Will Bachman: Yogi Bear said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” Hey, welcome to Unleashed, the podcast the explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, and I’m your host, Will Bachman.
An exercise that I’ve been doing at least once a year is to write down all my goals. Here’s how I go about it. The exercise is pretty simple, although I’ll give a few variations after I explain the basic. In the basic form of the exercise, I think of a number of categories, and I write down my goals in each one. That’s it.
For me, these categories are, my marriage, I have one category for each of my children. A category for my parents and extended family, for friends. A professional relationships and community. Physical fitness, and that would include exercise, diet, and mindfulness. Skills, knowledge and understanding, business goals. My household stuff like improvements and fixing up the basement and so forth. Travel and entertainment, theater, and financial position.
Within each of these categories, I start by just writing down all the different things that I’d like to do or accomplish. On the first round, I’m not too strict about how I phrase the goal or that type of goal, whatever comes to mind, it’s just brainstorming. In terms of types of goals, I typically might have process goals and outcome goals. So as an example of a process goal, I might say, read to my younger daughter for at least 20 minutes at least five nights a week. Or run three miles at least five times a week. Or make at least 10 outbound calls a week to members of my core network. Those are things that I can control in terms of process.
For outcome goals, I might, for example, build up emergency savings to six months worth of earnings. Or, complete the renovation of the attic. And I suppose I could be more rigorous and do this goal-setting process at some fixed time every year, maybe around the new year, but in practice, I do it periodically. Anytime is a good time to start, so if I have a free Saturday morning, or if I’m on a flight, have a few hours and don’t feel like getting real work done, but I want to feel productive, it’s a great way to step back and reflect.
It would be great to write the list by hand. In some ways, I find writing by hand, I find activates certain more creative parts of the brain. If I was the kind of organized person that would lose that piece of paper, instead, I have a folder in EverNote, titled Goals, and that’s where I would save the list. That makes it easy to go back and look at the prior lists that I’ve written. I usually, when I’m starting a fresh list, would just start the list and write it, and then sometimes I’ll go back to previous years and see what goals that I came up with then that aren’t on my new list, and be able to add that.
Here are a few twists on this exercise. Number one, instead of the categories I listed above, you could try writing your goals down by, things I want to own, things I want to do, or things I want to be. I didn’t make up that framework. I can’t remember where I heard it, but it’s kind of cool. That kind of activates a different part of the brain, I think, in terms of rather than cutting it by more subject matter categories.
Number two, once brainstormed and developed first set of goals, sometimes I’ll try to go back and turn them into SMART goals, and you’ve probably heard that before. SMART, an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely goals. Instead of, I want to get in better shape, you might say, I want to be able to run three miles in under 24 minutes before December 31st.
Okay, number three. I think Warren Buffet suggested this approach. He suggested, I think to his airline pilot, I might have read. Go ahead and list our all your goals, and then force rank them, and then circle the top five and forget about the rest. The idea being that if you are working on 20 goals, you won’t accomplish any of them. I suppose the intensity of focus can help you become a billionaire. I’m okay having more than five goals, particularly if those goals are spread across different categories of my life. I don’t do that. But it does help you prioritize.
But why bother with this exercise? Two reasons. Number one, writing down your goals is really a way of discovering your goals, for me. By taking the time to pause from the hustle, bustle and trying to reflect on what I’m trying to accomplish, I’ve come up with new things that would be cool to do that I might not have even contemplated.
Number two, crafting more specific and measurable goals makes them more salient. If my goal is, say, just to read to my daughter, then it’s a little bit harder to know day to day if I’m actually accomplishing it. Whereas, if I say I’m going to read for 20 minutes five times a week, then I have a better target to hold myself accountable to, and for that goal, it’s not hard because it’s a joy.
Actually, I’ll list three more points. Number three, listing all the things I want to accomplish is a reminder of how short one’s life is, and my life is. That gives me a bit more incentive not to waste time, reading the newspaper, goofing around on the internet.
Number four, even if I don’t follow Warren Buffet’s directive to select just the top five, I do find that writing them down forces me to prioritize a bit. I’ve certainly included goals on my list that I then decide very consciously not to work on. Things like, how to identify wild edible mushrooms, or to scuba dive, or learn Italian, or learn to draw. Things that I’d like to do, but rather than just always having those floating around as things that I kind of want to do, by putting them on the list and then saying, okay I’m not gonna work on this, at least I’m not fooling myself.
And finally number five. Writing goals down seems to make them more likely to happen. You could decide to believe that once you’ve identified your goal, the universe conspires to help make it happen. I’m more inclined to believe that having goals on paper makes you more aware of opportunities, and more mentally primed to take advantage of those opportunities. But either way, whatever causal mechanism you’re willing to believe, in my anecdotal experience, there is a certain magic of having something written down that makes them more likely to happen. When I look back at the lists from previous years, there’s a lot that I haven’t done, but I think to myself, wow, there’s a lot of these things that I’ve actually knocked off, and if I hadn’t sat down to reflect, I may have maybe never even started to do them, or definitely gotten them done.
Id love to hear your thoughts about this. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you visit umbrex.com/unleashed, you can sign up for our weekly Unleashed email. You’ll get a transcript of every episode, plus some bonus features only for subscribers, books that I’m reading, and other tips and tricks. And if you send me an audio memo with a question, I will seek to play it on an episode, and do my best to answer it. And finally, if you listen this far, a review on iTunes would be an awesome gift. Thanks for listening.