As every year in December, it is time of the year when people set their goals for the next year…
… and as is often the case, these goals start disappearing from the priority list in the first quarter of next year. Does it make sense to set goals at all? And if so, how to stick to them? I wish I had the perfect answer. But I will share some thoughts which may help at least partially.
Make it a regular process. I do some annual/long-term planning at the end of the year, but it is more connected to the fact that there is more time over the holidays to pause and reflect, rather than because a new calendar year is starting (which is a bit arbitrary – e.g. if you are a student, new school year would be a better starting point). But I do not stop there. I review/readjust my goals every month. It is usually the last Sunday of the month when I take a ‘personal time off’ from my family, go for a brunch in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening, and just think about what I have done over the last month, and what I want to do over the next months. That helps keep me focused and also helps the goals stay relevant, as they may be adjusted as the situation changes.
Go broad. Think broadly about your goals; do not make focus on a specific part of your life only (e.g. career/education or sports). The reason is twofold – you want to make sure you are developing across multiple dimensions and building multiple pillars for your life/happiness, but you will also recognize potential conflicts early on (and avoid setting unrealistic goals). I set my goals around my career, education/personal-development, family/relationships (includes the relationship with my wife, daughter, broader family, but also friends), health/fitness, and hobbies.
I am also keeping a list of long-term goals which are currently not actionable for time/financial/other reasons but at some point, may want to come back to them and revisit. In that way, I am not forcing them into my goals for the next year (because would almost certainly fail on these), but also not losing track of them for later.
Cascade. Probably the technique that works best for me. I set long-term goals – e.g. move my career from banking to investing; get work experience in the US; start a family; get fit. But these are big, long-term, and often intimidating goals that are difficult to act on a day-to-day basis. So I cascade them down. I think about what are the things on a monthly/weekly/daily basis I should be doing to achieve the bigger goals. If I want to change my job to investing, I may set my tactical goals as (i) performing in my current job (to get relevant skills but also achieve good performance evaluations/references), (ii) learning about the industry/companies where I want to move to (industry publications; newspapers; websites..), and (iii) networking (with people in the industry but also getting to know the right head-hunters – more on that in another blog). These goals are then broken down further – e.g. I think about what I need to do in my current job to get the type of experiences I want (speak to my staffer/manager; seek a mentor; find extra projects to work on..); get a subscription to a relevant newspaper; make a list of people I want to meet (and ask them for other people they know which I should be meeting). I make these goals very practical and actionable so I know exactly what I need to do.
Action. Once I have the smaller/actionable goals, I then set these actions to my calendar on a weekly/daily basis and set habits around them. E.g. every Sunday, I schedule a couple of networking breakfasts/coffees for the week ahead. Every morning on the way to work, I read the industry newspaper. I set a reminder for every other week to check in with my manager/staffer to discuss my projects. I have daily reminders in my calendar to act on my fitness goals. I have a reminder for every weekend to be in touch with my broader family. In that way, I am acting towards my goals on a regular basis in a way that is easy to follow. And every month, during my ‘personal time off’, I revisit my progress, and readjust my strategy.