Blog Short #114: A 4-Step Process to Set and Maintain Goals
Last week we worked on five new habits to help create the right mindset for moving into the New Year. This week we’ll continue along this track with a discussion of goal-setting.
Most people can usually set goals with no problem, but maintaining them is difficult. Today I’m giving you a quick 4-step process for developing and keeping goals. These four steps will get you started, and then next week, we’ll talk about how to sustain your momentum and motivation as your do the work.
Let’s start with setting goals.
Step 1: Create your goal list for this year.
For this step, I’m going to Marie Forleo, one of my favorite resources for entrepreneurship, motivation, and business advice. She’s got a 2-step process for goal-setting, which I’ve used many times, and find very useful. She calls it the Purge & Prune process.
For this step, write down every conceivable goal you’d like to pursue. Don’t censor yourself. Include anything and everything that comes to mind. Marie gives three categories to help stimulate your ideas. These are:
- Self goals. This category includes anything that falls under the umbrella of self-improvement. Examples might be increasing your fitness level, starting a meditation habit, improving your diet, or getting on top of your anxiety.
- Relationship goals. As you consider the important people in your life and the general health of your relationships, what do you need to change? For example, do you need to improve your communication with your partner or your kids? Maybe you’d like to spend more quality time, or you want to become more appreciative. Are there significant issues that need sorting out and resolving? Parenting skills you want to improve? List these goals.
- Work/Profession goals. What are your professional or career goals for the coming year? These can include milestones related to a job, new professional skills you’d like to acquire, or if you’re a homemaker, things you’d like to improve in the management and upkeep of your home. Write it all down.
You know what’s next, right? Go through those mammoth lists you just made and start pruning them.
You can’t do everything. If you think you can, you’ll undoubtedly wear out early in the game and drop out.
The purpose of pruning is to select the most important goals for this time in your life and make them manageable and reachable. Less is better in this case, but just because you delete many goals from your list for this year doesn’t mean you can’t add them back in later.
Some people find it helpful to prioritize first. You make a high-priority list to pursue and a second list to pull from if you finish some of your goals sooner than you thought you would. There isn’t a magic number, but I caution you to get your list as small as possible to start.
Keep in mind that you can focus better and more effectively if you are single-minded.
Two questions I use to help me decide are:
- Why is this goal important to me now?
- What are the benefits if I reach this goal, and what are the downsides if I don’t pursue it?
Step 2: Place your goals in time.
You have your list. Next, you need to break down your goals into specific tasks and put these in time slots.
I use a quarterly/weekly system.
I start by breaking down my annual goal list into quarterly sub-goals. From there, I list all the tasks related to each quarterly goal.
You might want to make the quarterly goal lists all at once, but make the quarterly task lists as you approach each quarter.
Doing one quarter at a time rather than trying to do them all upfront allows for deviations as you see how much time things take. You might need to change some tasks around or even update your goals.
There’s no need to write everything out at once. However, if that’s something you like to do and it’s worked for you, then, by all means, do it that way.
One of my favorite writers, Jon Acuff, uses a one-year calendar that fits on his wall. He writes everything down for each day of the year. It’s erasable, so you can update it. If you’re interested in that, click here.
Next, create weekly task lists from your quarterly lists.
Step 3: Schedule like there’s no tomorrow.
The weekly schedule is cash. I suggest creating no more than three main goals to accomplish in a week and then diligently scheduling what you’ll do each day to ensure you reach those three goals.
It’s helpful to schedule everything on your calendar, including downtime, sleep, meals, errands, and work tasks.
I use something called “focus blocks” for work tasks. I’ll block off a certain number of hours and then list what I’ll do in those hours. I’ve found this to be the most helpful strategy for reaching goals.
There are two methods you can use:
- Time completion.
- Task completion.
For writing, I use time completion. If I sit down to write with the goal of finishing an entire article, my resistance flares up, and I find myself having difficulty sticking with it. If I instead write for an hour only, it’s much easier because it’s simply one hour. I often go over that hour, but knowing I only have to write one hour lowers my resistance.
You can choose which method works best for you, and I’d imagine it will vary depending on the project or goal.
One more thing – Be sure to choose a calendar you’ll use and look at that’s easily accessible. I use a Google calendar that syncs across all my devices. I also use “Notes” on all my devices to create daily lists. Don’t get too elaborate with your system. Make it simple.
Step 4: Tracking your progress.
Tracking helps you keep the big picture in mind while ensuring that you do the work. Without tracking, you’ll lose your place and find it easy to opt out.
Since you’ll be scheduling tasks weekly, tracking should also be a weekly event. I’d suggest doing a weekly review on the same day each week and using a written format that will give you continuity in seeing where you are.
I do mine on Saturday mornings. They take about 30 minutes -nothing super long. My format has four sections:
- Weekly Insights – What did I learn that will help me going forward?
- Successes – What went well, and what did I accomplish?
- Revisions – What do I need to revise this week to make my process smoother and more effective?
- New goals & schedule – What are my goals for next week, and what tasks do I need to list to accomplish those? Write them on your calendar now.
You can read more about this process by clicking here.
It’s a good idea to type or write this out. Then make sure you read it over daily. Doing that helps you stay motivated and keeps you on track to meet your weekly goals. It’s best to do that at the same time every day – either at the beginning or end. It helps you maintain a big-picture view so you don’t get lost in the daily work.
Keeping that big picture is necessary to get you to the finish line.
You can also use this same format for your quarterly goals.
If you stick with this four-step process, you’ll meet your goals. You may revise them along the way and likely will. That’s normal and often necessary as you learn new things. Just remember this from James Clear in his book Atomic Habits:
Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win. Having a system is what matters. Committing to the process is what makes the difference.
That’s all for today!
All my best,
P. S. Two books I’d recommend in addition to Atomic Habits are Finish by Jon Acuff and Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy.