Five steps to ensure that what you do every day moves you closer to your (big) goalsDECEMBER 27, 2022 | BRENDA VAN CAMP
It’s that time of year when your LinkedIn and Instagram feeds are saturated with quotes such as “A goal without a plan is only a dream” and “Focus on your goals, not your fears.” And based on the number of likes and shares these quotes acquire, such quotes apparently inspire quite a few of us. However, it doesn’t help any of us achieve those goals. Just being inspired won’t cut it. So, in the remainder of this article, we will outline five practical steps to help you understand exactly what you need to do daily to achieve or move closer to your big hairy goal(s) by the end of 2023.
Table of Contents
Step 1: Identify your ultimate “someday” goals.
Many of us don’t (dare to) dream big. We aim for achievable goals. Why? Many big professional goals or life goals seem overwhelming because you cannot do them in one go. You lack the clarity and definition of what achieving that goal involves.
To address that, I recommend using David Allen’s methods of “outcome focusing” and “next action thinking,” as explained in his book “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity.” Through these methods, you can connect your big future goals with the present by working backward from these big goals to identify actions you can do today, tomorrow, etc., to move you closer toward that goal.
So don’t refrain from dreaming big because you cannot immediately see how to get there. As Gary Keller says in his book “The ONE thing”:
“The only actions that become springboards to succeeding big are those informed by big thinking, to begin with. So don’t let small thinking cut your life down to size.”
So think big, aim high, and below I’ll help you figure out the actions to achieve your goal(s).
Now, with that in mind, think about your ultimate goals. What are the professional goals you want to achieve someday? What life goals do you dream of accomplishing? Think long term. What is or are your ultimate goal(s)?
Step 2: Evaluate your “old” goals.
What other goals have you been chasing or intended to pursue in recent years? Do a mental sweep and write them all down on a list.
For example, in my case, I have a Rosetta’s Stone course set sitting in my cupboard to teach me Chinese. I also started a visual thinking course online and downloaded many of the 51 Harvard Classics on my iPad as I aspire to read the whole series to improve my liberal arts education. Lastly, I have been toying with the idea of doing an organizational psychology course.
It is important to scour our mental highway for all these languishing, someday goals and write them down on paper. They continue to distract us if we leave them hanging around in our heads. They will act like a drag on our attention and focus.
Once you have written them down on your list, review each of them carefully and ask yourself, “How does this goal align with the “someday” goals I just outlined?”
For example, my goal of learning Chinese does not make sense, given my current career goals. Those visual thinking skills would be handy but are not critical to achieving my career goals someday, so I should redirect the money and time I am spending on that course to an action that is part of the critical path to my goals. And while I know I would enjoy the Harvard Classics series, it would be a distraction right now and take me away from doing the things I need to do to work towards my someday goals. However, the organizational psychology course fits my someday goals.
This process of capturing your old goals and then critically reviewing them against your “someday” goals should lead to renewed clarity about what goals you should continue to pursue and which ones are “out of date” or a distraction.
To complete this step, you must follow through on your decisions by stopping any actions related to those outdated goals.
For me, that meant going online and canceling that visual thinking course, deleting those Harvard Classics books from my iPad, and putting that Rosetta Stone course set on eBay.
In short, you don’t want any of these old misaligned goals to continue to drag on your focus. You want to ensure that you are crystal clear about your purpose and priorities and work out exactly what you will do and not do to maintain that focus.
Step 3: Define what successfully achieving your goal(s) looks like.
Now that you have a clear sense of your “someday” goals, you need to plan what actions you will need to take to achieve these goals.
This is where most people fail: They don’t take the time to think deeply about what sequence of actions they will need to undertake to achieve their goal(s). They don’t connect the vision of their future with their present reality.
To help you do this, you first need to define precisely what success looks like. This will give you your first clues as to how to get there.
For example, let’s assume your ultimate goal is to become an expert in your industry. Now envision what your professional life would look like if you were THE expert in your field: You would be the keynote speaker at the top conferences in your industry. You would publish books about your area of expertise. You would lecture at a top university.
David Allen refers to this practice as “Outcome Focusing.” He stresses that this is key to getting things done as he explains that “you can’t define the right action until you know the outcome you are after.”
