What makes a good goal?

In the early 2000’s, a friend of mine turned me onto John Maxwell. I was just starting my career and was fairly ambitious. An important thing that I learned from Maxwell is Success rarely comes by accident. It is usually years and years of hard work…and mostly work on personal growth.

It was at this time that I started keeping a personal strategic plan which later evolved into a Life Plan. An important part of each of these is setting goals. Over the last twenty years, here’s what I’ve learned.

My Three Biggest Mistakes

  1. Too many goals: A goal usually means a change in how I’m living. For every goal I set, that is another change that needs to fit in my life. It was normal for me to have 8 or 10 goals that I was actively working on. I would keep a spreadsheet and notice that I would only make progress on maybe 2 or 3 of those goals. I should have felt good about making some progress, but the lack of progress in those other goals robbed me of joy and satisfaction.
  2. Vague goals with no end in sight: A number of my goals were along the lines of “I want to be a better person.” That’s very subjective. Sometimes I would add some ways to measure that. I wish I would have focused on what habit I needed to create or break that would make me a better person…and then given myself 90 days to do so. When they were vague and without an end date, they contributed to my accumulation of more and more goals.
  3. Setting goals I didn’t care about: These were goals that were good ideas for someone to do. For a long time I had “Create a contingency plan for work” on my goals. I tracked that goal for three years and never made any progress. Why? Because I’m not a worrier. This is a goal for someone else. I worked with a great team of people. Surely one of them would have been motivated by this goal because I was not.

My Two Best Insights

  1. Make it visible: As important as creating a goal and writing it down is, find someplace where you are going to see it regularly. For me, I’ve often tracked goals on a white board or on my calendar because I see that multiple times each day. I don’t want it tucked away in some document on my computer or in the pages of my journal that I never go to.
  2. Create a rhythm of review: Each week and each quarter, I spend a good chunk of time reviewing my goals. This is part of the Full Focus Planner which has been a great tool. I’m a cheap accountant but can tell you that this is well worth the money. You not only can think about if you are making progress, but you can also decide if this goal is really something you want to achieve anymore. That’s also important.

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