I’m going to talk today about setting goals, primarily in business, but of course this can be used in the rest of your life, too. Why set goals? It gives us something to aim for, and, if done properly, should give us a way of measuring our progress towards our goal, too. Goals and the progress towards them can help you make big life changes; it was through measuring my progress against a specific set of goals that I was able to leave my part-time job and start running Libro full time (I’ll write about exactly how I did that on the Libro Full Time blog soon), and I’m not the only person to achieve a big life change like that.
Setting sensible goals
There’s lots of talk, especially in a business context, of setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely). But actually, I think you can get away with just setting sensible goals.
- The end target should be something you actually want, whether it’s working at your business full time, growing your hair for your wedding or running a marathon. This will probably be inspired by what motivates you, something that I’m going to be talking about in a later blog post. In my case, I wanted to work full time because I wanted the flexibility to run my life how I wanted to, and the free time to spend reading and spending time with my friends. These motivators meant I really wanted to do it. You can’t set goals half-heartedly, because you will not work towards them if you do. And they can’t be other people’s goals, either. Think how much more fun and easier it is to learn a language so you can order a beer on holiday, rather than toiling away for a GCSE at school.
- The method to achieve this target should involve a specific set of activities that are measurable along the way. For me, I had to be earning a certain amount per month in order to be able to support myself. If you’re training for a marathon, you need to be able to run a certain distance by a certain time. If you want a particular wedding hairstyle, you need to go to the hairdresser for a trim to keep it looking good and know how long your hair needs to be for the special style.
- Ideally, you should be able to chart how you’re doing and measure it against how you should be doing. So you might take photographs of your hair, I had spreadsheets and graphs to tell me how I was doing against my financial targets, and a runner will tick off training sessions and achievements as they go.
Measuring your progress
It is vital to measure your progress as you go along. In my case, last year I knew how much I needed to be earning per month to support myself. I keep a list of incoming and outgoing money, so I copied my income over onto a new sheet of my spreadsheet, so I knew what had come in that month. I then compared that to what I needed to be earning per month to support myself. At first, I compared it to how much money I needed to replace the money lost by going part time, so I had a set of columns and a graph – a graph does a good job of showing you where you stand – that told me where I was against a monthly target and also a cumulative target (that meant that if I earned less one month and more the next, they averaged out and meant I was still hitting my annual target).
Although it sounds complicated, it was easy to do in practice, and it showed me that I hit the targets for replacing my lost income quite quickly, and began to hit and beat the target income for supporting myself. That’s when I knew it was time to leave and strike out on my own.
Set challenging targets
I like to have an easy, middling and hard target. I’ll always achieve something, but I strongly believe that having something challenging to go for has meant that I have achieved more. Last year I measured my income against replacing my lost income from 2 and 3 days a week and against the lowest amount I needed to support myself. Building up through the year, I only missed that top target by £100 – and I really wasn’t expecting that. So this year I have that as my lowest target, my old full-time wages as my middling one, and an amount I haven’t earned since I lived in London as my hard target. Don’t get excited: it’s not a fortune and I’m not going to turn into a millionaire. But by setting that high target, I’m giving myself something to aim for.
Affirmations and speaking out loud
Apart from the hard target that pushed me forward, I am convinced that what helped me achieve was vocalising and affirming. Otherwise known as telling people what I was doing. Part way through 2011 – and remembering that I didn’t actually decide to leave my part-time job until November – I started telling people, “I am aiming to go full time with the business some time in early 2012.”, or “by a year from now I will be full time with Libro.” These weren’t affirmations in the traditional, chanting in front of the mirror or writing them on a bit of paper sense, but speaking my targets out loud did help me to achieve them.
I hope this has been helpful. I try to talk about specific examples of what I’ve done, to show that it is possible – no high-faluting promises of millions! Maybe you’d like to share the goals you’ve set and how you set them. What helped you – or is helping you – to achieve them? And do let me know if this has inspired you to set some sensible goals yourself. That’s the first step to speaking it out loud!