For me, there is no question. Setting goals, planning, listing actions, that’s my nature. If I can see a goal, I will start ticking off what needs to happen to get there (whether it’s my goal or yours!). The problem with setting goals and action planning isn’t that they don’t work. It’s that they only work when you manage and adjust them with flexibility. Because what’s most important, right now, can change, and often does, in a heartbeat.
Goal setting starts with a vision for something you want to accomplish. For a college student, that could be the vision of graduation, landing a job, starting to become independent. For someone in their late 20’s and 30’s, it could be having children and giving them a good start in life. That could mean increasing earning power and evolving job and career. For someone in their 40’s or 50’s, it may be about planning a second chapter to your life and career.
The vision and its key elements become your goals. This opens the possibility to plan. Planning is nothing more than identifying the things that are going to help you achieve the goal. Start by asking yourself some key questions:
· Resources – what resources do I need to succeed? What people could help me? What communities/collective resources do I have at my disposal?
· Investment – what do I need to invest (time, money) to succeed? What trade-offs can I make to free up what I need?
· Environment – how does my day to day environment encourage / discourage my success? What changes can I make?
· Behavior – what changes in my behavior are required to be successful? What habits are working for me / against me?
· Time – how much time is required? Overall? On a daily/weekly/monthly basis?
· Milestones – what important steps do I need to achieve along the way?
Now you can start mapping out your plan. Lay out the overall timeframe and the key milestones. Document the key actions you will take and the timeframe within which you will do them. Here is an example.
It’s not enough to just make a list. You have to be committed to actually doing them. Accountability is a big part of success. How will you keep yourself accountable? Self-discipline is great, but it’s not always enough. It’s great to have an accountability buddy. That’s someone who you can share your goals and actions with and count on to hold you accountable.
A big part of accountability is taking the next step from planning to doing. That’s when prioritization and time management start to come into play. Start by scheduling actions on your calendar.
There are only 24 hours in a day. Even when you go so far as to play out every hour of your day, life is full of unexpected turns. So, not only do you have to plan, you have to be flexible while you are trying to impose some order! Be ready to shift your gears and focus. But don’t lose sight of what you’re put off temporarily. Adjust your plan accordingly.
It’s a never-ending cycle. You may be adjusting for the timeframe of smaller actions to reach a milestone. You may find you need to change the timing of key milestones. In any case, it’s important to check in on the status of your plan regularly (schedule time to do it weekly or monthly depending on how intense your plan is).
Remember that the end goal is not set in stone either. Often on the journey to reach a goal, our vision evolves and changes from what we initially had in mind. Don’t blindly continue working towards a long term goal – reassess your vision and goals on a regular basis.
Think, plan, do, adjust. Make goal setting and action planning part of your DNA. Your dreams will get that much closer.