Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Productive Goal Setting Cycle: Getting Beyond New Year's Resolutions

Every year I scribble away my New Year’s resolutions. It makes me happy to know that I at least make the effort once a year or so to evaluate where I’m going. Half journal entry, half list, they’re stored away somewhere waiting, waiting for me to look back at some point in my life and see how many things I resolved to do, but didn’t.

Everybody knows that New Year’s Resolutions are pretty notorious in their failure rate. I still think they are a good thing, though perhaps we can do better.

For me, time passes and we forget to keep going. On the metaphorical road of goals, I tend to lose focus on where I was supposed to be driving. It sometimes feels like I’ve been asleep at the wheel and a couple months have already passed by without even checking the map. Establishing a destination and then failing to drive in that direction is no way to get there.

Personally, I try journalling and blogging occassionally about my goals and use various apps to get me on track. But all the same, I’d really like to improve my ability to set correct goals and acheive them.

Perhaps it’s time to step back and work on the “goal setting and iteration of those goals” process. Time to establish a proper goal setting cycle. Here are some thoughts.

To the Starting Line: Establish A Few Goals

I actually think I’m pretty good at acheiving my goals. Over the past few years, I’ve managed to learn French and Chinese as well significantly develop my web development skills into a thriving business. Several years before, when I was in college, I even managed to graduate a year early and without debt. These are goals I’ve acheived, even though I wasn’t fully conscious of the process.

Unfortunately there are a couple dozen other goals that I’ve failed to acheive: the “gh-oals” of years past haunting me.

In spit of these acheivements and failures, I think I can improve how I approach my goals. It’s not my goals that are failing me; it’s me failing in establishing a proper goal setting cycle.

According to my Evernote record from early 2013, apparantly I established 6 goals for 2013:

1. Learn Spanish
2. Write a Book
3. Get Healthier with more exercise
4. Events Sites Launch
5. Learn more javascript

While all of these are good goals, it’s pretty hard to work on all of them at the same time without failing most of them. So as a first step in becoming more productive at my goal setting, let’s cut it down to just two goals: one professional goal and one personal goal.

At this stage in my life, it’s tough to focus on just two when all of them seem like good goals for me. Unfortunately, I think if we want to get things done we got keep this list limited.

Goals need to be big and long-term. They should be hard and require various steps to get there.

I suppose some of my previously mentioned “goals” fall more into the realm of better habits, so let’s remove number 3 about more exercise since I’m making this a lifestyle change and let’s eliminate number 5 for now too, since I need to balance study and career-driven goals. Let’s also leave off “Write a Book” for this current goal setting cycle.

That leaves us with two goals:

* Personal: *Learn Spanish*
* Professional: *MyEventSite Launch*

Since learning Spanish is a personal goal, most of the discuss will likely be on this blog. MyEventSite.co is an on-going professional project I’m working on at Int3c.com. Here is the initial case study on the project.

Announce the Game: Publicize Your Goals, Talk About Them

It’s not necessarily correct to talk openly about every kind of goal you are working on. Some are private journies for yourself and perhaps a mentor or small group. But for many goals, it’s a good to be public about your process. Telling others is know to help to improve your chance at acheiving it. I personally like to write and talk with people about what I’m working on.

I’ve been blogging some about learning spanish for the past couple months, since I started workng on this in early 2013. It’s not really formal, more a diary of my process in learning. Hopefully by the end, I can look back and combine it into something more authoritative on how I learned Spanish..

As my readers (i.e. my mother!) may have noticed, I’m trying to become more active as a blogger and writer. Writing, for me, is a good way to think. It’s also a good way to commit to getting something done. So, I’ve made a page about my goals too and a little custom sidebar listing my current goals.

I don’t really have any data to back up this claim, but I think that publicizing your goals makes it harder to let them drop. I also think evaluating the learning process is a good way to improve how you learn a subject.

You can’t just follow what everyone says about the best way to learn; you need to establish your best way to learn.

I guess my main point is simple: Don’t hide the fact that you are working on something, since your chance of success rises with more people following your progress.

Put Up the Goal Posts: Establish Habits, Monthly Goals, Weekly Evaluations

The point of most goals is to establish a habit and then through doing that habit over and over, in an organized and systematic way you eventually acheive mastery of that skill or topic. Some goals aren’t really as simple as etablishing a single habit (like practice the guitar everyday), since they are slightly more complicated (not that learning the guitar isn’t complicated!). Some goals require multiple steps and series of sub-goals before you can properly say you have acheived them.

You need to scout the way forward and then proceed on the path towards what you want to achieve.

So, in line with this, establish some montly goals in view of that end goal. Then work each week towards that monthly goal.

Moreover, try and establish weekly goals and break them down into daily steps towards them. Generally-speaking, for learning goals, it’s not going to be hard to figure out many of the best resources, methods and materials needed to learn and develop the goal you are working on. Try them and figure out what fits best with your learning personality and schedule.

It’s also considered a good practice (which I’m still working on these past couple weeks) to do weekly evaluations. The idea being that by evaluating yourself and your work each week you can comfortably say: last week, what you have done well? what you failed at? and how you can work more productively toward achieving your goal?

I’m not an expert here, just a fellow traveller. Hopefully, in the end, through your own kind of “goal setting cycles,” you’ll improve your approach to acheiving your goals.

Even if you never quite get there, don’t forget that the most important step is always be moving the ball foward, because eventually you’ll cross the goal line and not even realize it.

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