From Goals to Guides

Jun 12, 2015
Joe Buhlig
~4 mins

Remember the goal setting push at the beginning of the year? I’ve done it professionally and personally every year for four years and it can be motivating.

But the last month has been terrible when compared to my goals. My intentions for the year have been destroyed by things I couldn’t predict.

Maybe I’m just bad at being realistic with goals and make them too big. I break them down each month and week to make sure I’m making progress but I miss them about 75% of the time. That means I’m creating a long string of failures. As a recovering perfectionist, this is paralyzing.

My issues with goals

1. Circumstances

I had great intentions when I started the year and I felt that I was on a good path. And I was…for a few months. But simple things happen that have a ripple effect.

For example, we needed to do some work to the foundation of our house. I wasn’t planning to do that when I set goals for the year. It gave me a topic for a blog post, but other than that it only had negative effects on my other goals.

I found myself tweaking my goals (and feeling guilty about it) every time I had something come up that would alter the course. So… why am I setting them to begin with if I’m changing them all year long?

2. Time

The traditional time span for goals is a year. At work, performance reviews are typically based on the goals that were set for the year. And then there are New Year’s Resolutions (no comment). In most scenarios I’ve come across, goals revolve around a year.

Maybe I just have a lot going on or I work in a space that moves quickly, but a year is too long. Ideas and technology move faster than a year and by the time I get 6 months in, there’s a new best practice, software update, or an unexpected roadblock that changes what I’m doing.

3. Stress

Goals are stress-inducing. And we now know that stress is a killer. I don’t want my goals to kill me. That might be extreme, but you get my point. I want to hit my goals. “Write them down and they will come true!” I see this everywhere. Well, guess what? I wrote them down. I reviewed them daily. And all they did was make me worry about why I can’t keep up with them and wonder why I keep failing.

4. Vague

Because the time frame is typically too large on goals, I tend to make them as vague as possible. I intuitively realized that the circumstances would change and wrote them with a lot of flexibility in order to hit them.

But this poses another question: how do you know if you hit it or not? If it’s too vague to know whether you’ve hit your goal or not, what’s the point?

Creating guides

The yearly, monthly, and weekly goal cycle just wasn’t cutting it for me. Luckily, I ran across Shawn Blanc’s concept of three Most Important Goals each day. I’ve tweaked it for me, but the concept is to write down things that you want to achieve every day and not worry about the long-term. If you achieve these every day, you will naturally chip away at the long-term goal.

I really like Shawn’s approach, but I’ve taken to calling them my Daily Guides. As long as I hit these each day (or at least come close), then I will end up achieving those bigger goals without the stress involved.

Here’s what I came up with:

Personally

  1. Read a book
  2. Write for others
  3. Learn something new

Family

  1. Encourage and serve my wife
  2. Spark an authentic conversation with my wife
  3. Spend time with my girls and give them my full attention (no phone)

Work

  1. Make progress on an important project
  2. Communicate with stakeholders
  3. Encourage my team and coworkers

These are extremely flexible. I’ve found that if I miss one of these in a given day, I don’t worry about it as much. I know that I have tomorrow to pick it up again. I haven’t lost an entire year if I fail and I end up with a longer string of successes over failures.

A place for goals

I think goals can be good. They help us set direction. They show us our aspirations. And they’re good for communicating our intentions to others. But there’s something to be said for your state of being when you have goals in place. If it works for you, go for it! But if it stresses you out, know that it’s ok to give them up and put guides in place.

References:

  1. The case for having no goals in your life: Why it might lead to more success and happiness - Buffer
  2. Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead. - James Clear