Goals and Growth – How to set your goals and achieve them!

The setting of your goal, the devising of the plan to make it happen and the execution of that plan combine to form what we might grandly, but correctly, call your strategy. The sine qua non of setting your strategy is choosing your goal. The great 1960s adman David Ogilvy hit the nail on the head when he remarked, ‘The essence of strategy is sacrifice.’ Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to choosing what it is you want to achieve. You need to create the space to really think through what you want to achieve – and how – before rushing on to try and do it. If you don’t, you will be building your house on the proverbial sand.

Be realistic

Quite a few people I’ve worked with like the idea of quarterly goals (possibly because it reflects the way big corporates tend to plan and review their financials). In his 2002 bestseller Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish suggests that working in ninety-day blocks will provide enough time to make tangible progress on one or more important projects but is short enough for you to see the finish line. Ultimately, how long you set for your goal depends on what it is and what resources you can commit to it. I would offer a word of caution, though. We tend to get carried away with excitement when we set ourselves a goal, and this can lead us to underestimate how long it might take. We also forget how much we will likely be blown off course or hit obstacles. We will also have work (and maybe personal) emergencies and inevitable fallow periods when our mojo gets a bit depleted. So, it’s a bit like when you get the builders in to do work on your house: always add a third on to the time they say it’ll take and the same onto the cost they quote.

Audit your goals

One useful exercise is to take a moment to list the goals you are currently pursuing and see if they need pruning back, or, potentially (but less likely), adding to. It always amazes me that when I ask people to do this very few have actually articulated what their goals are. They usually have a vague idea of what they are and can talk around them, but usually they have never taken the obvious and essential step of being crystal clear about them and writing them down so they can monitor their progress. Another, surprisingly large, set of people don’t have any sense at all about what their personal goals are. Talk about shooting in the dark. However, many goals you may have, one of them should stand out as a fundamental, more ambitious goal. Your ancillary goals can be met with some hard work in the ‘business as usual’ mode, but this other ‘big goal’ is the one that could be transformative and which you really need to make space for. It’s the one that might seem too big or ambitious, or – if not thought out properly – too ill defined or nebulous. Take your inspiration from the military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz who, at the beginning of the 19th century, wrote: ‘Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.’ Often, this goal will be developmental, about you, part of what I call your personal strategy, which I will explore later on. It could, on the other hand, be an intrinsic business goal, tied up with the strategy of your workplace. It might not even be about work at all. One client I worked with felt that unless she spent considerable time improving and renovating the beautiful but ramshackle house she lived in, she wouldn’t be relaxed enough to really pour herself into work. She prioritised getting it all done within a year, achieved that and then turned her focus onto work where she eventually led a management buy-out. I suspect that any big goal (what Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras in their book Built to Last call your BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal) should have a year horizon. If you do want to commit to a three-month goal or a six-month one, fine, but if I were coaching you I’d be asking if that timescale was realistic and, if it was, whether it was actually a big enough goal. If we do assume a twelve-month rhythm, your goal template should be something like this:

My Goal

In one year’s time I will … ?

To achieve that every month I need to … ?

To achieve that every week I need to … ?

To achieve that every day I need to … ?


Don’t dither – make a start

So many people stagnate or flop around because they ‘can’t decide’ between various possibilities. But you only get one life, so stop dithering, choose a path, and set off down it. You can always adjust your route later. Don’t wait for the perfect decision that can’t go wrong. Have faith in yourself and set off. Other people decide to do ‘too much’. They have a whole list of things that they want to do, and, unsurprisingly, they spread themselves too thinly and they fail to make an impact. This can sometimes be due to undisciplined thinking and lack of willpower, but it can also be indicative of an inability to commit. This in turn can stem from worrying that you haven’t got enough knowledge to make an informed choice. But no one ever has perfect knowledge. Again, it’s about forcing yourself to make a choice and then committing. If you can’t or won’t do that you will never get off the starting blocks.

Write down – and share – your goal

Create the space to document and share your goal One last point about your goal. Research tells us that writing down a goal increases our chances of achieving it. Even better than writing it down is to share the goal with someone else and ask them to help you hold yourself accountable. I’m a huge fan of mentors but this is a bit different. Find someone who you trust, that you feel achieves the things they set out to do and make them your ‘goal mentor’. Have a coffee with them and explicitly ask them to be your witness on this journey. Share why the goal is important and put it in your diaries to meet or at least speak every month with the express purpose of talking about how things are going. Use them as an external, ancillary source of willpower.

Ask yourself: Do I have a clear set of goals? Do I have a ‘big’ goal? Is it stretching enough? Do I measure my progress towards it? Do I have allies to support and encourage me?


Adapted from ”Create Space: How to manage Time and Find Focus, Productivity and Success” by Derek Draper (Profile Books). 

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