Within several top management, leadership and productivity related books a few common patterns emerge. One of the most important ones is to write down your goals. It appears that having your desires in mind makes them more a dream than real targets. It applies both to your professional and private life. As you can imagine, each author has a slightly different approach to noting your goals and embedding them into the system that will help you in achieving them. Lets take a quick look at the most interesting ones.
Getting things done (GTD) by David Allen (BTW, I highly encourage you to read this book if you are facing problems with tracking all the stuff coming to you everyday) defines personal and professional work by horizons of focus:
- runaway – current actions to be taken,
- 10000 level – your list of current projects,
- 20000 level – areas of responsibility,
- 30000 level – 1 to 2 year goals, where you would like to be in that time,
- 40000 level – 3 to 5 year goals,
- 50000 level – your life and place on the planet.
If you would like to read more about the levels, check out this article. Embedding the system forces you to clearly define not only your current actions and projects, but also your long-term goals. This encourages you to frequently review your long perspective targets and verify if your lower level items reflects them. If not, it is a clear indicator that you are not following your major goals and might have serious problems achieving them. There is quite a complicated system behind runaway and 10k level. However, it is possible to sit down for a moment and consider all the above levels: 20k, 30k, 40k and 50k. Then write down thoughts and verify them from time to time. GTD creates a compass that you can follow every day.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey presents quite a similar approach. It is hidden behind two habits:
- Begin with the End in mind,
- Put first things first.
The first one is about envisioning your future – who you want to be, where and what you want to be doing. Inner honesty is emphasized here to avoid following false dreams. The author created a Personal Mission Statement term. It is a written credo about what you want to be (character) and what you want to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values and principles upon which being and doing are based. Your life guideline is also referred to as mental creation. The second habit is about execution. In general, it states that thanks to applying the habit of Begin with the End in mind a person is able to clearly distinguish between important and unimportant issues and focus on things that matter most. It is also referred to as physical creation. As the author states:
If you put first things first, you are organizing and managing time and events according to the personal priorities you established in previous habit.
Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy offers idea that are simpler and closer to the readers approach. He defines 7 steps to make and commit to goals:
- decide exactly what you want,
- write it down,
- set a deadline on goals,
- make a list of everything that you can think of that you are going to have to do to achieve your goals,
- organize your list into a plan,
- take action on your plan immediately,
- commit to doing something every single day that moves you towards your major goal.
Writing your goals down allows you to put them in a visible place so they will motivate you every day to take one small step. As the author states, building a habit of performing a single task pushing you to achieve your goals is critical. Even if your actions appear to be wrong, you will learn what not to do and possibly what are the right actions.
While writing goals is important, taking steps towards them and measuring your progress is crucial in achieving them. Within the above books there is a less or more hidden review step. If you read or hear advice from successful people, you will find the same. One of common systems is to review your progress and goals:
- shortly every week, while planning the next one,
- get more involved every month, spending at least an hour on evaluation and deciding about adjustments or additional research before you take any concrete action,
- one major review every three months, checking if your overall current approach worked for the last quarter and if it will work for next one (a 4 hour session is usually barely enough). It is worth taking the time to go to some remote, isolated area.
Thanks to continuous reflection it is possible to correct the path that has been followed. While reviewing it is worth it to have benchmarks and expected values defined. Examples are:
- traffic increase on specific site,
- product sales results changes,
- number of books read, courses taken, etc,
- weight loss progress,
- and so on with whatever you can measure if it will mean advancing towards your goals.
Each review shall consider the benchmark results and decide whether your current approach is the most efficient one and bringing the biggest possible value.
For the summary I will cite a part of this Forbes article:
There was a fascinating study conducted on the 1979 Harvard MBA program where graduate students were asked “have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” The result, only 3% had written goals and plans, 13% had goals but they weren’t in writing and 84% had no goals at all. Ten years later, the same group was interviewed again and the result was absolutely mind-blowing. The 13% of the class who had goals, but did not write them down were earning twice the amount of the 84% who had no goals. The 3% who had written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% of the class combined! While this study only looked at earnings to quantify success, I still find it to be an extremely motivating example of why creating clear and measurable goals and writing them down is the key to success.
Are you convinced now?