Really Simple Goal Setting

My favorite simplicity blog, Unclutterer, recently did a good post on goal-setting software called Lifetick, which is actually pretty cool. But as I was playing around with its nice little interface, I realized that for me, such a program is overkill.

I believe in keeping your goals simple, and if you do that, goal-setting and goal-management doesn’t require software.

In fact, you can do it with a single index card.

The key to simple goal setting is to not have too many goals. In fact, regular readers know that I advocate One Goal when possible. While that’s not always possible for some people, having too many goals makes things complicated and requires a more complicated system for keeping track of your goals.

Keep things as simple as possible if you can. That has the added benefit of allowing you to focus your energies on a small number of goals, making you far more effective with them.

Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Brainstorm. If you don’t already have a list of things you’d like to accomplish, start out by making such a list. Throw anything on the list — you don’t actually have to do them. This is just to make sure you don’t miss anything.
  2. The one thing that will change your life the most this year. Now take a look at the list and figure out which goal will change your life the most — within the next year or so. Is it something that can be accomplished in a year? It can take less than a year — one month or three or six if you like. If it will take several years, you might want to create a sub-goal that will take a year or less — any longer and it’s hard to stay motivated. Is it a goal that will really make a big difference in your life? Is it something you REALLY want to achieve? Be sure it’s something you’ll be passionate about, or you’ll lose motivation.
  3. Create a mantra. Once you’ve chosen your goal, turn it into a personal mantra. This is an idea from Guy Kawasaki, who said that a business should abandon a mission statement (which are usually useless) and create a 2-5 word mantra instead (his was something like “empower entrepreneurs”). So use this idea for your personal mantra — how can you put your goal into 2-5 words? Write those words on an index card, or make it your desktop picture/wallpaper, or post it on the wall next to your computer. Do something to ensure that you never forget this mantra — and repeat it out loud every single day.
  4. What can you do this month to make that happen? If your goal will take a year or so to accomplish, you’ll want to create a smaller sub-goal. Figure out a project you can do this month to get yourself a few steps closer to that goal, and focus on this project for the next month.
  5. What can you do today? Each day when you start your day, repeat your mantra and figure out what action you can do today to make your goal closer to becoming a reality. It just has to be one thing. If you do one thing each day, you’ll reach your goal. Some days you can do two things if you like, but don’t overload yourself. Now make sure that one thing is the first thing you do today. Don’t put it off until the end of the day, when it will get pushed back until tomorrow. Do it first!

Five steps might sound like a lot, but in reality you’re just 1) choosing a goal and creating a mantra for it; and 2) focusing on shorter-term actions to make that goal a reality.

What if You Have More Than One Goal?

Many people will say that having just one goal is impossible for them. I have two possible solutions for that:

  1. Just do one goal for now. You can still do the other goals, but put them off for a month or two. Focus on one goal for at least a month … and turn it into a habit. So if you want to run a marathon, create the habit of running each day. If you want to write a novel, create the habit of writing each morning. If you want to create a successful blog, create the habit of writing insanely useful posts each day. Once your first goal becomes a habit and is on autopilot, turn to the next goal — you don’t have to worry as much about the first goal because it has become automatic.
  2. Do more than one goal, but keep them simple. The danger with more than one goal is that you’ll spread yourself too thin. If you have 3-4 goals, that’s doable if you don’t create half a dozen tasks you need to accomplish for each goal every week. That will lead to a lack of effectiveness. Instead, find ways to focus on one goal at a time: just focus on one of your goals this week, or just one of your goals each day, or just one of your goals in the morning and another in the afternoon, for example. This way you won’t lose effectiveness.

On Motivation

Often the problem with goals is not setting them, but sticking to them when motivation flags. For more on sticking to your goals, read my Ultimate Guide to Motivation.

How do you set and achieve your goals? I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments.

“You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra