We’re told that setting goals is one of the most important things we can do in life to achieve success. Goals give us direction and enable our vision and dreams. As the saying goes, “a goal without a plan in just a wish.”
While that’s true, setting goals is only the first step. We need to look at the systems and habits we build to achieve the goals because they have a much longer lasting impact.
I’ve always set yearly goals. Since Jr. High I wrote down and tracked all my goals throughout the year. Checking them off one by one as I went.
Having goals has allowed me to achieve things like finishing an Ironman, getting a Black Belt and starting several companies. But was it the goal that helped or something much more powerful?
There are 3 levels of effectiveness and goals is only the lowest level. It’s a place to start, but it doesn’t end there. So let’s start with goal setting.
How to set a goal
First off, goals do have some benefit. They help us focus our intentions so we know where we’re going. As the Cheshire cat says in “Alice and Wonderland,” it doesn’t matter which road you choose if you don’t know where you’re going.
When setting a goal use the SMART criteria, which is that each goal must be:
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely.
Goals can give us direction and are very useful. Meanwhile, resolutions (as in New Year’s Resolutions) are worthless. They’re a degree above a wish. Why? Because they don’t have any of the above characteristics. They also have no follow through.
Let’s say you have a resolution to lose 20 pounds in the following year. You write it down and put it on your refrigerator and maybe post it on Facebook. Then, what happens with most people, is they get new shoes from Santa and hit the gym on the morning of January 2nd. Totally motivated. The daily workouts last only as long as the motivation.
So let’s forget about resolutions and focus on goals, which have their own problems.
Focus on small tasks
After you’ve got your goal, break it down into smaller pieces and focus on those pieces.
On a daily level, I prefer to have only 3 things to focus on. I write them down each morning and track them throughout the day. Focusing on the things I feel would make the day successful allows me to stay on track. If I accomplish only those 3 things, then I’ll feel productive.
Three may not sound like a lot, but it’s amazing how many inconsequential things we do each day that don’t contribute to our success. It’s easy to get sidetracked and do the wrong things.
Or as Peter Drucker said,
The first on that list is my Main Task for the day. It’s my focus. If you’re an Idea Person, then it may be difficult to focus as ideas flood into your mind. We must be vigilant not to succumb to the Entrepreneur’s Curse
Practice saying “no” to everything else and schedule important tasks for future days. If you’re working on a large project, your Main Task could be the same every day for a week or over a month.
What’s more effective than goals?
Everyone sets goals, yet not everyone achieves them. If goals are so great, then why isn’t everyone achieving their goals? It’s obvious that there’s something behind the goals that drives someone to achieve. It’s more than just the goal that matters.
In every sports competition, each team wants to win. Each competitor says they give 110%. They train, diet, listen to coaches, some even have psychologists to get into the right mental state. With all the effort each athlete puts into it, why don’t they all win?
It comes down to their systems and habits. In other words, what are they doing during those training sessions?
During my youth I practiced both the piano and violin. I had a set time to practice – an hour each day. Some days I was into it and had the patience to break apart every measure of the music and work on technique and do finger exercises to master difficult passages. On less effective days, I just screwed around for an hour. I got my hour in, but each hour was effectively different.
Successful people don’t just have goals to check off the list. They have systems behind those goals to make it easier to achieve them.