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Monday, April 8, 2013


I am a competitive achiever. I love getting from point A to point B and getting there faster, making it look easier and getting a better grade or performance review on the way there. That means that I am goal oriented. If I don't have something to accomplish that's measurable I feel rudderless, bored and lonely. I love goals because they give me a sense of meaning and direction and I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I check something off from my to-do list.

So how do you set and accomplish goals? It's a difficult process because there is so much uncertainty in life. The first step is to find out what you really want. There are two ways to determine this, a top down or a bottom up approach.

The top down approach is to create some kind of vision of what you would like your life to look like. The best way to do this is to get out a sheet of paper or two and write down either an essay, or story or list about what your life would look like if you accomplished all of your goals. I think the story approach is the best because a story gives you the freedom to add emotions and describe how you would feel if you reached your goals. That makes the experience powerful and vivid. A lot of people are uncomfortable doing that kind of thinking to start out so if you feel better just making a bucket list that's fine too.

The bottom up approach is a deck clearing process of going through all of your existing commitments, possessions,  relationships and hobbies in order to give your life more form and structure. The best description of this method in in a book called Getting Things Done  by David Allen. This book takes you through a process of looking over everything you have and all of your other commitments, to-do lists and calendars and getting a system in place to get everything done.

If you're just starting out, I would recommend the top down approach. Starting out doesn't mean you just graduated high school, it could mean you were recently divorced or just moved to a new job or just finished a major goal. The bottom up approach is best used if you are mid career and want to make sure you aren't missing anything or if you are in the middle of a project or several and want to get a better handle on things. I always recommend that you master the bottom up approach and learn time and "stuff" management because once you start achieving goals you are going to want to have a way to stay organized and stay on track.

The next step is to set your goals. I recommend that you use the S.M.A.R.T. acronym when you are setting goals. Now that you have your goals written down, I want you to write each one on the top of a piece of paper. You can also use an online list program if you would rather. I use Remember the Milk to track all of my to do lists and goals.

Now what I want you to do it take a look at your goal. Write down step by step how this is going to happen for you. For example let's take a simple goal. Let's say I want to read 52 books in a year. What I need to do is plan it from beginning to end, just like you're writing a story or planning what you are going to make for dinner, just write down step by step what you need to do to get this done. My list might be:

1. Visit the library to renew my library card.
2. Join Goodreads to research which books I want to read,
3. Make a "to read in 2013" list on Goodreads and add the books I want to read.
4. Check out the first four weeks worth of books.
5. Spend one hour a day after work reading and two hours on Saturday.
6. Repeat steps 4-5 every four weeks on Monday.

And there you go, each time you complete a step you check it off the list. Now the last thing you are going to need is a to-do list that you can update every day and carry with you. You can go low tech with a notebook or you can go high tech with an app that connects to your computer or phone but the important thing is that you have  list where you can add 3-6 things that you commit to getting done that day. If you can do more that's fine but your to do list is your daily must list so don't add things that don't belong to it. Keep it simple and oriented towards your long term goals. Your to-do list must have the next specific action(s) on it that you need to do in order to move closer to your goals. If we go with the reading example above my to do list for today might read:

1. Go to the library and ask how to renew my card at the checkout desk.
2. Go on my computer and go to Goodreads and start an account.

Now the last thing I'll ask you to do is to take a Taoistic approach to the whole thing. If you have a goal to be the Valedictorian in your class and go to Harvard, and you end up coming in second in your class and go to M.I.T, you'll probably be OK  If you want to run a 5K but don't get in shape in time and just end up losing 5 pounds but can only run a half mile, you've improved. If you want to be a painter but you learn that the painting of your fiance looks like blurry doberman, you've learned something about your limitations. If when you cross the last item off of your to-do list the outcome looks different from the place you charter, that's OK! If you're an airplane pilot setting a goal to fly to LA, you probably want to do careful assessments and correct your course often but if you're on a weekend trip in the car driving to wine country, taking a few side roads and ending up at a vineyard you didn't plan on visiting is often times a bonus. How often you need to course correct depends on how important having an exact result is to you and for most things I recommend a healthy dose of flexibility in the end result because that is how you learn.

And there you have it. Thanks for stopping by for G day and tell me about your goals in the comments.

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Hey I appreciate you leaving your thoughts behind! Be well my friend.