Sunday, October 11, 2009

Goal-setting: 12 Things in 2 Years

I've been setting goals for a long time now, and I've used lots of techniques to articulate and arrange them - stuff like a list of 50 things to do before you die, and making them S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound).

It's all good, and I made some scattershot progress on them over the decade and a half I've been doing it. But nothing to blog about.

A couple of years ago, I ran across the idea of creating a list of 101 things to do in 1001 days. Immediately I got excited by that and started putting all of the goals I was most interested in onto this list, grouping them by category, figuring out the stuff I was most interested in. Being the sort of person I am, I also put "Finish my list of 101 things in 1001 days" onto my list to get the satisfaction of ticking it off.

For a long time (between six months and a year) I used this list during my weekly sit-down where I review what's going on in my life. I'd tick things off, figure out what to do next. But I was vaguely dissatisfied with it, and I had no idea why.

Clicking around aimlessly on the internet as I often do, I found a site called, which is a goal-setting community where you make a list of 43 things you want to achieve. "Eureka," cried the organisation part of my brain. "That's what's wrong. 101 things is too intimidating for me. It feels unachievable, demotivating and hard to select my next goal from. What I need to do is create a list of 43 thi --"


That was another part of my brain speaking up. It realised that if I could cut the list down to 43 items, then I could make it any number I wanted. I could choose a number of items and a timeframe that was right for me. I wanted it to have a bit of alliteration, so 12 things in 2 years became the immediate front-runner.

12 things is an amount I can keep track of. Two years is a decent period of time to do it.

Now the trickier thing was what 12 items to choose.

I'd recently finished doing a life review (which maybe I'll talk about later, but it's basically a series of questions designed to help you see what's going well and what you need to work on). A couple of the items from that review stood out as things as things I needed to fix or work on urgently. So they went on the list.

Next I had a look at the things I needed to get done and was already in the process of doing: getting my full license, setting up a retirement plan, pay off my student loan. Easy (but freaking meaningful) achievements; they went on the list.

Finally I looked at my list of 101 Things and the two folders I have that are filled with other goals. What I was looking for were goals that would make me feel like I was getting closer to being the person I want to be. Stuff like 'Learn to dance', and 'Learn 500 words of Te Reo and 100 basic phrases'.

Now I had my list of 12 items, and a deadline of 18 April 2011 to do them in. Next I had to decide how to deal with the fact that my life will change over the next two years and that some things might become redundant or other more urgent goals might emerge.

I decide to use the concept of the 'Will Do' list:

  • All 12 items are things that I'm committed to doing.
  • To avoid feeling overloaded, I can't add new items to the list; in fact, I drew a big black line under the list to emphasise that.
  • If I decide to drop something, I highlight it but I do NOT add a new item in its place. That way the list gradually keeps going down; I want to make this easy on myself.

I figured that there would be urgent or crisis goals that I'll need to deal with over the next two years, but that I would treat this list as a touchstone to keep returning to, to keep me on the right path.

So far I've completed two goals, and have made significant progress on five more. As I complete each one, it gives me more time and energy to focus on the remaining ones.

That's it. That's my goal-setting system as at 2009. What about you? What's yours? (And if you've got any questions, just ask.)
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