So look back at the “someday” goals you outlined above and spend a few minutes on each to envision your life if you achieved that goal. Write it down. Every detail of it.
You likely will immediately feel even more excited about your someday goals because you have already made them more “real.” Your goal is no longer just a set of empty words. They now embody a real vision for your future.
Step 4: Connect your future with your present.
When envisioning what your life would look like if you achieved each of your goals, you probably started to generate lots of ideas about what you need to do to achieve your someday goals.
For example, to become an expert in your field, you now realize you need to start a blog to showcase and share your expertise, which one day sets you up to publish a book. You need to start attending the key conferences in your industry to become connected to and informed by the current experts in your field. You probably should also start identifying who the experts are now and find ways to follow what they are doing – for example, by following them on Twitter or LinkedIn, reading their books, and attending their talks, webinars, and lectures whenever you can.
The tricky part is that all these ideas require more than one action – i.e. each of them are “projects” in themselves. For example, it takes a lot of separate actions to start a blog. Similarly, it takes several actions to become connected to and informed by the current experts in your field.
And this is where most people get stuck as they fail to define the actions they can do now to move each project forward.
You need to use “next action” thinking to avoid that pitfall. This means you must ask yourself for each of these projects:
“What is the next physical action I can undertake to move this project forward?”
This then results in a list of “next actions”. And those are the actions you now need to focus your time and effort on to move you closer to your goal(s).
Once you complete that list of “next actions”, go back to your project list and ask yourself again, “what is the next physical action I can undertake to move each of these projects forward?”
For example, to start a blog to one day be seen as an expert in your field, your first “next action” might be to find and analyze the blogs of current experts in your field:
- What do they write about?
- How often?
- What topics gain the most interest as measured by shares, likes, and comments?
- What platforms do they use to reach the community of people who are interested in your industry?
Once you have completed that “next action,” your “next action” is to outline a plan for your blog:
- Define the topics for your first 20 blog posts.
- Assess how much time you will need to write and research each post to help you decide how frequently you can publish a new blog post.
- Make a list of professional contacts you could email with links to your posts to help get them noticed when you first launch your blog.
- Choose your platform and set up an account.
Once that is done, you are ready again for your “next action.”
- This time, you are ready to start researching and writing your first blog post.
- Once it is finished, you probably should ask a peer to review it for you, and then you are ready to publish your first blog post.
You have now achieved your goal of starting a blog.
Personally, I apply David Allen’s “next action” method religiously to plan how I achieve my goals, whether big or small. However, I do add one special ingredient: I blend in Gary Keller’s focusing question from his book “The ONE thing,” which goes as follows:
“What is the ONE thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
I love using this question as it forces me to make sure I take the BEST next action – not just any possible action, but only the next action that, if completed successfully, may drive results that make the next action easier.
Step 5: Make it happen.
Once you have worked through these four critical steps, you’re well on your way to setting yourself up to achieve your goals successfully. However, the trick will still be in actually undertaking these “next actions” consistently – one after another.
And, as all ways, you will likely encounter plenty of challenges, big and small. But you can either choose to be the author of your life or the victim. Life happens to us all. You have the choice to use it as an excuse NOT to achieve your goals, or you can accept reality and find a way to make it happen. That is why the focusing question asks you: What ONE thing CAN I do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
So this question does not allow you to use your reality as an excuse. It focuses on actions you CAN take – not should or would. It asks you to find ways, despite of the challenges, to make it happen.
For example, maybe you want to get an MBA to achieve one of your “someday” goals. However, your financial and family circumstances make it impossible for you to pursue an actual full-time MBA. Gary Keller’s focusing question ensures you don’t accept that hurdle as an answer (excuse). Instead, it forces you to ask, “what One Thing CAN I do to get an MBA, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” Now your answer may be that you develop your own MBA curriculum by reading and studying the books of top business school professors on all the key MBA topics. Or you decide to investigate what online MBA course options there are for you.
There are also a few other challenges and potential pitfalls that you’ll need to navigate to achieve your goals:
High achievement requires lots of energy.
- Carefully plan the timing of your “next actions.” Don’t plan them for when you are most tired. For example, if you are an early bird like me, then don’t schedule your next actions after work when you are tired. On the other hand, if you are a night owl like my husband, that might work perfectly.
