Hands up if you ever made a meticulous and well-thought-out list of goals or a personal development plan that you really really wanted to pursue and then months (or even years) down the line you come across it again having not done very much at all…hopefully this is not just me?!
Note: This post contains no sponsored material or affiliate links and is based on my own opinions, views and experiences of carrying out the personal development activities described below.
Unfortunately, this was a pattern I fell into all too easily: producing wonderful plans at the end of various development activities I had undertaken and then putting the plans away in a drawer and losing sight of them completely. However, that all changed when I participated in a course called ‘Life Coach Yourself: Make 2019 Your Best Year Yet’ provided by online learning platform, ofcourse.co.uk. The course focused on looking at your life holistically, setting goals around the specific areas of your life that you wanted to improve or develop, and then suggested ways to maintain and monitor your progress. I don’t believe that particular course is available anymore but there will be similar courses that you can access.
As I went through the course, I found that its methodical approach to following goals was something that really suited my way of working. I was able to develop ways of keeping track of goals that were really going to benefit me in the future and take me in the direction that I wanted to go. For the first time ever I felt like I was building the kind of life that I wanted (which is such a liberating feeling!) As the months passed, I kept track of my journey towards my goals, reviewing and reflecting upon how far I’d come and knowing more or less what I needed to do next.
I’ve pulled together some tips for setting goals and keeping them on track which is based on some of the guidance that I followed from the course and also on the tools that I have found useful in my experience as a coach (as well as those that I have used for monitoring my own progress).
1. Create your goals
You may already have an idea of exactly what you want to achieve but if you are not really sure then take some time to think about where you are right now in your life and where you want to get to:
- What areas of your life do you want to focus on (which of these areas would be your top priority?)
- What is going well right now?
- What could be improved/developed (and how?)
A word of caution: don’t overload yourself with goals! Think about what is most important to you right now and what will bring you the most benefit.
The Wheel of Life is an excellent tool for helping you to explore the different areas of your life (and is something that a coach can use and discuss with you).
2. Write your goals down
Obviously this means that you will be able to remember what your goals are and will in turn make them easier to monitor. When writing goals down it is best to be as specific as you possibly can about what you are setting out to achieve, what you need to do to achieve it, and the type of positive outcome you want. So, instead of ‘I want to get a new job’ think about what type of position you might want, at what level/grade, what sector/industry do you want to work in, and what hours will you need?
Example: Secure a position as a full-time project manager, earning over £35k per year, in a Higher Education Institution by July 2020.
Consider the following questions:
- How will you know when you have achieved your goal? (What outcome are you expecting? Quantify it if at all possible as this makes it easier to measure)
- When do you want to achieve it by (or when can you achieve it)? You need to ensure that the goal is realistic for you to complete in the time you have allocated bearing in mind your current commitments/responsibilities and resources you have (or will be able to obtain).
- What are the personal barriers that currently stand in your way and how are you going to manage or address these barriers (for, as I have found out, these are often the hardest to overcome! I’m referring to things like self-doubt, procrastination, limiting beliefs, Imposter Syndrome etc…)
The SMART model offers a methodical structure to follow when writing out your goals (check out this article on the SMART model from MindTools.com). There are also many examples of SMART goals available on the internet. Just type ‘SMART goal examples’ into your search engine and this will give you lots of ideas on how to write out your goals.
3. Make your goals motivational from the outset (this will get you through any difficult times!)
Why do you want to achieve your goal? What benefit is it going to bring to your life? How are you going to feel once you have achieved the goal? Make sure the goal is something you actually want to do and will enjoy doing (e.g. it is not based on someone else’s dream, influence or vision of what you should be doing). Goals that align with our personal values, our wants/needs, and the things we like to do are going to be much easier to sustain.
You can represent your reasons for pursuing your goals in picture form, creating a board of images that relate to the perceived benefits that the goals will bring to your life (this is often referred to as a vision board and is a really fun activity!) or simply write down your reasons.
Top Tip: Put the vision board or your written notes somewhere you will see them on a regular basis to remind you of why you are on this journey!
4. Break your goals down into manageable, bite-sized tasks that will move you closer to achieving them
Brainstorm the specific actions that you need to take to enable you to achieve your goal. This may also include forming new habits that will provide a strong foundation in helping you to turn your goal into a reality.
