and step-daughter
- Built and launched two digital products
What were your failures?
For most people, “failure” is a hard word to hear, laced with negative connotation and discomfort. For me, it’s not. I love failure. Yes, I really do. When things don’t work, that is when you figure out how to make them work. My biggest learnings have been a result of failure. Or as Albert Einstein put it, “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
So let’s do it.
List out where you failed last year.
I’ll gladly talk about my failures. What’s more, I’ll talk about how those failures led to my biggest learnings.
- Built two digital products that failed
- Joined another team to build a side-project that froze
- Focused heavily on development rather than areas I was more passionate (and skilled) in
What did you learn?
This question is as much about your failures as your accomplishments. But they’re both important, and they both teach valuable lessons we should reflect on.
List out everything you learned last year.
Note: These learnings should cover anything and everything. They don’t only have to relate to failures and accomplishments from the prior year.
Here are a few of mine:
- Working longer hours does not make you more productive
- If you want to focus, you need to shut off all distractions
- I don’t care about sharing my life on social media
- Moving one thing forward a mile is infinitely better than moving ten things forward an inch
- Complex and cognitively demanding tasks require a deep focus to develop elegant solutions
- Schedule time to think (put it in the calendar)
- Protect your time, putting “blocks” in the calendar to make sure you have time to work on what brings you personal value, and what can help your company grow
A look at what’s ahead
Okay, so now let’s take a look at the year ahead. It’s time to whip out your calendar.
List out all of your big, planned events: birthdays, planned trips, work events, etc.
But why? So we can account for all the events that we know are going to occupy time. Time is our most valuable resource, and the first step — after reviewing — is recognizing the knowns. And this is only half the battle because a slew of unknowns will inevitably arrive. But let’s at least start by covering what is known.
Developing your “Areas”
A common organizational practice in todo applications is to build around the “Areas” or “Contexts” of our lives:
This is an important step towards planning our goals. If you haven’t thought about what those areas are for you, now is the time to do it.
I keep it simple with Professional and Personal, but I have more specific sub-areas within each of those “parent” areas:
Now we need to focus on getting everything out of our heads.
What do you want to accomplish this year?
Much like a brainstorming-session, there are no right or wrong answers here. We just want it out of our heads.
Write down everything you want to accomplish this year.
I do recommend using your areas as categorizations for everything you’re listing. However, do what feels right and doesn’t constrain your brainstorming.
And why do you want to accomplish it?
For each item you listed, ask yourself why you want to accomplish that particular item. The goal (pun intended) is to figure out the motivation behind what you’ve listed. We want to find any hidden themes or groupings within what we’ve said.
What are your values?
If you haven’t spent time reflecting on your personal values — what you care about, what you believe, where your passions are, and what you truly value — now is the time to do so. Knowing our values are vital to determine what goals we just listed are in alignment with our core values and beliefs.
Write out a list of your personal values.
Now you can use your newly crafted personal values to filter the list of accomplishments.
Go through your list of accomplishments and cross out any that don’t line up with the values you just established.
Actually setting the goals
Okay, we’re ready to actually set the goals. I know it might feel like a lot of upfront work, but it’s necessary to set the stage for crafting the right goals.
The “Rule of 3”
The Rule of 3 has been used in various methods — and I could spend time speaking to its origin — but, honestly, it doesn’t matter. What matters is our brains are attuned to thinking of things in threes, and it ends up being a suitable number to aim for when setting goals.
However, this is not a hard-and-fast rule. This is a guideline, so if you have one, two, or four, it’s fine. I’d recommend not going beyond four or five. If you do, make sure your goals are lofty enough, but also realistic with your time and ability to accomplish them.
So back to the “Rule of 3”. It’s simple. Aim for setting three goals in each area. If you want to do three goals in total, that’s fine, too. It’s all about finding the right balance based on the amount of areas in your life, and how lofty you make your goals.
Let’s look at an example goal of mine:
“Read & Write More”
I know this isn’t specific, but it’s a high-level categorization I gave to the goal, which is outlined more specifically as “sub-goals,” so to speak.
Read & Write More
- Read 50 books
- Write 20 articles
- Write (in journal) every day
The approach I take to formatting the goal is similar to an “OKR”. I know it’s another acronym, but I can explain this fast and furious. Stay with me!
- An “OKR” stands for
Objectives & Key Results
- The Objective is the primary goal
- Key Results are measurements for reaching the goal
So for my goal, the Objective is to “Read & Write More,” while the Key Results are the three sub-goals I listed. They are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and on a timeline (the end of year). Look at that! They are S.M.A.R.T. goals. Another acronym? Sigh.
SMART is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of objectives… — Wikipedia
Think about what is most important for you in each area, and define the high-level “objective” and three “key results” for each. Continue this process until you have three goals per area, or three goals in total (do what feels right).
Once you’ve done that, I want you to ask yourself:
At the end of this year, if I have completed each one of these goals, will I feel accomplished and proud?
If you said “Yes.” then 👍.
On changing and evolving your goals
Goals can — and should — change. Life invariably changes, so your goals should change, too. The way to manage this is by consistently reviewing your goals, and evolving and iterating on them to ensure they’re in line with your values.
Summarizing what we’ve learned
- Review your accomplishments from the previous year
- Review your failures from the previous year
- Review your learnings from the previous year
- Establish the known events for this year
- Establish the areas of your life
- Establish your personal core values
- Establish what you want to accomplish this year
Set your three goals under each area you’ve established.
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