By Flying Solo contributor Fiona Adler
Lots of us walk around knowing inside that we have untapped potential and ideas for what might be possible in the future, but turning these thoughts into a reality is where we fall down. We know goal-setting is important, but how do we actually set goals so that we’ll achieve them?
Thinking ‘short term’ seems, well short-termed. We’ve put so much emphasis on being strategic and thinking long-term, that we’ve overlooked the importance of short term goals. Today I want to encourage you to put your focus back onto short term goals – it’s one of the most powerful techniques to be more productive.
There are lots of reasons short-term goals are more effective than long-term goals, but for me, the top ones are:
Having a big vision for our lives or our businesses is great and can be very inspiring, but often there’s a huge disconnect between that vision and our current reality. Imagine setting a goal to be a top-selling author when you haven’t written a single book. Or imagine setting a goal for your business to be number one in your industry while you’re still barely profitable. The jump is too big.
Even if we can convince our conscious minds that all this is possible, goals like these cause cognitive dissonance as there is always a part of us that doesn’t believe they are achievable. A series of short-term goals, that inevitably lead to the long-term goal or vision, is much more effective.
By definition, short-term goals are easier to achieve than long-term goals – and this is a good thing! When we achieve the goals we set ourselves, our confidence in our ability to achieve bigger goals grows.
Although it sounds simplistic, don’t under-estimate the power of this reinforcement loop! As humans, we’re all wired to stay in our comfort zones and we need all the help we can get to push ourselves to do things that are outside of our normal frame of operating.
Success breeds success so the more goals you can achieve, the more you are likely to achieve in the future.
For me, this is the most important reason to focus on the short-term. Goals written with a very near deadline create a sense of urgency. They tell you what to do now and how to take action so that you can actually achieve them.
Imagine you have a long-term goal to hit $1 million in sales. What should you be doing today to get there? Who knows.
But imagine instead that your goal is to make 3 sales this week. You’d better start making some phone calls and sending out some proposals!
This is the same for all types of goals. If you want to run a marathon next year, of course you know you should be training now, but it’s difficult to make the connection and generate a sense of urgency. However, if you have a goal to run 20 miles this week, you now know exactly what you should do.
So how do you actually set short term goals so that you’ll achieve them?
Firstly, connect with your big vision. The thing that pulls you forward, inspires and excites you. Think about where you want to be in the longer-term. How would your business look in three years? What would your life be like in three years. You might want to write down some ideas or even create a vision board. But your vision is not the goal – it’s too big to be relevant to you today.
Instead, your goal needs to be the next milestone towards this vision. Ideally, something that you can achieve in 30 days, or 90 at the most. You need to figure out the next step in your journey and use that as a goal. You might think of this as a milestone towards a bigger goal, but in my opinion, naming this as the goal itself is more helpful.
I’m sure you’ve heard about SMART goals before – that is to say they should be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-Framed. I never used to like this framework because I wanted to focus on really big goals. But now, I understand the difference between a goal and a vision and this framework makes perfect sense for short term goals.
Once you’ve chosen a goal, you need to phrase it in a way that ensures it meets all of these criteria. In particular, pay attention to it being Actionable – it should be something you can directly control.
Setting shot term goals for business units or business teams is exactly the same. As a team, you need to first connect with the bigger vision – either for the business, or for the team – and then brainstorm what that means for the next 30-90 days. What goals are you aiming to hit in this timeframe?
Beware of choosing too many goals as the more you have, the more diluted they become. In fact, many would argue that having one, single goals is the most powerful. Even if you do choose several goals, be clear on which is the most important. When it comes to making decisions, this should be used as a decision reference point, and every effort should be made to achieve that most-important goal (even at the expense of the others).
A lot of people know about writing goals, but still, they are confused as to what a goal should look like. Here are some examples:
Run 20 kilometres a week
Do 30 minutes of yoga 6 days a week
Read each night for 30 minutes
Practice piano for 10 minutes every day this month
Organise a family reunion party
Book a family trip before x date
Go out with friends twice this month
Clean out the garage by the end of the month
Organise all Christmas presents before x date
Eat vegetarian 4 nights a week for the next month
Order a new computer and set up my office by x date
Have x customers using y new feature by z date
Grow subscriptions to monthly revenue of x by y date
Sell x of product y by z date
Hire a new account manager by x date
Submit taxes by x date
Re-do website by x date
Create a new lead magnet by x date
Document x number of processes by y date
Collect x customer testimonials by y date
Release new feature x by y date
Migrate to new software x by y date
So now you have a great short-term goal, it’s time to figure out what you need to do to get there. In particular, what do you need to do today? And what do you need to do for the next few days. In reality, it’s pretty hard to plan more than a few days out, but if you keep asking yourself what you need to do today and tomorrow, it’s amazing how much you can achieve.
Put an action plan together with all the mini-steps involved in achieving this goal. It could be something like make five phone calls a day, or find three web designers, or choose colours. Make each step tiny so that it is easy to achieve. Breaking down your goals (which are already small), into tiny parts is what leads to success.
Then do what it takes each day to get those things done! Get into the habit of actually doing each thing on your action plan. Remember, you decided this is the most important goal for you, so doing this action is the most important thing to focus on. Don’t let your brain trick you into getting distracted or fall into the habit of procrastinating. This is the most important thing for you – so treat it that way!
All this is simple in theory, and it can be easy to do – providing you don’t overthink it. Instead, just focus on doing the actions you need to achieve your short-term goal.
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