Succeeding in Life Through Setting Goals

Here are a few tips on goal setting that I have picked up over the years. I've only included the things that I have found from experience that have worked for me.

The Philosophy of Goals

The connection of goal setting to time management is pretty straightforward: If you don't set and strive for goals, you're going to work on stuff that doesn't serve you, thereby wasting your time. (Of course, we all work on stuff that doesn't serve us from time to time, but folks who have no goals do a lot more of it.)

One of the most wise things I've ever heard about goals comes from David Allen, who observed that just the act of setting a goal gives you a new lens to view life through, and that this new lens will help you in achieving the goal. You'll see opportunities that you would never have seen otherwise.

David gives the analogy of how people of different professions would view the same crowd of people, noting that an optometrist would probably more notice the people in the crowd who were wearing glasses than would the linebacker who would probably more notice the people who were athletically built. David is very much on target with this: once you set a goal, you'll start seeing opportunities to make it happen.

Getting Started

One convenient way of creating your list of goals is to fill in the blanks under the following categories:

  • What you want to BE
  • What you want to DO
  • What you want to HAVE
  • What you want to GIVE
  • What you don't want to BE, DO, HAVE, and GIVE

While you are brainstorming in these categories, you'll want to make sure you think about subcategories of interest to you. Ones that people often use are:

  • Personal
  • Family
  • Spiritual
  • Professional
  • Financial

This is just a suggested list to get you thinking.

The Brainstorming Process

When you're brainstorming what to do/be/have/give, consider what you would do if you had no limitations: For example, what if money and health were not obstacles for you?

Also, think about the people you admire and what it is that they have, do, and are that you want to emulate. You might even want to ask one of these people to be your mentor, to help you think through these areas (at least partly), and to tell you what he/she has found to be effective for them.

You'll want to give yourself a peaceful environment so you can truly brainstorm. And, you do want to brainstorm, which means: you write it All down, and you throw out nothing, no matter how ridiculous it sounds. When you try to mix brainstorming and practicality, you always lose the benefit of brainstorming. You'll have time later to be practical with your list.

Sometime during this brainstorming exercise, you ought to do like Stephen Covey recommends and visualize your funeral. What would be said about you if it were held today, and how does that differ from what you really want to be said about you? Did you leave your family with a financial situation that you really want them to have? From my own experience, I must sadly suggest that you also visualize the funeral of your dearest loved ones. You may think you are being as good to your family as you can be, but I assure you that you will wish you had done far more for them if you lose one of them.

The List of Goals

There are different schools of thought on how many goals you should have:

  • Some experts say you ought to have as many life goals as you can think of. Life goals are those you obtain by thinking about what you want to Do, Be, Have, and Give before you die.
  • Others say you should limit your goals, so you never have more than a manageable set facing you at any one time. Their theory is that it will depress you to have a lot of incomplete goals, and that depression will keep you from doing well with any of your goals.

My view is that you should identify everything you want to do before you die.

Once you've brainstormed your list of goals (which you may want to do over the course of a couple of days or weeks), then you can weed out the ones that just don't make sense. One way of thinning out the list is to ask Why do I want this and what good will it really accomplish? When you find a goal that doesn't have a good answer to this question, you've found a goal you can toss.

Also you ought to think about how to prioritize your goals, at least to the point of which ones you want to work on first. You can prioritize them by area (Personal, Family, Spiritual, Professional, Financial, so forth), with each area having a Priority 1 and a 2 and ... Or, you can prioritize them absolutely, without respect for area, as 1 through 109 (or whatever). Note that priorities are likely to change as your life circumstances change.

Turning Goals Into Actions

Then, it's time to buckle down to turn the list into action steps.

Decide which goals are to be long-term goals and which are to be short-term and which fall somewhere in between. Then, starting with your short-term goals, Visualize what it will take for you to accomplish the goal. This will help you in breaking the goal down into steps. Of course, you also need to set deadlines for each of these goals (and steps).

If any of your goals address making a change of habit, you should note that many researchers have found that it takes about 21 days to change a habit. You'll want to factor this into your planning. Also, when changing a habit, you'll want to find ways to give yourself positive reinforcement for making changes.

Finally, you ought to have your key goals in front of you on a regular basis. You should look at them at least weekly to ensure you are making progress and to see if you need to modify your plans in anyway.

What About Software?

As far as software for goals, I personally use MindManager (see my discussion here), Word documents and task lists for setting and tracking goals. The only Pocket PC goal-related software of which I am aware is Achieve It, which can be obtained from PocketPC Addict. It has been some time since I've used it, though, and I don't know if it is compatible with the later Pocket PC operating systems (Windows Mobile 2003 SE and WM5). I have been told that Target-Assistant for the Palm platform is also good, but have not tried it out. Personally, I'm not really keen on using a PDA for goal setting, as I think you should use something that "liberates" your thinking process, such as mindmapping or blank sheets of paper or whatever you feel helps to open up your creativity. A PDA is great for carrying around a document that has your finalized goals in it (a Word document or a spreadsheet, for example), but it's probably not the best thing for goal conceptualization. But that's just my view, and a PDA may work okay for you in this regard.

If you like using web-based tools, which are becoming increasingly popular, you might want to check into Goals On Track.

Note: it is a good idea to have your finalized goals on a PDA, if you use your PDA in your periodic review and planning activity. A simple way to do this is to have a Palm memo or Pocket PC note in which you have listed your key goals, so that you can review the memo periodically. Of course, you should also have ToDo items set up for each of these key goals.

Another way of organizing your goals is to use a project planner or a database manager.

Closing Thoughts

If you need more help with goals than was provided above, there are numerous books on goal setting that you may want to consider. If you've tried hard at goal setting before and just haven't done well with it, you may even want to consider taking a seminar. As far as books and seminars go, I personally like those by Zig Zigler. He is one of the most motivating speakers and writers that I've encountered in my 34 years of exposing myself to motivational books and seminars. A very straightforward, easy-to-follow book on goals by Brian Tracy is: Goals! How to Get Everything You Want--Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible.

Certainly Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has good advice on goals, too, and is one of the few books on goals to bring out how important it is to have "service goals," which are goals where you render service back to your loved ones and to society. I have chosen to use this website as one way of being of service. Another way that I have chosen is to make donations to Bethel Bible Village in memory of my wife Vickie, because Vickie and I saw through the years how great the people at Bethel are at helping kids from broken homes, and Vickie always loved kids. If you do not have a favorite charity, I recommend that you check Bethel out. But, obviously, there are many fine charities in the world, and donations are but one way to be of service.



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2001 - 2008 Bruce Keener


Getting Started


Prioritizing Tasks

Managing Tasks

Managing Projects

Planning Your Week


Problem Solving


Goal Setting

Insights from the Wise

The Big Picture


Keeping Useful Lists

Effective Writing




GTD Add-in for Outlook

PlanPlus for Outlook

Timesaving Tools for Macs

Recommended Software



Recommended Books