Question from reader Bob:
I’ve finally realized that I need to put together a 5-year plan to continue my personal development and reach goals. I’ve found your post, Think About Your Life Goals , and it’s started me in the right direction, but left a lot of open questions. To start, I really don’t know what questions I should ask myself to get to the items I really want (if I even know what I really want in the first place). Is there some sort of personal plan worksheet that you know of that would cover the complete realm of development? I feel that I would be more successful if I could easily view my goals and track my progress within one main document.
A great question, but to tell the truth, since I wrote that article, I’ve simplified my goal-planning system. A lot. I’ll get into that simple system in a minute, but let’s break Bob’s question into three parts:
- How to choose life goals
- How to get there
- How to keep track of all your goals and actions
How to choose life goals
There is no perfect answer here. Some people have known for awhile now what they really want, but just haven’t pursued it, and for them, it just takes a little contemplation to realize what they’ve wanted all along. Others will have a more difficult time, as they have never figured out what their dream is, or what they’d like to accomplish. For them, I’d make a few suggestions:
- Take some time for quiet contemplation.
- Think about what’s important to you.
- Think about what you’d like people to say about you when you die.
- Brainstorm — make a list of all the things you’d like to do in life, things that sound fun and exciting and wonderful, and then choose the best of the list.
- You don’t have to come up with your life goals right now. You could just think of something you’d like to achieve over the next 6 months to a year, and continue to explore different things until you find your dream.
How to get there
If you know your goals, the next question is how to get there. A great method that I’ve seen numerous times, most recently by Mark Joyner in his Simple*ology system, is called backward planning, a method used by the military. Basically, here’s how it works:
- Have a clearly defined goal with a clearly defined outcome — you should be able to visualize what it looks like when you’ve accomplished the outcome.
- What is the last thing you’ll need to do to achieve that outcome? If your goal is to publish a novel, for example, the last thing you’ll need to do (before the publisher does the layout and design, printing, marketing, etc.) is edit and submit the final draft.
- What is the thing you’ll need to do just before that step? In the above example, you might want to get an outside editor to review your draft and give your criticisms and suggestions and edits.
- What is the thing you’ll need to do before that step? In the example, you’d need to do a revised draft to submit to your editor.
- And so on, until you get to the first step. The first step is what you need to focus on. In the novel example, you might have “brainstorm novel ideas” as your first step.
If you follow this plan, you’ll have a step-by-step guide to achieving your goal. Now you just need a way to track your goals and achieve them.
How to track and achieve your goals – a simple method
As Bob suggests, it would take a well-planned form or software to track a bunch of goals, broken down by periods of your life (1 year, 5 years, 10 years, etc). That can be very complicated, as I’ve discovered myself.
So how can you simplify this? Of your life goals, choose one to accomplish within the next 12 months. If none of them can be accomplished in 12 months, choose a sub-goal of one of your life goals to accomplish in 12 months. And only choose ONE goal. Here’s an example:
Life goal: build my dream house
1 year goal: save $5,000 towards a down payment for my dream house
Once you’ve chosen your 1 year goal (and remember, only choose one — not one for each area of your life, but just one), then choose a medium-term goal that you can accomplish in 3-6 months. It should be a big chunk of your 1 year goal. For example:
medium-term goal: save $2,500 in 6 months
Then choose a short-term goal you can accomplish in 1-2 weeks. For example:
short-term goal: set up automatic deductions from my paycheck to go straight to savings — amount: $200 per paycheck.
The reason you should only focus on one goal at a time is that it’s hard to track a whole bunch of goals, and it’s hard to maintain focus on more than one goal at a time. If you just have to accomplish one thing this week, you can really put your energy into making it happen. But if you need to do 3-5 things in the next two weeks, it’s much more likely that you won’t do any of them.
So, focus on your short-term goal (1-2 weeks) and then when you complete it, choose the next short-term goal to get you to your medium-term goal. Once the medium-term goal is accomplished, choose a new medium-term goal to get you to your long-term goal (1 year). Once your long-term goal is accomplished, set your sights on a new long-term goal. Keep this up, and you’ll achieve a lot.
Here’s another example:
1 yr goal: Quit my job and work from home
medium-term goal: start an online business that will bring me income
short-term goal: brainstorm and research ideas for online business
I’ve found that this simplified system does a lot to helping me stay focused. It’s also hard to only choose one goal, as we always want to do 10 goals, but I think it’s worth it to decide what’s most important.
And the goal-tracking system is simple: on a simple 3×5 index card (or any sheet of paper), write down three things: your 1-year goal, your medium-term goal, and your short-term goal. When you accomplish the short-term goal, just cross it off and write a new one. It doesn’t require any fancy software or planning system.
The key is to maintain focus on your one goal, and to put all your energy into achieving it. Don’t forget it, don’t be distracted from it. Let it be the point on the horizon that you continually keep in sight, moving around obstacles but constantly heading towards that point. Maintain your focus, and you’ll achieve it.
What are your thoughts on this? Have a simple method for achieving and tracking your life goals? Let us know in the comments.
- 12 Ways to Decompress after High Stress
- The Three Secrets to Happiness
- Are Your Days Crazy? Take Control
- Edit Your Life Part 1: Commitments
- Edit Your Life Part 2: Your Rooms
- Develop Clean House Habits One at a Time
- How NOT To Multi-task: Work Simpler and Saner
- Slow Down to Enjoy Life
- Zen Mind: How to Declutter
If you liked this article, please bookmark it in del.icio.us. Thanks!