Most of us have a job. And many of those jobs come with a human resources (HR) department that manages some sort of formal goal-setting processes. This is a process by which a company can measure the professional growth of its employees, helping to provide insights on where each employee belongs in the overall structure of the company.
But, regardless of whether you have access to a formal process like that, goal-setting and goal-measuring is important for each of us to do in our personal lives, as well. I've found that if you set and update goals properly, your set of personal goals will shape nearly everything you do in life. This is powerful in that it can help you make decisions on what you should and should not be doing with your time.
I've spent the last five years in jobs that had no formal goal-setting process, but I've maintained setting, measuring, and updating my personal goals through all of those years. By maintaining personal goals I've been able to focus my working time and my personal time, ensuring most of what I've done has been in support of one of my goals.
Here's what the annual process looks like:
When it approaches the end of the year, disappear to some secluded place to reflect upon the previous year and to update your goals for the upcoming year. When I can swing it, I go out of town (solo) for a few nights. I highly recommend that approach, but getting away isn't easy for everyone, so even spending half a day locked away in a quiet room will suffice.
When setting goals for the upcoming year, there are two different time periods -- and thus, two different types of goals -- to consider:
Five-year goals are essentially a replacement for that age-old question: Where do you see yourself in five years?
The set of five-year goals provides a very clear answer to that question.
These goals should be somewhat lofty. They ought to be achievements that will take a lot of time and lot of effort to meet. Here are a few of examples from my list this year:
Those are three things that are going to be difficult to achieve in my current situation, but they can be done.
There is a reason we look at five years. Five years is far enough in the future that we shouldn't be afraid to set aggressive goals for ourselves -- there's a lot of time to make a path to achievement. But, five years is also close enough to the present that we can actually get a somewhat decent picture of who we will be in five years. I recognize the person I was five years ago. I don't recognize the person I was 10 years ago.
Five-year goals have a single purpose in this exercise -- they help build the list of one-year goals.
The one-year goals are the things you want to have accomplished in the next calendar year. They should be as measurable as possible, such that they can be tracked throughout the year.
But, even if they aren't measurable, they have an important attribute -- one-year goals must support a five-year goal. Every one-year goal should be a piece in the puzzle that moves you closer to achieving a five-year goal. For example, I wrote that I want to get a work of fiction published in the next five years, so one of my one-year goals is to write four short stories to help fill out my portfolio.
As I mentioned, these one-years goals don't have to be measurable. For example, I have a one-year goal to maintain a happy and healthy household to the best of my ability. Having a happy wife, daughter, dog, and cat is a goal I constantly aim to achieve. And it supports my five-year goal in that a happy family will be better-equipped to make a decision on whether we stay in this house forever or move on to something new. And a happy family is more likely to be able to spend a month away from home in close quarters.
You may have guessed it, but the most important aspect of one-year goals is that they shape your daily tasks.
It's important that the one-year goals are extensive enough that you can look at anything you do as contributing to achieving one of those goals. When building your daily, weekly, or monthly task lists, each item in the list should support and move closer to achieving a one-year goal.
And it's important that you check in with your list of goals regularly to ensure you are making proper progress. I look at my list of measurable goals at the beginning of every month. That's when I update the numbers, checking to see if I am on track to hit those goals.
If it seems like you're on track, good, keep doing what you're doing. If not, that means you need an adjustment. This might mean you just need to rearrange some tasks in your life. Or maybe it's an indication that something bigger needs to change in life if you are going to achieve all your one-year goals. I encourage you to not change your goals -- that makes it too easy to back out. Trust in the version of you that reflected in a quiet space and made decisions on what you were going to accomplish this year. And be open-minded when checking in. If you really do want to achieve your goals, you may need to make a big change.
The checking-in process helps us measure goals throughout the year, but it also equips us to make good decisions during the next goal-setting session.
When it comes to the end of the year, it's time to look at whether the one-year goals were accomplished. This is a great time for reflection -- to be proud of the goals accomplished and to ask Why? for those you didn't accomplish.
Following that, look at the five-year goals and begin planning their next iteration. Often the five-year goals won't change too much, but they should change some. You should have done enough in one year that you're closer to achieving those five-year goals, and thus can think about the next step in those goals.
It's also important to keep an eye on the previous years' five-year goals. Know that the five-year goals are meant to be lofty and, therefore, they'll likely change quite a bit before you actually get to that five-year mark. But it's a good exercise in self-reflection to look at what you want to do five years ago and whether or not you have done that thing or whether your life has moved in a different direction, and why that happened.
From there, the process repeats and repeats, while you keep getting stuff done and move closer to achieving the far-fetched goals you've set for yourself.
Take some time every year to set and reset goals. And keep on those goals throughout the year. Do all of this regardless of what your company requires.
Life is too short to be aimless.
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