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.)


Matt said...

When we lived in Japan we had a motivational poster on the wall. It had a picture of Debbie and me and a dog and a cat outside a house.

There may have also been a list of material items we wanted to purchase - though I think we talked about those rather than putting them on the poster. We could then say "One more week in Japan and we can have a kickass home theatre when we get back! Three more days of overtime and we can buy a sofa!"

Incredibly money based, but that was the goal in Japan. All the lovely language learning, exploring, making friends and living a simple life* was a bonus. I think we appreciated it all the more because it was a bonus.

*Upon reflection this was a boon, however there were times when having an internet connection or home phone or pets or more clothes or family and friends nearby would have been great :-)

Matt said...

I don't have a goal setting system, but I do have goals. Weight management was a huge goal over the last year and a half and it's still important. I find setting weight targets for the end of each term has been motivating - if it gets to 2 weeks before the end of term and I haven't reached a target I can push myself to be extra disciplined right at the time when I'm most tired and vulnerable to temptation.

I'm enjoying the challenges on and will be looking to complete some of those, as well as chipping away at getting 5 short stories published (I totally copied this goal from Debbie, just as I copied a chunk of her writing enthusiasm. Now if I could just match her prolific output...).

I'm putting 'spend time with family' back at the top of my goals list too (OK, apparently now I do have a list of goals. In my head.). It's been pretty amazing over the past 2 years getting to be at home as much as I have (working close to home and popping home at lunchtime most days). Long may it last!

So apparently my 'system' is to be aware of what I want to achieve and work towards it. I outsource some of my motivation, remembering and staying-on-trackability to Debbie, and in return do my best to support her goals.

And copy them.

Debbie Cowens said...

Interesting - these numbers of goals seem dauntingly huge to me. I suppose because I'm very concerned with my goals being 'achieveable'. Once I have mentally committed to a goal, I feel like I can't drop it or stop obsessing until I've achieved it. As such I tend to have only a couple of goals at a time.

For me something like 'Learn to dance' would be a challenge, not a goal. I have to think and consider something for a while, research and test it out to ensure I can actually stick it out before I would set something as a goal. I think challenges are also important to have - trying new things, pushing yourself to see if you can do more or achieve something that seems difficult but I don't feel compelled to stick with them if they don't work out.

Obviously, you've said that you're going to let yourself cross things out if necessary so it's a needless distinction but I guess that why I had the reaction of '12 goals'. Whoa! If you had said 12 things to do or 12 challenges, that would have seemed fine to me. I guessed I've been conditioned to have a very narrow interpretation of the term goal.

Jenni said...

Hey Steve, I'm vaguely considering taking up Swing dancing again, because I am getting no exercise. Would you be interested in trying that out?

Also, I applaud your dedication to self-improvement. My goals are entirely organised by my '' list. And I'm all about the baby steps. I focus on the next thing I need to do which works towards the Big Goals.

hix said...

@Matt: Having a poster to serve as a visual reminder about your goals strikes me as a great idea.

It seems like the goals of weight-management, 5 short stories and spend time with the family are close to your heart and you're highly motivated to do them. What about the kiwiwriters challenges? Do they feel as ... essential?

hix said...

@Debbie: Yeah, I'm fully prepared to find out that 12 is too large a number. For quite a few years, I was a big believer that I could only handle 2 or 3 goals at a time, and this 12 in 2 list is partly an experiment to find out whether that's true.

I pretty much agree with your hardcore definition of 'goal', though. I think you should firmly commit to doing something, and that it's a bad habit to drop it. The thing is, though, that pretty much all the stuff on this list is stuff that I've tried out in small doses before and know that I want to do more of. Hopefully that's going to decrease the chances that I'll get into the middle of something and find out that I hate it. Or that it doesn't add as much to my life as I'd hope.

But if I do find that out, that's cool. Reading the book Mike lent me ('Stumbling on Happiness') has convinced me that Present-Steve won't always know what will make Future-Steve happy. Working my way through the list will help me figure that out, and I won't feel too bad if I have to drop something.

Beside, what Jenni says about 'baby steps' is totally true. You should see the easy-achievability of some of my goals. The cooking goal is something like 'Cook 3 meals at home for 3 not necessarily consecutive months'. That's pretty damn achievable.

hix said...

@Jenni: Yes, I'm interested in the swing dancing thing. Sounds cool! Let's discuss further.

Matt said...

The kiwiwriters challenges are a fun way to:

1. Keep writing fresh and interesting
2. Provide some time specific targets of varying length
3. Encourage me to interact with other members of, further encouraging me to think of myself as someone who writes AND expanding my contacts in the world of writing

They're not something I'm going to agonise over but they are also not daunting, so I shall have fun completing those that I can and talking about them on the forums.

Having a start-up e-publisher comment that she liked a short story I'd written for a challenge and wanted to publish it was quite encouraging :-)

hix said...

Matt, that is awesome! Congratulations!

Lulu's Body Art said...

there is one problem to goal setting, i have found, that as you get older the goals change. also, as you complete a goal, a spiral off goal may appear. example: i had kids, this makes the whole goal process really tricky when there are other factors involved. never-the-less, i have a few goals i want to achieve:
1-watch my boys grow into men and be happy at it.
2-become fabulous at a profession i am happy in
3-be the best i can be at my life.

i do take into account these are really broad and all encompassing, but why not. they will do till i get smaller one. :)

hix said...

I completely agree, Margo. Although I haven't run into that problem yet with this list, I'm trying to build a degree of flexibility into how I look at the goals, and I'll be more than willing to admit it if one of them suddenly becomes redundant.

I think it's yin and yang. You've got to be flexible and accept where life takes you, and at points where life is offering you less or no resistance, it helps to have a shape or a direction that you want to pursue.