6 simple steps for setting goals that really work

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6 mins read
Ben Willmott

Why set goals?

Do you want to be left behind, moving along at a pace where you’re busy and feel like you’re getting stuff done, but you’re not achieving anything significant?

Moving from day to day like this can sometimes be satisfying as you’re ploughing your to-do list, but achieving lots of small things will only keep you happy for so long.

To fix this, you typically set goals to work towards, but traditional goal setting for most doesn’t work. One reason is most people spend more time planning their holidays, than planning out their work and life goals. 

Research by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that people that set goals led to a a higher performance 90 percent of the time. When setting goals they have to be specific though, which I’ll get to in step 3.

I’m sure everyone has gone through the process of setting goals at some point in their lives with varying degrees of success.

The classic is a New Year’s resolution. For some reason, the passing of the New Year often inspires us to do something we’ve never done before, or improve our lives in some way. Usually though, we soon forget about those goals and go back to our more comfortable life.

The classic example is ‘I’m going to get fit this year’ For regular gym goers you’ve have seen this in action as the gyms are packed in January, only to slowly go back to the regulars again in February and March.

There are many reasons the goals you set are often not met. It’s easy to find excuses, but typically it’s because they’re vague and you haven’t emotionally committed to them. For example, if I stop going to the gym, no one will know, and I’ll tell myself I’ll start again soon.

To create and achieve your goals, there are some fundamental things you need to do when setting goals. All of which requires time commitment up front to make sure you create them correctly in the first place. It’s not complicated though and these 6 steps are all you need.

STEP 1: Think of everything

STEP 2: Dream big and small

STEP 3: Make them specific

STEP 4: Be accountable

STEP 5: Create momentum

STEP 6: Create reminders

STEP 1: Think of everything

Grab some paper and a quiet place you won’t be disturbed. Make sure you’re in the right frame of mind to do this, so not if you’ve only got 5 minutes before you need to leave the house for work.

Get focused on this one and only task and set a timer on your phone for 5 minutes and write down everything you would like to achieve in life (work and personal).

It doesn’t matter how big, small or achievable they’re, get it down on paper. The more you write, the more ideas you’ll have. If you still feel you can write more down, set another 5 minutes and keep going.

How you write them down doesn’t matter, but keep them high level, so you don’t interrupt the flow.

STEP 2: Dream Big and Small

Now highlight the ones you want to achieve.

Don’t worry if the big ones don’t seem possible right now. If you feel passionate about them, highlight them. Having big (longer term) and small (short term) goals are fundamental. 

Next, look at each highlighted goal and think about why would you want to achieve these goals, what impact will they have on you personally, at work on your family etc..

Write these why’s down. Create an emotional reason for each one if you can. If you create an emotional tie, the chances are far higher you’ll achieve the goals.

The classic example is I want to lose two stone of weight by May 31st so I can play with kids without getting out of breath, or so I’m able to run in the Dad race at school sports day race.

Every time you think about not training, you’ll think of the emotional reasons that trigger you to do it.

STEP 3: Make Them Specific

Your goals have to be specific, because if you’re not clear what you’re aiming for, then you’re less likely to achieve your goals.

If you want to lose weight, specify the weight you want to be and by when. If you want to save money, how much money and by when.

STEP 4: Be Accountable

Tell someone about your goals. This could be multiple people, but the more people you tell, the more likely you’ll hit your goals.

Having that nagging thought that you’ll have to tell that person you gave up, is another great driver to achieve.

STEP 5: Create Momentum

Make sure you have short, medium and long term goals. They’re all as important as each other, but the short term goals are critical as achieving goals early, creates momentum which gives you that buzz of completion and the drive to do more.

Categorise them under titles like momentum, stretch and the long game. It doesn’t matter what these categories are called, as long as they’re broken down.

Make sure every goal has a deadline and a make that promise to yourself you’ll complete them.

STEP 6: Create Reminders

It’s easy to forget about your goals with everything else in life going on around you, so create reminders. T

he majority of have our mobiles on us all the time, so this is a great place to add your goal reminders. If you have a goal that’s due in 3 months, add that due date first.

Then add a reminder for that goal in 1 month saying something like ‘You should have done x by now for goal x, only two months left! or you should be 50% through goal x now, only two months left!

Getting these reminders gives you the kick you need to refocus.

Taking this approach means you’re designing your life to do more.

In summary

Creating your goal plan isn’t hard, but you must dedicate the time to do it, otherwise, if you can’t keep the first promise to yourself to do it, then everything else will fail.

The more promises you make to yourself and keep, creates momentum and confidence in yourself to deliver them.

It’s also crucial that you work on you, so always increasing your knowledge through reading, listening and doing. So think about the resources you need to achieve your goals, books, meeting new people, support etc…?\

The more promises you make to yourself  that you keep, creates momentum and builds your confidence to deliver them.

Don’t just hope they’ll happen, expect them to happen and keep telling yourself they will. The more you repeat your goals to yourself, the more likely they’ll become a reality.

Create habits around your goals. For example, write them down and then repeat them out loud every morning when you wake up. Plan your days and weeks to give you even greater focus on achieving your goals and keep that momentum.

Creating goals isn’t a one-time exercise, the more you achieve, the more you should create.

Keep growing and improving yourself and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Ben Willmott
Ben is Delivery Director at the London based creative agency Wunderman Thompson where he creates bespoke ways or working for his clients and teams. Ben is also the founder of The PPM Academy specializing in coaching Project Management, Agile Delivery and how to be more productive at home and work.

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