Goal Setting: What do you want?

It seems I have a problem with my present-day career:
My ship she has a rudder, but I don't know where to steer

--Jimmy Buffet, "Simply Complicated"

Goal setting? Why?
Well, how often do you feel like a project you're working on is "getting nowhere"? Like you're not accomplishing anything?
Think over those projects - do you know what you're actually trying to accomplish?

The #1 reason projects "go nowhere" is that they don't know where they're going in the first place.
Project strategy is nothing more than figuring out where you want to go, and how you want to get there.

So set a goal. It doesn't have to involve an elegant, elaborately-worded mission statement, it just has to be clear enough for you to tell when you've fulfilled it.

For small projects, this can be no more than a simple sentence: "I want the house clean enough that when my mother-in-law complains, I know she's unjustified in her complaints."

For larger projects in the corporate world, it may involve a written mission statement. For most people, the optimal goal size will be somewhere in between.

Regardless of the size and formality of your goal, they should always have certain characteristics. The commonly-used acronym is "S.M.A.R.T":

    Specific: vague statements like "I'd like to be healthier" aren't helpful -- turn it into "I want to be able to run a 5K" or "I want to switch to a low-fat diet." Doing so will help a lot with the M...

    Measurable: you should be able to tell whether you've succeeded or not. So take the specificity of the S and turn it into "I want to run a 5K in under 45 minutes" or "I want to eat less than 33% calories from fat for a full month."

    Attainable: There's no point in setting goals that are completely out of the question, although it's a good idea to set them a little beyond what you think you can do (just in case you're better than you think you are).

    Relevant: This goal should help you accomplish something. If you achieve it, will it make your resume look good? Get you a promotion? Make you happier? Get you more business? Fulfill a lifetime dream? If not, why are you doing it?

    Time-bound: "A goal without a deadline is just a dream" -- Alex Mackenzie. Give yourself some time by which you want to accomplish this -- it will make you far more likely to actually take effort towards it.

Notice that your goal-setting doesn't have to be a major, long-term effort to meet these criteria; the clean-house goal cited above meets them all:

    Specific: You want the house clean (as opposed to, I want my mother-in-law to be happy)
    Measurable: If you feel a twinge of guilt when your mother-in-law complains, then you've failed. If you roll your eyes at your spouse, you've succeeded
    Attainable: I hope it's attainable! If not, I guess you'll have to scale back your expectations, perhaps by focusing on the kitchen or the living room.
    Relevant: Achieving this goal will make your mother-in-law's visit more comfortable.
    Time-bound: Although it's not explicitly stated, it's implied that you need to accomplish this before your mother-in-law arrives.

    Sounds great -- how do I do that?

    Sometimes goal setting can be harder than it sounds. Often we haven't taken the time to figure out what we want. Sometimes you know, but you're having trouble verbalizing it. Below are several tricks for turning your desires into goals.

    Quick-and-Easy Goal Setting
    If goal setting sounds easy to you, then write down your goals, make sure they meet the SMART criteria, and move on to Step 2.

    Business Project Goal Setting
    When you have a project that involves multiple people, and especially when you have a project given to you by another person, it's important to make sure everyone is hoping for the same results. I recommend this sort of process for freelancers, joint venturers, and people with flaky bosses.

    The forms from my Franklin Covey project planning app recommends asking each key stakeholder:
    "As you envision success on this project, what kinds of things are important to you?"

    Then compile everyone's answers into a document listing the purpose of the project and the desired results, (make sure they're SMART!) and get everyone who matters to sign off on it. This will help you later when no one on the team can remember what you were trying to accomplish, or when your boss or customer tries to claim that you haven't fulfilled your obligations.

    Once you have approval from all relevant parties, move on to Step 2.

    Lifestyle Goal Setting
    Sometimes the problem feels overwhelming because there are too many components. Projects like developing a career, raising kids, or finding fulfillment are complex, with many subprojects and sub-goals, and it's hard to put them into words.

    Allvine & Larson's Family CFO: The Couple's Business Plan outlines a goal-setting process for couples where each partner writes down their dreams/goals/desires on a bunch of index cards, then they take turns explaining why these objectives are important to them. Once all the goals are on the table, they sort the dreams in order of importance, and then assign timeframes to them (ongoing, 1-year, 5-year, lifetime). See Annual Planning for more details on incorporating goal-setting into your life.


    Once you've established what's important to you, rewrite your goals to meet the SMART criteria and move on to step 2. If you're having trouble with making them SMART, check out David Seah's Groundhog's Day Resolution Form Groundhog's Day Resolution Form (he sets his resolutions on Groundhog's Day instead of New Year's Day, but the form works great for taking you from dreams to specific goals and on into the specific tasks of Step 2.)

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