The importance of goal setting is well known and understood. But setting goals is just the first step to achieving goals. Planning your goals is also essential and equally important to being able to achieve goals. And there are meaningful differences between setting goals and planning goals that often get overlooked.
Goal setting is when you describe, in specific and measurable terms, something you want to obtain or accomplish. Goal planning is when you identify the actions and steps you need to take to get something you want to obtain or accomplish. In short, one is a destination- a set point. The other is the roadmap- a plan.
We’ve all done it. We’ve thought to ourselves:
We’ve envisioned ideas and results for ourselves or our business that are meaningful to our lives and generally very doable. And yet we don’t do them.
I’ve discovered one major reason why I often fall short of accomplishing my goals. It’s because I focus more on the destination and not enough on the journey I need to take to get there. I have little trouble coming up with the goals I want, but then I forget about them until New Years Eve rolls around or some other arbitrary trigger. Or, I let them linger in my subconscious mind where they create overwhelm and depressingly remind me how lazy I am every time a Planet Fitness commercial comes on while I’m sitting on the couch fixing to do something.
I’ve come to realize that set-it-and-forget-it method works well for slow cookers, but not so well for accomplishing my goals and dreams. Goal planning makes all the difference.
Why both Goal SETTING
and Goal PLANNING are important
Importance of Goal Setting
Here's a quote that best explains the importance of setting goals:
If you don't know exactly where you're going, how will you know when you get there? (by Steve Maraboli, Author)
For example, if you get in a car and just drive with the dream of “going to a better place,” how will you know if you’re actually at a better place when you arrive? You first have to outline what “a better place” actually means to you. Does it mean a place with warm weather, small population, lots of trees, near the mountains, or within 10 miles of a Target store (which is a personal necessity for me). Thinking through the details of what you want to achieve is the goal setting process. It’s knowing the specifics about your destination-- the factors that are important to you that will let you know you’ve finally arrived at the place you were trying to get to.
Importance of Goal Planning
And consider this statement that represents the importance of planning your goals:
Even when you know where you want to go, if you haven't made plans to get there, you might end up somewhere you don't want to be.
Using the example from above, if your “better place” means on the beach with year-round warm weather, you’ll want to make sure your drive doesn’t land you in Minnesota. Thinking through the details of how you’re going to get to your better place is the goal planning process. It’s planning your journey. For example, looking at your map to see which interstate roads you should use for travel. Or, checking the weather channel to see if you’ll have to avoid a pending snow storm. Or, estimating the number of days the journey will take so you can assess whether you have enough money for hotel stays. And sure, we might ultimately get to our destination without planning, but it’ll likely cost us more time, money and frustration.
Together, goal planning helps us confirm
that the goals we set are achievable
Both goal setting and goal planning are important. And I’ve found that goal planning helps me feel less overwhelmed about my goals. My goals often seem like big, idealistic dreams that are too far out of my reach. But when I take the time to plan the steps that might be needed to accomplish my goal, I can see my big goals are really just a series of small pieces...small steps that are actually doable. And this eases my doubts and fears about being able to accomplish them. It reminds me of the saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” (by Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher).
Why do people set goals
without planning goals?
If goal planning is so important and effective, why do some people choose not to do it? Well, I can't speak for everyone, but goal planning is certainly not my most favorite thing to do.
Goal planning seems hard & unpleasant
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always plan my goals. And the thought that usually overcomes my mind is “ain’t nobody got time for that." Because, thinking about creating a plan makes me feel overwhelmed. It takes time, thought and focus. It feels so much easier to just jump in and start winging it with a cross-that-bridge-when-I-get-to-it mentality.
In contrast, goal setting seems more enchanting. Goal setting makes me feel dreamy and euphoric about the life I can have one day and the things I can accomplish. But goal planning just feels like a chore, a painstaking act of thinking through details and writing down how I intend to do something or what specifically needs to be done is quite simply, an unpleasant activity for me.
So, how do I overcome this mindset of goal planning being a unpleasant chore? To me, goal planning is no different than how I view exercising. I know it’s beneficial and that I should do it, but that doesn’t mean I always feel like doing it. So I get it done by making it part of my routine.
At the start of each month, I plan out my new goals and assess my existing ones-- whether I’m on track with my plans or if adjustments need to be made. And I share my big goals with a friend, who helps hold me accountable. In addition, every evening I plan my next day, which consists of at least one action step from my bigger goal plan.
For me, acknowledging that goal planning is an unpleasant task, like exercising, signals to me that I need to put measures in place that will increase my chances of doing it regularly.
