Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Goal setting

Having goals is crucial in both a professional and personal context. On a personal level, it’s easy to have vague desires of travelling the world, doing a PhD or buying a house but, without doing anything about it, it’s reasonably likely that you won't get there. It’s all too easy to realise that five years have passed and you have made no progress whatsoever. Visions of ending up as a lonely, unfulfilled layabout float in front of your eyes… (you know the ones). Here’s what Steve Pavlina reckons could be accomplished in five years. Look back at your last five; what did you achieve?

If you’re lucky enough to work for a good company, they’ll actively encourage you to set your own career goals. Goals that you actually want to achieve that hopefully offer some kind of benefit to the company at the same time. Is your company forward thinking enough to help you develop your skills – and even assist you in finding a new job?

The first step of goal setting is, for some, the easiest. It’s to identify your goals. Without knowing what they are, you won't know where to go or how to get there. (Insert road map analogy of your choice.) I, for one, find this rather tricky. It takes a special effort to get in touch with what I really want. I’m more concerned about others’ goals or about my department working well together. It takes more of an effort to step back and ask, what do I want to achieve?

Your goals must be:
Specific - I will manage to go to yoga at least three mornings a week before work
Achievable I will become fluent in Arabic in 5 years by taking evening classes and going on trips abroad)
Positive I will become better at dealing with feedback reviews with my manager by preparing the evidence I have to offer before hand, rather than, I will stop being rubbish at feedback reviews.

Importantly, you have to visualise yourself achieving your goal. This is not meant in some new agey kind of way. You have to actually be able to see yourself doing whatever it is that you want to achieve and wanting to get there. I used to have this vague desire to hang out more with a sports group I attended yet every Friday night, without fail, I’d pass up the opportunity to get sloshed at the local boozer with them. It just wasn’t my scene. I had thought it was cool, but I didn’t realise that it didn’t fit with my values.

The next step is to devise steps to reach your goal. There should be a time limit on certain activities and you should be working on it daily, ideally. Another nice idea is that not only should your goal benefit you in the future but it should also enhance your life in the present. If I’m aiming to enter Gladiators, then the exercise that I do from now until then should be fun and healthy.

Finally, review your goals, regularly. Put them somewhere you can see and make them part of your life. Tick off tasks as you achieve them, think of new activities and write down anything you do that is related. And while planning is great, don’t forget to appreciate what you have now. Right now is where life’s happening, not five years ahead.

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