How To Set Better Goals

I’m in the process of overhauling my business. When you’re in start-up mode, things change – a lot. But you get used to it.

Unfortunately, things changed so drastically for me that I had to call into question my original vision of what I was trying to build. That’s when I realized that my vision for my life needed some serious work. This week has been a focus on resetting my vision and my goals in light of new information and insights. If you feel like life isn’t turning out how you expected, I suggest you do the same.

Don’t wait until the new year to set a bunch of useless resolutions. Set a big vision for your life, create your goals, make a plan, and go after it. Right now.

“Give me a stock clerk with a goal and I’ll give you a man who will make history. Give me a man with no goals and I’ll give you a stock clerk.” – J.C. Penny

So how do you create better goals? Here’s a high-level overview of the process I use. There’s much more to my process, but this should help you get a great start. If you feel like you need help, keep reading to the bottom of the post for how you can get a free 30-minute consult with me.

Step 1 – Begin with the End in Mind

I’ve written on legacy before and I’m a big believer in having huge dreams for your life. What are you trying to create? What legacy do you want to leave to your family? How do you want to be remembered by the people you loved or worked with?

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs 29:18

Be as detailed in this phase as possible. I’m currently only working on the business aspect of my vision as it’s changed so much since the beginning of the year. I cast a vision that was about two pages long for just my company (I went out 20 years). The more detailed it is, the more capable you’ll be of working backwards.

Areas you should cast a vision for:

  • Career
  • Financial
  • Spiritual
  • Family
  • Spouse (Create a whole category for them if you want a strong marriage.)
  • Health/Physical
  • Intellectual/Education/Growth
  • Friendships

Step 2 – Work Backwards to Shorter Time Frames

Once you know where you want to be, it will become much clearer which steps you’ll need to take along your journey. Some people get really intense with this part and do 10-year, 5-year, 3-year, 1-year, 6-month, 3-month, 1-month, and weekly plans.

I’m not that person. I first list out major milestones for what I want to accomplish. Then I put them in the following ranges:

  • 1 Year or Less
  • 2-5 Years
  • 5+ Years

After you’ve set your ranges, make sure you don’t have too much in your “1 Year or Less” category. By all means, be aggressive. Just don’t be unrealistic. If your long term vision is to have a nest egg of $5 Million dollars, don’t put “Save $250,000” in the first year if you’re starting from $0. Unless you make a lot more than that or are a drug dealer, this won’t happen.

Step 3 – Get Specific With Your 1-Year Plan

Do you know why I hate New Year’s Resolutions? They’re arbitrary and they don’t really bring about change. We all know this, but so many people create them anyway in an effort to feel better about themselves.

Here’s an alternative: take your 1-year goals and map them out over the year. For example, if you want to start a business in the next year, figure out what steps you’ll need to take and the order you’ll need to do them in. For example, you can’t (or shouldn’t) quit your job without first lining up some clients. Don’t try to do it all in a single month. Here’s what it might look like:

  • January: Write out vision for the company and discuss it with my spouse. Create a household budget. Create a quickie business plan.
  • February: Launch a simple website/blog and let friends and family know what I’m doing. Ask for referrals. File legal documents.
  • March: Speak at 3 clubs or events that have members in your target audience. Have 1 month of expenses saved in an emergency fund.
  • April: Speak at 2 clubs or events that have members in your target audience. Offer a new service to your existing/previous clients.
  • And on it goes…

Be realistic with your time and the steps you need to take. These are obviously just examples and your steps and time frames may be substantially different.

Step 4 – Create Weekly or Daily Action Items

Now you know what you need to do each month, right? So create your weekly or daily action list that will propel you forward toward each step along the path.

This is where most people fail. It’s where I can go wrong if I’m not careful. We don’t control our schedules and our time. We aren’t deliberate. Therefore, it’s our schedule that controls us. We become victims of time.

“Don’t confuse activity with action.” – Zig Ziglar

Life is busy so make sure that what you’re working on is what you should be doing, not just on the tyranny of the urgent.

Step 5 – Decide What You’re Willing to Sacrifice

Balance is a myth. There’s no such thing. If you want to rapidly lose weight, you have to give up sugary sweets. If you want to slowly lose weight, you just have to give up some of it. Either way, you’ll need to sacrifice – it just comes down to how much you’re willing to give up. You can’t “balance” a healthy body with an unhealthy diet.

Decide going into what you’re willing to sacrifice. If you want to start a business, plan to sacrifice some sleep, some evenings, and some weekends with your family – at least for a phase.