- Don’t mismanage your health. You need your energy, so don’t skip meals or exercise or skimp on sleep. To do your best work, you need to be in the best shape of your life.
Don’t go it alone
- It is hard to focus on your priorities if you’re surrounded by people who don’t support your goals. Therefore, clearly communicate your goals to those closest to you. Explain your goals and what you will not be doing to enable you to focus on doing the right things. Ask them to be supportive of your choices. For example, you may sacrifice watching Thursday night football with your family so you can take an online course or attend a weekly meet-up, either in-person or online, with your professional peers.
- Ask the people closest to you, either at work or home, to hold you accountable for moving forward on your projects. For example, schedule a monthly coffee with a peer to review your progress over the last month and discuss your “next actions” for each project that will help you move closer to your someday goal(s).
Say NO often
Fiercely protect your time and effort.
- Create a workspace that minimizes distraction. Close your email application while working, so you don’t get disturbed by new emails notifications. Turn off your phone. Stack your workspace with snacks and drinks, so you don’t have to leave it and run the risk of getting side-tracked by conversations with colleagues or relatives in the kitchen.
- Review each request for your time against your purpose and priorities. Your default should be “no,” not “yes.” Don’t automatically accept each meeting request. Check what the agenda is and why you need to be there. Don’t automatically accept every task or responsibility someone else asks you to take. Review whether you are the right person to do it or delegate it to someone else.
Make it a habit
- Spend 5 minutes daily to review your list of “next actions” related to the projects that will help you achieve your goals. Decide what actions you can tackle that day. Put it on your calendar to block out time to complete those tasks.
- Spend 1 hour each Sunday reviewing your list of projects related to your “someday” goals. Review the “next actions” you have completed and think about the “next best action” for each.
So, with the help of Outcome Focusing and Next Action Thinking, you honestly can use 2023 to either achieve or move closer to your big goal(s
Step 1 | Identify your ultimate “someday” goals: What are the professional and life goals you want to achieve someday? It is key to think long-term. What are your ultimate personal and professional goals?
Step 2 | Evaluate your “old” goals: What other goals have you been chasing or intended to pursue in recent years? Do a mental sweep and write them all down on a list. Once you have written them down on your list, review each of them carefully and ask yourself, “How does this goal align with the “someday” goals I just outlined?” This process of capturing your old goals and then critically reviewing them against your “someday” goals should lead to renewed clarity about what goals you should continue to pursue and which ones are “out of date” or a distraction. To complete this step, you must follow through on your decisions by stopping any actions related to those outdated goals.
Step 3 | Define what successfully achieving your goal(s) looks like: Look back at the “someday” goals you outlined above and spend a few minutes on each to envision what your life would look like if you achieved that goal. Write it down. Every detail of it. You likely will immediately feel even more excited about your someday goals because you have already made them more “real.” Your goal is no longer just a set of empty words. They now embody a real vision for your future.
Step 4 | Connect your future with your present: Ask yourselves for each project, “what is the next physical action I can undertake to move this project forward?” Write each of these “next actions” down on a list. Those are the actions you now need to focus your time and effort on. Once you complete these actions, you go back to your project list and ask yourselves, “what is the next physical action I can undertake to move this project forward?” If you repeat this process to inform your daily action planning and thereby your daily productivity, you will start achieving your goals, even those big ones that seemed so hard to achieve.
Step 5 | Make it happen:
- Choose to be the author of your life, not the victim: Life happens to us all. You have the choice to use it as an excuse NOT to achieve your goals, or you can accept reality and find a way to still make it happen.
- High achievement requires lots of energy: Time your next actions for when you have the most energy, and don’t skip meals, exercise, or skimp on sleep. To do your best work, you need to be in the best shape of your life.
- Don’t go it alone.:Make sure to communicate your goals to those closest to you. Explain your goals and what you will not be doing to enable you to focus on doing the right things. Ask them to support your choices
- Say ‘no’ often: Fiercely protect your time and effort. Create a workspace that minimizes distraction and review each request for your time against your purpose and priorities. Your default should be “no,” not “yes.”
- Make it a habit: Spend 5 minutes each day to review your list of “next actions” related to the projects that will help you achieve your goals. Spend 1 hour each Sunday reviewing your list of projects related to your “someday” goals.
“Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity.” by David Allen