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How to set goals so that you’ll actually achieve them.

I was talking a friend recently about what I hoped to do over the next 3 months – both work wise and some personal goals as well. His response….

“Surely that’s something you just do at new year right?”

That sparked a whole discussion about why I think it’s important

1. To have (proper) goals in the first place and,

2. To have goals broken down into short time frames (90 days, or 3 months is what seems to work best, then break these down into monthly / weekly).

As we are now (just over) half way through the year, I thought it might be quite useful to explore how to set goals in a way that means you actually achieve them, so that you can head into the second half of the year knowing what you actually want to get done!

Why set goals?

For some people, the idea of having goals or targets can feel a bit corporate, a bit of a tick box exercise, and some people avoid setting them because they don’t want to feel like they’ve ‘failed’ if they don’t reach them.

My approach? If I don’t have goals I feel like I’m a bit lost, drifting. Goals help me see where I’m going, how far I’ve come, and also help me to spot where something doesn’t feel quite right – if I am constantly avoiding doing something related to a particular goal or target, maybe it’s time to rethink that one?

But before we get into how to set goals, there’s something I always do before I set goals, and that is look back at what I did in the last 3 months. I look at –

1. What went well – what were my biggest achievements, how did I make them happen and what did I learn from them?

2. What didn’t go so well – what happened, what was my role in what didn’t go well, and what can I learn from this?

3. What were the biggest challenges I faced over the last 3 months, and how did I handle them? What can I learn from these to take forward

Why do I do this?

We can be so focused on always getting on to the next thing, pushing for more, or always thinking that things aren’t going our way, that it can be really helpful to just take some time to reflect on what’s happened in the past, give ourselves a high five, or a bit of extra love.

We can then face the next few months with a ‘clean slate’.

What do you want to achieve?

Grab a pen and paper (you can do this online, but I always do my best thinking and planning ‘manually’), and think about what you want to achieve in the next 3 months in your career (I’ve kept this career focused, but it’s applicable to all areas of your life).

Where would you like to be by the end of September? How would you like to be feeling?

When I have done career goal setting with clients, I tend to break it down into categories, for example –

1. Client focused – what would you like to achieve in terms of actual work over the next 3 months? This could be project completion, a particular level of feedback from a client, a certain number of new engagements etc, whatever is relevant to your work.

2. Management / Leadership – If you are in a senior role, how do you want to be perceived in the role over the next few months? What do you need to do in order to get the best from your team?

3. Professional development – is there specific training you would like to be doing? This can be formal or informal – consider how you are making the most of your skills and talents. Could you be getting experience in a different area, or team, or asking for exposure to a different project? Consider how to make this specific, so that you can be sure you’ve achieved it eg if it’s informal learning, how can you show what you’ve learned? Maybe offer to run a brown bag session at work, or talk to someone individually about it, and how you can put your learning into action.

4. Personal development – how are you going to ensure that you are showing up as the best version of yourself both at work and outside of work? What do you need to put in place to protect your energy and wellbeing?

I would recommend setting no more than 3 focused goals for each 3 month period, so you don’t end up trying to do everything, and getting frustrated. For example you may decide that you want to focus on completing X project to a high standard, which means getting a specific level of feedback, you may want to get more experience in a specific type of project, and you may commit to reinstating boundaries around the use of your work phone at the weekend in order to give you a better feeling of work-life balance.

The important thing to note here is that goals can be about behaviour as well as achievement – they can very much tie into the reflection piece from above – for example, if you have struggled with work/life balance over the last few months, what do you need to put in place to help you get a more positive working balance going forward?

What is important to you about your goals?

As anyone who has ever set goals in a corporate environment will tell you – all your goals should be SMART (Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound). But there is another facet to goals which is missed when considering SMART, and that is the goal should have some meaning to you.

- Why do you want to do a good job on this project? What will it mean for you?

- Why do you want to learn X,Y or Z? What will that knowledge give you?

- What is important to you about switching off from work at the weekend?

Unless you are clear on why you are trying to do something, it makes it very hard to get it done, and you run the risk of ‘should’ goals creeping in, eg I know I 'should' be taking X course, or I ‘should’ be pushing for the next promotion…..

If you can’t find a good reason for your goal, something that makes you feel like you actually care about the outcome, then cross it out and set another one!

And what do you do when you have your goals?

Write them on a piece of paper and stick them somewhere you’ll see them often, so that they are in the forefront of your mind on a regular basis.

What next?

So now you have set your goal for the next 3 months, it’s time to work out all the things you could do to make them happen. For each of your goals from above, write a list of all the things you could conceivably do to ensure they happen. This isn’t what you will do, it’s just ideas at this stage. For example if one of your goals was to complete X project – how are you going to make sure that happens? This is your Options list

When you have your Options lists, keep them to hand as you break your 3 month goals down into monthly goals. What of the things on your do you need to do this month to make sure you are on track for achieving your 3 month goal – what are the milestones you need to hit to know you are on track, and what do you need to do to hit them?

At the end of each month you can then compare how you’ve got on to what you stated you were going to do, and tweak your actions for the coming month as necessary.

And the same goes for breaking your monthly goals down into weekly goals – what do you need to be doing to ensure you hit those milestones? Taking some time to plan out what you need to do in the week before diving into it can smash any feelings of overwhelm.

So if you’ve found this helpful, I’d love to hear from you – what are your big goals for the next 3 months? And how are you going to make them happen?

And if you’d love some accountability to keep you on track, why not come and join me over at the career confidence club, a free facebook group where we chat all things career and change related.

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