Prepare everyone for this. Talk with your spouse, your kids, your family, your friends, etc. Make sure you all agree to healthy boundaries. Monday through Saturday are generally work days for me. For my own sanity, for my marriage, and for my health I don’t work on Sundays. An exception might be if we have a function on Saturdays that I feel is important to attend. However, I’ve chosen to sacrifice more “optional” functions as well.

Step 6 – Review Your Goals and Vision Weekly

I screwed this up big time this year. Had I been doing this, I would have caught some course correction a lot earlier and saved myself some frustration (and some money).

Review your vision and goals at least once per month. I’ve now included a weekly review of both my vision and my 1-year goals to make sure they still align with what I’m trying to build. I’d rather correct frequently and slightly than rarely and drastically.

What Makes a Good Goal?

A good goal will have the following characteristics:

  • It will be in writing. If you type it, print them out and keep them where you can see them. We all have those documents we’ve created on our computer and that are lost in some random folder.
  • It will be specific. Don’t create the goal “Start a business.” That sucks. Be specific about what type of business you’ll create.
  • It will be measurable. If you can’t tell if you reached a goal, you set the wrong goal. “Start a business” is a bad goal because you don’t really need to do anything measurable. “Land my first client” is a measurable goal. “Start a business” is little more than a vague vision.
  • It will be time sensitive. Set a date for when a goal will be reached. Be aggressive yet realistic. I’ve heard it said you should create goals that will require you to execute and God to show up. Works for me.
  • It will move you closer to your vision. If it doesn’t apply to your long term vision from the first step, you need to question whether it’s a good goal. You should be able to clearly articulate to someone why accomplishing this goal will get you closer to your vision.

Get a Free 30-Minute Goal Setting Session

Because I believe so strongly in the idea of creating big goals in life, I’d like to help 5 readers get started on their journey for free. Here’s how you can be one of them:

  1. Leave a comment below telling me about your biggest frustration(s) with goal setting and why you’d like help creating a plan.
  2. Link to this post on Twitter or “Like” this post on Facebook.
  3. On Saturday, October 30, I will contact 5 people by email for a free 30-minute phone consult. That’s it! Whether you are selected or not, you will hear from me personally so you’re not waiting around wondering.

So, let’s hear it! What’s been keeping you from setting bigger goals in your life? Leave a comment below!

About the Author

  • Anonymous

    Awesome post and awesome offer Travis. You’re truly an inspiration top someone like me trying to do similar things that you’ve done. I’m good at the planning part, but what this post really reminded me of was the importance of being specific in your goals, all the way down to weekly and daily action plans.

    Thanks for actually living what you preach, I look forward to getting to know you better throughout my journey.

    • Thanks, Joey! That means a ton from you! I’m truly humbled that you would say that. As it stands, there’s not much competition for the 5 spots…so…I may be helping you get those daily action plans together. 🙂

      • Anonymous

        That’s cool. I think I’d be just as thrilled to find some time and grab lunch with you as well, but I’ll def. accept your phonecall or message if it turns out to be me. : )

  • Billknox

    Thanks for sharing this framework for mapping out my goals and life plan. I must say that my frustrations mainly come from lack of execution of my goals. I tend to become overwhelmed with the entire plan forget that progress is made step by step. What your post has shown me is that my goals in the past were to general. My first goal today is to print this, and to get started writing down my new life vision. Keep up the prodding.

    • Thanks, Bill! Man…I GET the overwhelmed feeling. It’s so easy to get that way when you set big goals. I’m glad you found this helpful and if you have any additional questions, let me know.

      As I mentioned to Joey, there’s not a lot of competition yet for those 5 spots, so you may win one by default. 🙂

  • Simply put, for me, it’s fear.

    Fear that my goal may include at some point leaving a steady job, something I’ve taken comfort in for a long, long time. Fear that everyone will realize I’m a complete fraud (not literally, of course, but something us guys sometimes struggle with). Fear that not enough people will believe I have anything to offer.

    I could keep going. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I want to echo Joey’s comments. It’s great to hear someone be so honest about their process to reach their goals, especially when you are trying to do the same thing. Thanks for sharing – it’s refreshing and encourage to know I’m not alone!

    While I’m good at setting goals, I get so caught up in executing them and in life in general, that I’m bad about distilling it down to weekly or monthly goals and going back to course correct if needed. I think my other challenge is learning how to say no. I love helping people so much that I say yes way more often than I should. I need to be more specific with my goal setting so I can say yes to things that are actually going to make a difference and help me get to where I want to be.