Goal planning seems useless
Some people think goal planning is useless and unimportant because plans change and the future cannot be predicted. But a goal plan doesn’t have to be permanent and it doesn’t mean you have to know every single step needed to achieve your goal.
Expect revisions. I’ve learned that the main objective of goal planning is to brainstorm steps that are detailed enough to give your goals direction. And again, you can’t set-it-and-forget-it. To be effective, plans should be revisited frequently to ensure they are still relevant and useful.
Don't strive for perfection. I try to keep in mind that the objective is to plan out my steps the best way I know how. And, I accept the fact that my plan may be far from perfect because I probably don’t know everything I need to know when I set out to create my plan. That’s okay. Because as I learn more, I can add that new knowledge into my plan or revise my plan as needed.
I think we’ve all experienced situations where having a plan was better than having no plan at all. So even if it seems like I don't know what I'm doing at this stage, the benefit is that planning allows me to give ample thought to the steps I might need to take. Lastly, I remove the burden of trying to make it a perfect plan at the start, by viewing the planning process as a roadmap that might need some detours as more information becomes available.
What should Goal SETTING include?
There are two common pieces of advice about goal setting that most people have heard. One, is that goals should be written down. The second is that goals must be specific and detailed. Let's address each of these individually.
Goals Should Be Written
First, the notion that goals should be written down is not just a cliche. Several studies have shown that people who write out their goals are more likely to achieve them than those who don't write out their goals. And, scientists have proven we're more likely to remember things we write down because it helps us focus on what's actually important.
Goals Should Be Vivid
The second common advice about setting goals is that goals should be detailed enough so that anyone reading it will know exactly what you're trying to accomplish.
The SMART Criteria. You've probably heard of the well-known SMART criteria for setting goals. SMART is an acronym that generally stands for specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. (And over time, people have replaced some of these words with other words.) The idea is that your goal should be a statement that satisfies each of the SMART criteria.
The 5W Criteria. For me, the SMART criteria is hard to remember and apply. And the "over-thinker" in me gets bogged down trying to figure out if my goals are relevant or achievable and what the heck that means in the first place. So, I prefer to keep it simple and use the 5W technique I learned in grade school to ensure my goals are vivid: who, what, when, why, and where.
WHO: Who is involved in this goal? Who is doing this goal? Or, who will be needed to accomplish this goal?
WHAT: What is the goal? What do I want to do? What will I achieve?
WHEN: When will I complete this goal? When is the deadline?
WHY: Why do I want this goal? Why am I doing it?
WHERE: Where will my goal be delivered? For example, online, at a physical store or place, on paper in the form of a finished report or article, or book?
Example Goal Statement
Here's an example of how I apply the 5W’s to create my vivid goal statement:
WHAT: will launch my podcast
WHEN: by July 31, 2020
WHY: so I can increase my brand awareness and offer information to my customer base
WHERE: My podcast will be launched on my website and available on iTunes and Google Play.
Whether you decide to use the SMART criteria, or the old-school 5W's, the key is to have a statement that is clear and vivid enough so that you, and anyone who reads it, will know exactly what you want to achieve.
What should Goal PLANNING include?
Many of us learned in grade school that the 5 W's are often accompanied by an H: how. “How” is the question I use for goal planning. By considering “how,” I can outline what steps, tools, and resources I need to achieve my goal statement.
An Outline for How
How will I accomplish the goal I set?
Unlike the 5W’s in the goal setting stage, the “How” in goal planning requires more than a single statement. It involves creating a list of every step you can think of that you need to do to achieve your goal. Once I’ve brainstormed these steps, I find it helpful to add more detail to my plan by assessing two additional How questions:
- How much time and resources do I need?
- How will I stay consistent?
This allows me to consider important factors such as time estimates, obstacles, daily commitments, accountability and evaluation as part of my goal plan. All of these pieces together can be used as a roadmap for reaching my goals.
Estimating the amount of time each step will require helps me assess whether I can realistically accomplish my goal by my desired deadline. And it gives me a more solid framework for how to accomplish the goal. For example, let’s say the time for all steps in my plan totals 100 hours and my goal is 60 days away. I can easily calculate the amount of time I need to dedicate to this goal every day to accomplish it by my deadline. Assuming I plan to work on my goal for all 60 days, I’d have to spend about 35 minutes each day to finish the 100 hours needed. Also, once I know the time required for each step and the minimum amount of daily time I need to dedicate, as I execute my plan I can assess if I’m on-target with meeting the benchmarks and deadlines I’ve set for myself.
