Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
There are all sorts of goal setting methodologies floating around out there, especially at this time of year. It’s the same with investment approaches. There are literally thousands of ways to succeed (or fail) in and out of the markets. As with investing, however, it’s more important to find what works for you rather than rigidly following another person’s script.
Also similar to investing, setting goals can be as simple or as complex as you like. You can set hundreds of goals, categorized by time frame, life sector, and importance. You could design a beautiful spreadsheet and track your progress graphically. Some folks will thrive on this type of detail. Others won’t even get out of the starting gate before they’re so frustrated that they give up.
I’ve tried many different types of investing over the years, with mixed results. So far I haven’t found the mix that’s right for me. The same is true for goal setting. I can be a bit of a glutton for details, but I also crave simplicity. This year, I’m emphasizing the latter. I’m setting fewer goals and concentrating on absolutely achieving my top priorities. I may have a few bonus goals waiting in the wings, but achieving those would just be surplus success.
3 Keys to Effective Goal Setting
There are a lot of acronyms and lists of goal setting musts out there. It’s not a bad idea to at least make yourself aware of them. Some combination of them will likely work for you, but only if you’re willing to do the work to make it happen. So far, I’ve found that the goals I’m most likely to achieve share 3 common characteristics. They are:
The goals must be fundamentally important to me, small in number, and simply stated – no convoluted beating around the bush or buzz words. Boil it down to the basics. If I had to crystallize my number one priority for this year, it would be better time management. If I don’t achieve anything but that this year, I’ll still declare victory in 2011.
This might sound like the opposite of simple, but it doesn’t have to be. Although the goals must be stated simply, they must also come with a few specific ideas on how I’ll achieve them. Those ideas should be in their most concentrated form as well.
One of my biggest problems is that I’m really great at setting up fairly complicated systems for achieving this or that. I’m not so good at following through with the system, and finishing this or that. To combat that tendency, I’m determined to keep my goals more visible in 2011. Since there are only a few this year, I’ve created a note on my computer that I’m supposed review a minimum of once a week. I’ve heard of other people who post a sticky note near their workspace or on their bathroom mirror too. Whatever works!
Using Your Life Balance Sheet to Set Goals
The end of 2010 left me feeling a little less than balanced. I felt like I was riding a horse that was out of control. (I have some experience with that, so I know exactly what it feels like. ;)) It seemed I worked harder each day and somehow managed to accomplish less. No matter how determined I was to improve my time management skills, I just couldn’t seem to do it – classic signs of burn-out.
For whatever reason, I often find myself in that position (burned out) at the end of the year. And for whatever reason, I always find the strength to turn it around in January. I spent New Year’s Day gutting my office, recycling stacks of paper, and organizing piles of books – with the exception of a quick trip to the drug store. (Mr. Cents cut his hand with a utility knife while trying to customize a drawer for my desk, thereby maintaining our family tradition of sustaining a medical issue on each and every day all of the clinics are closed!)
Last year I wrote about Your Life Balance Sheet. Although the main focus of this site is finance, it’s also about putting it all in context. Every aspect of our lives reflects on and is reciprocally affected by the others. Here are my goals for the 4 quadrants of my life balance sheet:
- Pay Off the Mortgage in 2011: It should be gone by December, but I would consider it a major coup if we could get rid of it a few months sooner.
- Investing: Revisit and update my shopping list and maybe dip another toe in the market, whether on the long or short side.
- TFSAs: If the mortgage is paid off sooner, top up TFSAs.
- Spend Minutes Wisely: I’m an expert at spending time neither working or relaxing. That’s absolutely toxic. If I do it again this year, I’ll likely burn out by March. So far so good, though. I’m doing much better in this very young year.
- Spend Moments Wisely: When opportunity knocks, let some of the day to day stuff go to take advantage of it. That’s how we make the bigger jumps forward.
- Clear Clutter: Recognize and reduce noise. This allows more room for both creativity and productivity.
- Finish, Finish, Finish: I have a terrible habit of overwhelming myself with 5 or 6 projects on the go at once. I need to take things one-at-a-time to gain a little more peace of mind. Closure is king this year!
- Take Time to Do Nothing: This might mean a good game of Canada-opoly with my youngest son, listening to my older two sons play music, or reading one of the many books in my review queue. Those are my favourite things to do.
- Spend Quality Time with Family: This probably suffered a little near the end of last year as a result of the “spinning wheels syndrome” I allowed myself to fall into.
- Connect with as many readers and writers as I can to learn more and become better at what I do.
- Lose 10 Pounds: Cut portion sizes a bit – especially when indulging in treats!
- Exercise 5 Days a Week: I actually did OK at this last year, so I’m really just looking to continue that consistency.
I’ll know I’m successful if I can avoid feeling so burnt out in December that the holidays are more about recovery than revelry. The measure of success for any goal couldn’t be more simple: Is it working? Are you achieving the goals that are most important to you? Are you happy?
If you answer yes to questions one and two, but no to number three, that probably means your goals are not in line with your values. If you answer no to questions one and two, but yes to number three, I guess the same is true, but the result feels a lot better!
How are you coming along with your 2011 goals? Do you have a method that works for you?