To kick off the new year, I wanted to talk about possibly the most important tool I picked up during the past year: goal-setting. I know it is a bit delayed, being half-way through the first month, but I believe the art (yes, art) of projecting into the future to set your current path is timeless, and is really applicable at any point in the year.
I’m not much of a resolution man. I learned long ago that, like most people, I would find myself picking up the pieces of my shattered intentions by at least March every year. But like I said before, any time is a good time to sit down and assess your progress, and looking forward and setting goals for yourself is certainly more opportune with the mental fresh start of a new year. Also, holidays are often a great time to re-balance oneself around friends and family, with extra time away from your school or office.
Like I mentioned before, goal setting is perhaps the single most important tool I learned over the course of last year, and thats saying something, because tools make up practically 85% of business school. There are two distinct reasons for its effectiveness:
1) Most people never truly lay out a long term road map for themselves. You are told goals are important, so you dream up some grand, far away goal of what you want to do. And thats it. It just dies there, there is no visualization of how to actually get to that end goal. Its just sitting out there, waiting for you to somehow stumble your way over to it.
2) Focus. Particularly in today’s age, we have the attention span of a gnat. Our minds flutter from activity to activity, never really pausing to digest everything we sense and learn.
That last one particularly hit me hard. When I started really reading critically, I was drinking from a fire hose. I couldn’t read fast enough, but I never paused to reflect on what I was learning and internalizing it, so I ended up getting pulled into a new direction every week (turns out I was quite the sucker for quick money. Thanks Tim).
There are a few sources I can credit for learning how to visualize my goals. First are the books The Goal, which I have written about before, and Essentialism (see below). The next is a method called G-STIC, which will be detailed out greater in the next post.
Combine these, along with a few other tips, and you’re left with a great framework for planning out (or attempting to) anything from the next 2 months to the next decade.
When I sat down and worked through this process for the first time, it felt amazing. It’s almost like a diary, in that you can spill out everything you’ve ever thought of doing or learning, and see how it can fit into the bigger picture. But unfortunately as we all know, this feeling of peace never lasts long. Because there is life, right? You can’t plan it out, all you can do is flow with it and adapt as best you can – modify the framework to adapt to your knew surroundings.
This leads me to the last point I want to make here. As I mentioned, by the time the past Christmas rolled around, I was about at my whits end. I had taken in so much information, that combined with my regular school load, I was moving micrometers in a thousand different directions. I simply had too many ideas bouncing around in the ole noggin, and had no sense of how to order and prioritize them, or if they were even worth my time at all.
This is the title. Without setting a framework for your goals, mapping out where you are headed to, you end up moving in dozens of directions, without making any tangible progress in any of them. We all only have 24 hours in the day. Which is better: spending 8 hours on one thing or 24 minutes on 20? No one can do 20 things in a day, the sheer mental effort of switching tasks that many times is exhausting. If you can align your actions to a single goal, the one thing that is the most efficient use of your time, you can move a mile where you before only progressed a foot.
This is the essence of Essentialism. I picked up this book over the holiday, and the ROI thus far has been tenfold. It reinforces the notion to take a strategic view throughout your life, to build in time to your schedule to sit down and work through a system such as G-STIC. It proved to be a very timely read for me, and motivated me to revisit the framework myself.
What has resulted is a return to the clarity and peace of mind that I experienced the very first time I worked out my goals. And that’s what its all about. It’s creating your own personal lighthouse. Or road map, however you want to visualize it. It helps you first define what exactly you want in life, how you plan to get there, and then how to stick to or adjust that path when life gets in the way. Because it will get in the way. Its up to you how you want to respond to it; you can either alter your path to accommodate some new opportunity, or stick to your guns and stay true to your cause, whatever that may be.
You can’t plan life, but you can plan how you respond to it. Ever forward, one mile at a time.