We've all set deadlines for when we want to achieve our goals. And too frequently when that date rolls around we haven't completed the goal. Estimating the time required at each step and for each day will create a meaningful schedule that we can follow. This makes the process of achieving our goals more tangible and likely to achieve.
I also find it helpful to consider potential obstacles. For example:
- Do I have the necessary skills or education required to complete my goal?
- Will I have to take training or enroll in a class?
- Do I have the right equipment, tools or software?
- Do I have enough money?
- Will I need help from other people?
I consider these types of obstacles at both the overall level of achieving my goals, and at the smaller level of achieving each step. For instance, I ask myself whether there are any obstacles to completing my big goal statement and whether there are any obstacles to completing each step in my goal plan.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned in my struggle to accomplish things that are important to me is consistency. I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but quite simply, you can't set-and-forget-your goals if you plan to achieve them in the most efficient way possible.
My most effective technique is to work on my goals everyday, even if I'm only able to do so for 5 minutes some days. I try to create a habit of working on my goals by committing to take a step each day, even if it's just a portion of what I had planned. This helps to keep my goals in the forefront of my mind so I can stay focused on achieving them. It also helps ensure that I don't deviate too far from my overall goal if a situation arises where I can't stick to my full plan on a given day.
It is widely accepted that a good way to increase the chances of accomplishing your goals is to find ways to hold yourself accountable. An accountability partner can be anyone who is dedicated to helping you achieve your goals. It can be a friend, family member, teacher, business partner, or even a young child. The best scenario is to have an accountability partner who also has goals for which they need accountability too. When both you and your accountability partner have something at stake, it helps you both become more dedicated to supporting each other and to achieving success for yourselves.
I've learned that having an accountability partner helps me tremendously. I meet with my accountability partner at least once per month. And even though she's not holding a gun to my head, there's a sense of obligation when I meet with her to make sure I've done all I can to stay true to my plans so I can report progress to her. I feel grateful that she's taking time to help me with something that is important to me. And because of this, there’s also a constant awareness of not wanting to waste her time. That sense of appreciation and being respectful of someone else’s time helps keep me on track.
If you don’t have an accountability partner, you can think of other ways to hold yourself accountable. For example, when my goal was to exercise everyday, I would not allow myself to watch my favorite TV show unless I had exercised that day. Or, if I didn't make it to the gym, I wouldn’t allow myself to watch TV unless I was stretching during programs and doing pushups, sit ups and burpees during commercials. These types of self-accountability promises can be very effective. But, it’s also easier to let yourself slide because there's no outside influence or anyone you have to answer to. So keep in mind that self-accountability effectiveness will depend on how well you're able to stay committed to the promises you make to yourself.
As stated above, plans aren’t perfect. Circumstances will arise that may require you to add, revise or delete steps from your plan. Because of this, it's wise to revisit your plan frequently to make sure it's still relevant and adequate to get you where you're trying to go. Consistent evaluation also helps you determine if you’re on track with resources, such as time, budget and staff. How frequently you review your goal plan depends on your specific goal, circumstances and needs. I review my overall plans weekly to stay on track and avoid obstacles, such as changes in my work schedule, upcoming appointments, family needs, access to equipment, unintended hours spent in Target when I just stopped in for batteries, and other factors.
You now have a better idea of why I consider goal planning to be an unpleasant task and why many people probably avoid it. But having vivid, written goals and a detailed goal plan undoubtedly makes the process of achieving goals easier, less overwhelming and more likely to get done.
It reminds me of the handyman’s creed, "Measure twice, cut once." When you create a plan, you're putting in the work to make sure that when it comes time to execute, you can focus on doing because you've already thought through the details. There’s a lot of time, work, and effort involved upfront. But the benefit is that you’ll have a roadmap detailed enough for you to follow and start taking steps towards success.
When I don’t have a detailed plan, I tend to procrastinate on my goals. Without a detailed plan I’d have to take moments, everyday, to think of what step to take now, how long it will take, what it will involve and whether I have everything I need to do it. The mere thought of having to think about all these details each day is a barrier. It's friction that causes procrastination and will make you not want to do what you once enthusiastically said you wanted to do.
On the other hand, if your plan is already laid out, step-by-step, you can reduce the friction each day between thinking about doing it and just doing it. And for me, with my over-thinking tendencies, that's the beauty of having a goal plan, in addition to just having or setting a goal.