How many times a day do you either ask or respond to the phrase, “So, how’s it going?” It is a quick way to connect with others, and the expectation is a simple reply, such as, “Life is good." But then we look at our calendars and, to our surprise, realize that we are in the last half of the year! Where did 2022 go?
In January, as a new year began, we thought of the many things we were going to do and experience because we had so much time. We documented goals for our professional roles and personal lives. Given that it is August, what is your real response to “So, how’s it going?” What progress have you made toward those big January goals? What has worked? What has surprised you? What unanticipated detours have you taken? What new opportunities have surfaced?
As the summer winds down and we move closer to 2023, it is a good time to reflect on where you see yourself relative to your January view. As you head into a new season, do a quick review and refresh of your goals for the rest of the year.
What is a goal, and why is it important? Goals can be a means to greater ends. There are big goals, which take years to achieve, medium goals, and small steps, but all goals are about change and moving to a different place or state. And since life is a long journey, goals provide pathways for the trip that lead to something bigger: a life purpose. Purpose is the big mountain or the North Star; it is our vision for the future. Clarity of this vision is highly related to our values and what is important for our professional and personal lives. Setting and following goals reflects how we choose to use our time, energy, and resources. As the wise Dr. Suess once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
Setting a goal can be rather easy and is a great starting point. However, it is the execution of the strategies for reaching a goal that takes work and skill, especially discipline or what is sometimes called grit. Some helpful skills include project management—scheduling, planning, assessing options for risk or feasibility, allocating resources, and monitoring and evaluating progress—motivation, time management, change, and decision-making. There are 24 hours in a day for everyone, and how you choose to spend them is based on moment-by-moment decisions and actions.
There are generally two stumbling blocks that many people agree are barriers to goal accomplishment: priorities and time. One way to determine priorities is to divide your goals into various categories, such as professional, personal, financial, or spiritual. Prioritize their importance based on your overall purpose and values. Narrow them down to your top three based on additional criteria, such as available resources, skill, feasibility of timing, and sequencing. Once you have your top three goals, document them using the SMART format.
Time management has many challenges. Are you procrastinating? Do you start many projects but only complete a few? Do you have too many competing tasks filling up your calendar?
One of the biggest barriers to effective time management is getting caught up in urgent tasks and not focusing on more important ones. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic, Stephen Covey expanded on the Eisenhower Decision Matrix framework for prioritizing tasks for optimized efficiency and productivity. Covey’s Time Management Matrix quadrants adopt the same labels as Eisenhower’s: urgent, not urgent, important, and not important.
One tip for better time management is scheduling specific tasks associated with your goal on your calendar to keep you on track. Another tip is generally credited to Mark Twain’s adage, “Eat your frogs first thing every morning;” it suggests waking up 30–60 minutes early to work on your goal. A time management hack to keep from wasting small amounts of time—such as the 5–15 minutes spent waiting for a meeting—is to ask yourself, “What is the best use of my time right now? What one task on my list can I do in the short amount of time I have?”
Being skilled in managing your tasks is a huge advantage for accomplishing your goals. There are a plethora of ways to stop wasting time, including having accurate data on how you spend your time and reframing how you look at productivity. One place to start is with Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.
Here’s a checklist to refresh your 2022 goals:
- Define your life’s mission and purpose.
- Write a purpose or vision statement about where you see yourself in 10 years.
- Compare your current state with your desired state.
- Document your goals and prioritize them.
- Identify one to three goals linked to your purpose.
- Document your goals using SMART or a visual action planning tool.
- Separate the important from the urgent in your weekly planning.
- Determine the execution barriers and develop ways around them, especially with the use of technology for scheduling and tracking progress.
- Assess your progress weekly or biweekly.
- Recognize and celebrate your small successes.
Setting and achieving goals takes a mindset of continuous improvement and learning to get better at getting better based on a future vision or purpose. It is more than a focus on an end state. It is being intentional about the actions we take each day and the small goals we accomplish every week or month. It is not simply keeping busy, but it is a strategic and focused journey, albeit with some side excursions just for fun.
How might you use the rest of 2022 to climb further up your purpose mountain to achieve your vision? What paths will you traverse during the fourth quarter? What will you focus on for the rest of this quarter, the remainder of this month, or this week? How might you work on your goals today?
What will your response be the next time someone asks you, “So, how’s it going?”