At the start of a new year lots of us take time to sketch out our goals for the coming year. It just seems like the right time to reflect and plan. While it is inspiring and invigorating to develop our list of goals, its all too easy to lose focus on them within a few weeks. If that happens at the end of the next year you may end up realizing you were very busy but not really effective. This year, try a five step planning process to keep focus on those activities that will result in achieving your goals.
Step 1. Set Your Annual Goals
The first step to achieving your annual goals is to identify them. Take some time to brainstorm your goals. Use roles and personal values as a check and balance to ensure achieving your goals will bring meaningful results. When you review your goal list through those two lenses you may realize you’ve missed something. You may also question goals that don’t closely align with your roles or values.
Once you’ve checked your annual goals against your roles and values, you may have to whittle the list down. It’s important to keep the list realistic. Use the SMART mnemonic to help you. Each goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time bound. Write a brief description of each goal that incorporated each of these attributes. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to exercise more this year” and quite another to say “Over the next 12 months I will average 3 days of exercise per week and by March I will be able to run 5 miles in under 45 minutes.” There’s only so much that can be done in any year, so take a holistic view to keep the list achievable. You can always add to it later if you find you’re over achieving. If you put too much on the list you will be less focused and may become discouraged if you can’t get it all done.
The final step in the annual plan is to develop a list of activities that support each goal. These are small, concrete goals that, together, will help you achieve the larger goal. Let’s say one of your goals is to take a memorable family vacation. You may have supporting activities like: identify three possible vacation destinations, determine vacation budget, research candidate destinations, select destination, and plan trip. By identifying these supporting activities you’ve already begun planning actions you need to take to achieve the larger goal. Assigning a due date to each activity will help you schedule them and ensure the larger list of annual goals is achievable.
Step 2. Plan Your Month
Each month review your annual goals and the associated activities, even if only briefly. This will give you the opportunity to reprioritize them if things have changed, take a few minutes to acknowledge your accomplishments to-date, and determine what you need to get done in the next month. While you’re at it, this is a good time to review any upcoming deadlines for work and remind yourself of any family events or personal commitments. If you keep your annual goals updated monthly, this activity shouldn’t take very long and it will serve as a regular reminder of what you’ve set out to accomplish.
One of the secrets to achieving longer term goals is to set frequent milestones to keep track of your progress. Image if you were running in a 10k race with a goal of finishing in 50 minutes. A pace of 8 minute miles would have you crossing the finish line in 49:36, so that would be a good target pace. If you reach the one mile mark in 7:45 you would know you’re slightly ahead of your goal and you might choose to slow down a bit. If you arrived at the 2 mile marked in 17:00 you would know you’ve fallen behind and must pick up the pace to meet your goal. If you wait until the finish line is within sight, you won’t have much influence over your final time. Even sprinting the last 50 yards won’t help much if you’re way off your target. On the other hand, if you know your intermediate goals, in the case your mile split times, you can fine tune your performance along the way to keep from burning out but also keep from falling too far behind. Think of your monthly planning as checking your split times throughout the year.
Step 3. Plan Your Week
Each week, take 15-20 minutes to plan your activities for the next seven days. Review any deadlines, self-imposed and externally imposed, scheduled meetings, and anything else you need to get done. Review your goals for the month and determine which ones you’ll need to accomplish in the coming week to stay on target.
Step 4. Plan Your Day
Now that you’ve got goals for the year, a plan for the month, and are planning your weeks, take it one step further and plan your days. At the start of each day, before your get involved in anything time consuming, review your weekly plan and prioritized your daily task list. One effective prioritization technique is to put each item on your list into one of three categories: A) tasks you absolutely must finish by the end of the days, B) tasks you need to complete within the next few days, and C) tasks that have no immediate deadlines. Once you’ve categorized the task, you can further prioritize them. By doing so you’ll make it obvious where its most important to focus your time.
At the end of your day, take another look at the weekly plan and make note of any accomplishments or activities that are off track.
Step 5. Rework Your Plans
All this planning takes some time but if you stick with it, you will achieve your goals. Once you get into a rhythm to planning your year, month, week, and day it will not take as much time as it may sound. By reviewing your plans frequently and changing them as life throws the unexpected at you, you’ll be able to maintain a healthy perspective, make progress toward your goals and keep yourself from getting frustrated.
The Impact Makers’ Difference
2012 was another great year for Impact Makers. A few of the year’s highlights were:
- Hiring 17 full time consultants
- Being recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the 500 fastest growing private businesses in America, with a 3 year sales growth rate of 1,030% (http://impactmakers.org/2012-inc-500)
- Contributing $76k in direct financial support to our two community partners, Family Lifeline and RxPartnership
- Providing over 200 hours of pro bono consulting services to our community partners
- Leading a project for which a client won a RichTech Technology Innovation Developer Award (http://impactmakers.org/2012/dhcd-richtech-award)
- Receiving Family Lifeline’s 2012 Champion for Children award (http://impactmakers.org/2012/family-lifeline-award)
2013 looks like it will be even better! To keep pace with demand for our services, Impact Makers is constantly looking for top quality project managers, program managers, and business systems analysts. If you or somebody you know has those skills and would like to work for a company that really makes a difference, have them contact us. Our current openings are listed on our website at http://impactmakers.org/about-impact-makers/employment.