- What do you need to do, have or accomplish in order to reach your goal in the timescale you have given yourself?
- What habits do you need to create to help you get to your goal? To give yourself a fighting chance, these habits need to be beneficial to you, enjoyable and realistic. (Do they fit in with your existing routine/commitments? How will you incorporate them into your life?) Note: Forming good habits takes time and then working out if you can actually commit to them is a process of trial and error so be patient with yourself!
- Set deadlines for achieving each of your actions (and decide when and how you are going to carry out your new habits)
- Prioritise the actions that need to be taken – Are there any that need to be done first before another task can be completed or are there certain tasks that are more important to accomplish first?
Keeping track of your progress
1. Add the goals as headlines with the smaller sub-tasks written underneath to a spreadsheet, document or an online project management tool/app. Whatever you use make sure the task list is kept in an accessible place, where you can easily refer to it and remind yourself of it.
Goal: Secure a position as a full-time project manager, earning over £35k per year, in a Higher Education Institution by July 2020.
|Complete PRINCE2 qualification
|Book onto an interview skills course
|Set-up job search on HEI related websites and check postings weekly
|Update LinkedIn profile
2. Find all the tasks that you need to do in the next month and copy them across to separate sheet or document. You now just have details of all the tasks that you need to focus on and complete in the next month.
|Tasks for January
|Complete PRINCE2 qualification
|Book onto interview skills course
3. Now make a weekly plan which details the tasks that you’ll need to do for each week of that month. You can then break those tasks down into even smaller tasks if you wish and assign more specific deadlines to them.
|Attend 2-day PRINCE2 course
|Search for local interview skills courses
|Revise for PRINCE2 exam
|Take PRINCE2 examination
|Ensure interview skills course is booked
4. Ensure you allocate a specific day and time to work on your tasks. I recommend adding them to your calendar (with reminders set) or to a ‘To Do List’ that you update daily. Schedule in no more than 3 tasks for each day (though this will all depend on your other commitments).
5. Focus on completing your daily tasks. Try and do the most difficult or daunting one first or at least 5-10 minutes of it (especially if you have no order of priority) as then you will have a least made a start and the rest of the tasks will seem that little bit easier!
Top Tip: Take 5-10 minutes to prepare for your tasks the day before you are due to complete them as you’ll then be better equipped to get started on them.
6. At the end of each week have a planning session to look at what you need to do for the week ahead. This will involve:
- Reviewing your progress for that week and carrying over anything that you did not get time to accomplish. If you find yourself carrying the same task over week after week then take time to reflect on why that is, whether the task really needs doing and what is preventing you from going forward.
- Thinking about the tasks ahead – Are they still relevant? Are they still in the correct order of priority? Do you know when you are going to carry them out (be as realistic and accurate as possible about how long a task is going to take)?
- Thinking about the knowledge, information or resources you are going to need in order to carry the tasks out (and how/when you are going to obtain these things).
7. Finally…Monitor and reflect on your progress at the end of each month. Note down what you have or have not yet achieved (I use a Red, Amber, Green rating as a good visual reminder of how I am progressing with each task). Learn from the process of carrying out your tasks, and any setbacks that have occurred, by keeping a journal which encourages you to reflect on the following questions:
- What went well this month and what can you keep doing that is working?
- What tasks were you not able to achieve and why? What challenges did you encounter?
- What could you have done differently?
- What will you do now (given what you have learnt from carrying out your tasks this month)?
Once you have updated your spreadsheet/document/app with your progress and reflected on your month you can then put together your plan for the next month.
This may all seem a bit like a heavy investment of time and energy (and lots of planning!) but it will allow you to keep track of where you are going, remind you of your priorities, and ensure that you are moving ahead with your goals. I do acknowledge that this method may not suit everyone’s working style and it really is about finding out what tools or techniques keep you on track. Of course there may be times when unanticipated life events happen, other opportunities arise, or something else comes up that is a bigger priority so recognise that you may need to be flexible with your plan at times, keep an open mind, learn from the experience, and think about how you are going to move forward once you have dealt with whatever challenge or obstacle comes your way.