    Thanks again for sharing great information and the tremendous offer to help. I’d love to win! Or, if not, I’d love to just grab a cup of coffee sometime and swap war stories. I hope a lot of folks take you up on this!

    • Thank you, Laura! Saying “yes” too often and “no” too infrequently is a big struggle of mine as well. Like you, I love to help people so much which often leads me off track. Something I’ve been thinking about (maybe another post) is how to plan for healthy deviation from a plan.

      For example, we need goals so that we know what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to. However, not allowing for some planned breaking of the rules would lead to a pretty rigid lifestyle where every decision is evaluated from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” I never want to be there and I need to be careful to not look at every decision from that perspective. Perhaps planning some “just because I want to” time into our schedules allows us to say “yes” with freedom and more selflessness.

      The other thing I know I certainly need to keep in mind is that if I’m not accomplishing my goals, I’m really no good to anyone else. Because my goals involve things that are truly bigger than myself, by accomplishing them, I’m really helping others in a way that benefits us both.

      Crazy stuff…food for thought for me. 🙂 Thanks for making me think more about this!

      -Travis

      • Anonymous

        Laura, great comment, you really got me thinking this morning and for that I blame you. I just wanted to throw my two cents in and say that I suffer from the same ailment. Maybe we should all start a support group. : )

        I just wanted to get you guys’ feelings on the whole saying “yes” issue when it comes to start-ups. How picky can/should you be when you first start out? I know it’s important to establish yourself in line with your goals and organization, but what’s the balance of accepting and rejecting what’s healthy when all someone is trying to do is get people in the door?

        I’ve been asked this a lot lately and dealt with it some myself, so I thought I would throw it out there to you two.

        • Anonymous

          Thanks, Joey. I will take full credit for getting you to think today! 😉

          Your question is one I’m really struggling with myself, Joey. It’s funny – I can give advice to other people all day long. I feel like one of my biggest strengths is problem solving. I can see where the holes are and help people patch them up. But, it’s very difficult to do this for myself. This would go back to Travis’ accountability group recommendation – I completely see why this is helpful.

          Back to your question – I guess it depends on what the ask is. Are you talking about projects or are you talking about the “let’s get together for coffee so I can pick your brain” requests? Ya gotta say yes to both sometimes, but perhaps it’s about drawing boundaries. Maybe you only take on so many extra meetings or projects a month. I honestly don’t have the answer. If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know.

          And yes, a support group for people who can’t say no would be good…as long as it involves coffee, booze, or maybe both. 😉

      • Anonymous

        You’re so right, Travis. Right after I posted my comment, I realized it sounded very self-centered. I, like you, don’t want to do things just because there’s something in it for me or because it will help me reach my goals. That said, I think sometimes I say “yes” to things that create too much of a deviation from my path. The trick is finding the balance. Chris Brogan’s new Human Business Works e-mail talked about that this week – balance is a verb. So true.I like how you said, we have to reach our goals so we can better help others. I think that’s a great way to frame it. While I fully believe in the economy of giving, we still need to be cognizant of the bottom line. Again, it all comes back to balance.Thanks for the great discussion!

  • Anonymous

    This is great and really hits me where I am at the moment.

    My reaction is similar to that of Laura and Joey. I’m really good at making lists, schedules and tasks, but I’m really bad at sticking to them. Too often, I lose site of my goals because I get distracted with the daily grind. Between work, family, friends and the rest of life’s craziness, I lose the forest through the trees.

    Although I completely agree with you about breaking long-term goals into short-term objectives, I struggle when there isn’t much urgency. When you’re running a marathon, it doesn’t feel like a big deal to get a few steps behind. The next thing you know, though, you’ve stopped running altogether.

    This post is very empowering. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thanks for your blog Travis. I have been a self-employed consultant for 15 years. Occasionally I have visions of getting a team together and forming a think tank to provide information on issues in my field. However, i have have yet to take the next step. I think the reason is a combination of not knowing how to take a step out of the box and the fact that it will be uncomfortable. I like the idea of your A-team and will take your hints at setting one up. I would love to have 30 minutes with you tomorrow if i am selected.

  • Nautalus5

    My first impressions when faced with your list were my priorities. Looking backward at my path through this life I would have prioritized the list in this sequence:

    Spiritual
    Spouse (After Financial if I was single)
    Family
    Friendships
    Financial
    Career
    Health/Physical
    Intellectual/Education/Growth (After Friendships if I was single)

    • Great point! The order I put in my post was in no particular order and was not a reflection of how I prioritize my life or how I recommend people prioritize theirs. I probably should have made that clearer. 🙂

      I like your list!