Nothing is more important to our success than setting goals. Many people don’t set goals because the whole process can sometimes be a bit confusing. We hear about goal setting all the time because it is so important but we don’t set goals because it really doesn’t seem that practical.
Let’s look at practical goals setting in a way that will take the mystery out of this all-important aspect of achieving success. If you are setting goals and it is working for you, great. You are probably one of the most productive people around. If you are not setting goals, you should be. It will definitely take your productivity up to a new level. Let’s see how to do so.
Different Levels of Goal Setting
One thing that is confusing about goal setting is that it can encompass a broad range of desired outcomes. Let’s look at three examples of different statements that might all be considered “goals.” I have given them names that will make perfect sense before you finish this Blog post.
To Do Item: My goal is to finish editing Chapter 3 of my new book by 11:00 AM today.
Bridge Goal: My goal is to have a rough draft of Section 1 of my book completed by the end of this month.
Stretch Goal: My goal is to publish a NYT bestselling book within five years.
Note that all three of these goals have certain things in common. They all indicate someplace we want to be in the future. They are all specific, measurable, and time bound. At some point in the future we will know whether or not we achieved each of these goals. Thus, in my book, they could all be legitimately called “goals.”
However, there are some significant differences too. The most obvious two differences are the time frame and the complexity of what must be done to achieve the goals. The to do item has a very short time frame and the complexity of what must be done to complete it is relatively low. The stretch goal has a very long time frame and a whole lot of different stuff must be done to achieve it. The bridge goal is in between the other two goals on both time frame and complexity.
We Need All Three Types of Goals
So which goal is best? Actually, we need all three types of goals. The to do item gives me very specific direction in terms of what I need to do for the next few hours. It can also be very motivating for me to work on achieving that goal because, in a couple of hours, I will have a great feeling of accomplishment. Our days should be filled with goals like the to do item.
There is a huge danger in only having goals like the to do item. We need to make sure that we are accomplishing something with all these goals and not just keeping busy. It may feel good to know that we are chopping down trees but we must first make sure we are clearing off the right land. At some point, we need to step back and make sure we are in the right forest.
That’s where goals like the stretch goal come into play. They basically answer the question, “What do I want to accomplish with this phase of my career (or family, health, education…)?” Six months from now we won’t look back and care whether or not we accomplished the to do item. We probably won’t even remember.
What we will look back and see is either six months of staying in one place treading water or six months of moving towards a better place in life. We could check of every single to do item that we set for six months and still feel as though we wasted six months of our life. Without goals like the stretch goal we run the risk of having all kinds of activity and yet very little progress.
But there are huge limitations of goals like the stretch goal. They may get me looking at the big picture but, by themselves, they are totally useless in telling me what I must do between now and lunch time. They provide minimal guidance. Not only that, I don’t want to wait months or years before I finally get to feel like I have accomplished something. I want to be able to see me accomplishing small goals every day.
By now, you have probably figured out that we need to have a bunch of goals like the to do item all directing us towards accomplishing the stretch goal. That’s exactly right. Here is the problem. It is a huge leap to get the to do item from the stretch goal. That’s where a goal like the bridge goal comes into play.
Why We Need Bridge Goals
Think of it this way. You can’t jump over a ravine in two small leaps. You have to make it all the way across in one big leap or you will go splat down below. But what if the ravine is too wide for you to make it across in one leap? Then you need to start looking for a narrower spot to cross.
It’s tough to leap from a stretch goal all the way to the to do item in one jump. So we need to break the stretch goal into smaller pieces. These little pieces are bridge goals. They will help us develop a clear focus on what part of the stretch goal we should concentrate on over the next few days or few weeks. With a bridge goal set, it now becomes a lot easier to set a to do item.
Our Goal Setting Process
So here is the process we should use in setting our goals. We should always start the goal setting process by setting a few (and I do mean few) stretch goals. I have four. These are things that you want to accomplish in the next months or years of your life.
I call these stretch goals because you want to set goals that will stretch you to accomplish them. Big goals are much more motivating than small goals. It is like the renowned architect Daniel Burnham so famously stated, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”
So don’t be afraid that you will set a goal that is too big. Be afraid that you will set a goal that is too small. Think outside your current box. If you don’t have something you need to reach a stretch goal, that’s OK. You can acquire it. If you don’t know something you need to know to achieve your stretch goal, don’t worry. You can learn it. Just make sure that you set stretch goals that will be exciting to achieve and will impact the world. Dream big.
You need to be sure to write down your stretch goal on a piece of paper. Make sure you assign a time to it and that it is written in such a way that you will know when you accomplish it. “I want to get in shape” is not a viable stretch goal. “I want to lose 25 lbs and be able to run a 10 minute mile by December 31” is a great stretch goal. The best thing about a goal like that is that, on December 31, you will know whether or not you accomplished it.
Then start breaking this larger goal into bridge goals. I call these bridge goals because they bridge the gap between our stretch goals and our daily activities. Bridge goals should be very specific, have a deadline, and be measurable. They should be large enough that it will take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks to complete. But they should be specific enough that they will easily translate into items for your to do list.
Then every day, put items on your to do list that will move you towards accomplishing your bridge goals. If you do that you will be moving on a daily basis towards achieving what you want in life.
Let me give you an example. I am teaching a class I have never taught before this upcoming semester. My stretch goal is to have it completely prepared before the semester even starts. That includes all lectures, assignments, supporting material, exams, and quizzes must be completed within the next two months. Given how much work that is, this is a stretch but it is possible. The specific wording of my stretch goal is as follows:
By August 12, I will have BUSA 1105 completely prepared including lectures, videos, exams, quizzes, and projects.
This coming August 12, I will know whether or not I accomplished this stretch goal.
My current bridge goal is to have all of the lectures completed within the next ten days. Here is specifically how I am wording this bridge goal.
By June 16, I will have outlines completed for all of the lectures in BUSA 1105.
In ten days I will know whether or not I accomplished that goal. Also, for the next ten days, I can stay focused. I won’t need to think about projects, videos, or exams but simply stay focused on the lectures.
Finally, when I planned my day today, I didn’t even need to look at my stretch goal. I just needed to look at my bridge goals. From the above bridge goal, I developed the following to do items for today.
- Complete the lecture outline for marketing basics
- Complete the lecture outline for product and promotion
- Complete the lecture outline for distribution and price
By the end of today, I will know whether or not I accomplished these three to do items. If not, I know where to start tomorrow.
Set Your Own Goals
If this makes sense to you, go to work on this goal setting immediately. Start by setting one or two stretch goals. Don’t wait. The longer you wait to start something, the lesser the chances are that you will actually do it. We need to make sure we have a plan for our day but we need to make sure it will get is where we want to be in the future. That will only happen if we set stretch goals, bridge goals, and to do items.
Category: Applying the Basics, Featured, Managing Your Time Tuesday, June 7, 2016