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The Secret of Setting Annual Goals You WILL Achieve

The Secret of Setting Annual Goals You WILL Achieve
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Why set annual goals?

If you don't know exactly where you're going, how will you know when you get there?
Steve Maraboli

We all have dreams. Dreams, especially BIG dreams usually do not happen overnight, else you would have already made the effort to achieve them. If you don't start to take steps to achieve your dreams they will eventually turn into regrets.

To answer why it is important to set annual goals, first we must talk about why it is absolutely essential to be clear with yourself about your commitments.

Commitments are declarations about your intentions, they focus your will. When you are fully committed to something you will do what ever it takes, not just what you know how to do.

There are goals we set ourselves because we want to please others, because we assume others expect certain achievements from us. If you are unclear about your commitments you will likely end up with far too many goals. As the year begins and you start to go through the motions, you will eventually lose sight of why you're doing things. These goals will drain you. It is very likely that you will give up on most of these goals by end of January, or by end of the first quarter, or by summer the latest.

Therefore it is very important that you first take an inventory of the areas where you have been going through the motions. Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are really committed to each item. If not, clean it up. If yes, identify the required next actions for each.

Annual goals are a way to set measurable actions on a mid-term time horizon to the outcomes that you are truly committed to.

If you don't set your onw goals, others will set goals for you and you will be working on achieving someone else's dreams.

Tally: number 5 on blackboard. Set five to seven goals
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How many goals should you set?

According to general wisdom, you should not have more then five to seven goals, some even recommend only three to five goals.

In my experience there are no separate Me's. Only ONE Me. When setting targets for yourself include both your personal and business goals on the list.

I usually break my goals down to quarterly, and some of them even to monthly targets. In this way you may have more goals nested under the top level five to seven goals. These are not really additional goals however, they are rather milestones to achieving your five to seven goals.

If you have fewer then five goals, don't worry. Having fewer goals is actually a good thing as it improves your focus.

Having more then seven goals will be hard to keep in mind and will be hard to juggle. This juggling may serve as breeding ground for excuses and for non-performance.

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What type of goals should you set?

There are different type of goals.

Hard goals are about achieving a measurable outcome, such as delivering a product, achieving a certificate, meeting a financial goal, or accomplishing a health target such a certain weight or athletic performance, etc.

Soft goals are about your attitude, your behavior. These goals can include things like improving your discipline, your consistency, your diligence, your enthusiasm, your tolerance of failure, your commitment, your self-confidence, your positive outlook. These attributes can be developed, however it is not really possible to measure these on an absolute scale.

Another way to categorize your goals is by areas of your focus. In this regard you may set yourself targets for business or private outcomes such as financial goals, targets for collaborating with people or helping other people, and targets for personal development such as reading more books, improving your communication skills, or setting career goals.

Like with everything in life, you should try to strike a healthy balance. Aim to ensure that you cover all the bases from above with at least one goal in your plan. In some cases, one goal may "tick several boxes".

Ladder leaning against the wall
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How does a good goal look like?

If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.
Stephen R. Covey

Always start with why. This goes back to the point of being clear about your true commitments and aligning your goals with those. If you are not able to articulate a clear and compelling why for your goal, don't pursue it.

Good goals are SMART.

  • Specific: They are not just a generally expressed whish, but something tangible and concrete.
  • Measurable: It is important to look for a measure that you can use at the end of the year to decide if you have delivered or not, but equally, make sure you find a metric that you can track during the whole year. Ideally your metric should be relatively simple and effortless to produce, else you will not track your progress using it. A good measure provides you with a short feedback loop to inform you if you are still on the right track. Sharing your target and your progress based on the metric with others can provide additional fuel to deliver on your goal.
  • Attainable: It is hard to strike the right balance. Goals should be achievable but also challenging, yet not impossible. An easy goal will not motivate you to do your best, to get out of your comfort zone. A target that is too hard will discourage you. You need to balance right on the boundary between difficult and impossible.
Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi - performing on the boundary between skill and challenge
  • Relevant: The goal you set should align with your commitment. It should be worthwhile. It should be timely. It should harmonize well with the other targets you set for yourself.
  • Time-Bound: Given we are talking about the subject of goal setting in the context of annual planning this is almost an automatic given. Break your goals down to monthly or quarterly milestone targets.
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What if my goals are set by others?

In a work setting annual targets are usually cascaded in the organization. Unless you are the CEO or the owner, you will have only limited say in what those targets are.

The question you need to answer is whether doing the job is in line with your true commitments. No doubt, the ideal state is when your hobby, your life purpose and your job are one and the same, but often this is not the case. Maybe you are doing the job to achieve financial stability. Maybe your commitment is to provide for your loved ones, and the job is just a means to making that happen. In this case, your personal goals will be centered around your personal commitments and your job will serve those commitments. The targets you receive at work are simply part of doing the job.

When receiving goals at work, it is important to think through the success criteria for achieving the goal you are asked to commit to, and to negotiate those success criteria into your performance contract with your boss. Success criteria are the skills and resources you need, to be successful in meeting the target that you are asked to deliver.

Writing on a sheet of paper on the desk
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Write down your goals

Write down your annual goals.

When you write down your goals, the process of articulating them will help with clarity. Use the SMART template explained above to express your goals.

Be concise and use clear and simple language. Revisit your goals regularly during the year and measure progress.

GO FOR IT with scramble letters
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What's next?

Remember, your goals should be based on your true commitments. They should be balanced between hard and soft goals, and between business, people and personal goals. They should be articulated following the SMART pattern. Your performance contract at work should clearly spell out the success criteria for each of your work goals.

Once you have written down your five to seven goals, take each on the list and write down the very next step you are going to take to move forward with achieving them. Be ready to step out of your comfort zone and to stretch yourself. If you have realistic but challenging targets you will need to be ready to do things you've not done before, otherwise you won't succeed at achieving what you have set out to accomplish.

Many people fail to see the distinction between doing EVERYTHING you know (and more) to get the desired result you are after, and "doing what’s required."

Go make it happen!

There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.
Desmond Tutu
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