A New, Concise Method for Setting and Tracking Goals
As we have previously discussed, setting effective goals can be tricky business. How do you define a goal in the simplest way possible? How do you create a system so that you can regularly see your goal, interact with it and think about it? How do ensure that you are making progress, how do you measure that progress over time and how do you hold yourself accountable along the way?
Making lists is a critical step here, but how do you make a list that is both concise and descriptive? In an ideal world, you should be able to run through a list of your short- and long-term goals quickly. It should be clear where you are progressing and where you are falling behind. There needs to be an easy and effective method to separate each goal while also painting the big picture and defining your long-term aspirations. We will use a simple, tricolor system to separate goals of varying lengths and timelines; the aim is to make it easy to compare where your short-term goals relate to your long-term goals and, thus, where to focus your daily efforts.
Much like a stoplight, we will separate our list of goals into green, yellow and red:
Green: green goals encompass two categories: short-term goals and daily, repeatable tasks. Short-term goals are things that you want to accomplish in the very near future. Maybe your deadline is one day, one week, maybe even one month at a stretch. These things are your low-hanging fruit; they should be relatively easy to accomplish and should relate directly to your long-term goals and aspirations. Your daily, repeatable tasks are also going to be your shortest term goals: these are things you must do every day, or every week, to stay on track and continue making progress. Hold yourself accountable to these! You will consult your green list every single day, because these are things that you must check off every day.
Yellow: the yellow list contains things that must be accomplished soon but not immediately. These will often be stepping-stones towards your long-term goals, prerequisites that must be accomplished in order for you to inch closer to the finish line. Yellow goals will require more focus and effort than green goals; you must metaphorically sweat a bit to accomplish these. In the end, however, these goals help build momentum and act as rungs on the ladder to success.
Red: this is your list of long-term goals, dreams and aspirations. Shoot for the stars here! Don’t hold back on your red list. These are the items that will lead to fulfillment and a deep sense of accomplishment. The goals on this list help provide the framework for the yellow and green items. All those ideas that others in your life tell you will “never happen” or you are “crazy” for pursuing belong here.
How do these three colors relate, and how do you most effectively utilize this list to your advantage? Everything trickles down from the long-term list to the short-term and daily list. Your red goals are what you see for yourself in the future; there is no limit to how distant these goals may be. From there, you must determine what yellow items are crucial stepping-stones to propel you from where you are now to where your red list defines as your final destination. Every big-picture idea has smaller, requisite pieces that compose the final image. Pick a handful of key action items on the path to your metaphorical finish line and place those items on your yellow list. From there, determine a list of short-term goals that will allow you to inch closer to one or more of your yellow items. These define your green list. You must also decide which actions you can take on a daily basis to make tangible, measurable progress on the other two lists. These items will also make up your green list.
As an example, imagine that your red goal is to be a New York Times bestselling author. From there, your yellow items might include: publishing a book, getting a literary agent, building a successful social media presence (defined as achieving X number of followers), and being recognized as an industry expert (maybe a certain magazine writes an article about you). All of these yellow items will, upon completion, vault you closer to your long-term goal. In order to accomplish these smaller tasks, you must come up with a meaningful list of actions you can take daily to make progress. These might include: writing something meaningful, interacting with current followers, reaching out to agencies, messaging successful blogs to do guest spots, reaching out to magazines for interview opportunities or attending networking events. All of these are actions that you can take daily, weekly or monthly which can help you make progress on the yellow items.
Your three lists must work symbiotically; the goal is for each list to provide goal-posts for items on the next list. This allows you to build momentum and make forward progress instead of spinning your wheels and staying in place. Remember that life is always moving: there is no such thing as standing still. You are either making meaningful steps forward or going backwards as life passes you by. Come up with your list today and refine it over time. Your goals and tasks may change and evolve as you start to accomplish things, and you may even find that certain goals cause you to redefine what you find important long-term. No matter what, take action today. There is nothing stopping you from making progress in a positive direction!
Until next time.