As the clock hit midnight on Monday (and once the general frivolity had died down) did you find your mind wandering to the previous 12 months? Did you think about the goals you had set, personally and professionally, and whether they were met?
Midnight, for me, always feels a little like that moment at school when the teacher handed back the results of an important test. Everything seemed to come down to that single moment. Did I smash it, pass or fail?
And if you didn’t smash your goals, did you find yourself saying “this will be the year”, knowing you won’t really have the answer for another 12 months?
The Thinking Trap
Until recently I spent a lot of time thinking about goals. I set specific revenue goals and then mapped those back to the activities that would help me get there. And if it all happened as clearly as it did in my head, all would be good with the world.
But the fact is that everything wasn’t good with the world. The plan looked perfect on paper, but I wasn’t always achieving what I wanted. Until I changed my approach. And one change literally set my business on a new growth trajectory.
And at this point I wish the change sounded a little smarter, but sometimes simple wins the day.
Aligning Time and Goals
My story begins with an acknowledgement that not all growth is equal. The fact is that I wasn’t just hoping to grow, but to grow a particular part of my business. I wanted to significantly grow my speaking business, the thing about which I’m personally most passionate and which supports the business and life that I want.
I imagine the same is true for you, that you don’t want to ‘grow’ but to grow a particular part of your business. Perhaps you want to add more of your ideal clients, for example.
It was easy to fool myself into believing that things were going well because they weren’t bad. I was getting speaking engagements, had successfully launched several programs and felt proud of the work we were doing.
But one day I took a long, hard look at a new set of metrics. Instead of focusing on the revenue, I focused on the activities that were generating the revenue. And when I looked at the numbers, it appeared we were investing about 10% of our time on the speaking business, the very part of the business we wanted to grow. Ninety percent of our time was focused on other opportunities which, while real, were taking up more and more of my time and weren’t getting us closer to the real and most important goal.
The fact is that the time/revenue equation was completely upside down. I knew that if I wanted to grow the speaking business I needed to proactively invest my time on certain activities, limit the time I was spending on other opportunities and learn to say ‘no’.
The Day It All Changed
So I asked myself a question. What would happen if we set goals for how time was spent instead of setting revenue goals? What if I put 80% of my time into the part of the business I wanted to grow and committed to doing something – anything – to grow that business during those hours. What if I put a limit on the time I spent on other programs and lived with the consequences of potentially lower revenue on those parts of the business?
What would happen to your growth if you focused on the activities that drive the right kind of growth, rather than reacting to every opportunity and rather than allowing yourself to be pulled in too many different directions?
And something magical happened. I gave myself the time to get proactive on the speaking, invested time in improving my craft, listened and learned from those who had achieved what I wanted to achieve. It wasn’t just about sales and marketing but about becoming the best in my chosen area of specialization. And lo and behold, the speaking business took off, completely transforming the overall business in just three months.
Here’s the lesson that I think is relevant for us all. The business turned around because I focused less on the overall revenue goals for the business and more on the time I was investing in growing a particular part of the business. I was doing the things I needed to do to grow and saying no to everything else.
I’ll confess, there are days I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with that time but I’m becoming more refined in the specific activities that need my attention. At the beginning it felt like I was taking a giant leap of faith, but I had to trust my instinct that this would work. It did.
It sounds so simple and yet it’s so easy to ignore. If you commit a block of time to growing the business in the right way, you will grow. If you accept that making that commitment means you can’t invest time as much time in other activities (even those calling out for your attention), you will grow.
It all became clear. I realized that big growth is less about setting a goal and more about doing the right activities, every day. The goal I needed to set related to the amount of time I invested in growth. Of course, it’s also important to know what to do with that time, but you get the picture. Start by making the commitment to invest the time. As Stephen Covey says, schedule the ‘big rocks’ first.
It Turns Out I’m Not Alone
I wondered if I was alone in shifting my thinking on goals. It turns out I’m not. Here’s what I learned about how other successful people set goals – or don’t.
The big lesson from Kitces is this. Focus on creating habits.
In addition to his role as a Partner and the Director of Wealth Management for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Kitces has a thriving blog, podcast and member site and has grown several successful businesses including XY Planning Network, New Planner Recruiting and AdvicePay. Despite all of that, he doesn’t set goals, at least not in the traditional sense. Rather, he focuses on habits.
According to Kitces, setting goals can sometimes limit growth. That is, as we get closer to achieving the goal, it’s easy to take our foot off the gas. He has this to say. “I focus a LOT more on how I’m spending my time, and whether it’s being directed towards productive systems.”
And that’s the key. When you have a clear idea of the activities that drive growth and you focus on doing those things every day, growth not only takes care of itself but may take you further than you expected.
Of course, setting an overall goal helps you to understand which activities are the right activities. According to Kitces, we can’t get rid of goals completely; we need to ensure they don’t become the end, but that they help us identify the right habits.
Check out this post that Kitces wrote in 2011 and think about the impact this approach has had on his success since that time: Does Setting Goals Lead To Success, Or Limit It?
The big lesson from Goins is this. Be true to the process.
Jeff Goins is an author of five bestselling books and teaches writers how to succeed. In a post he published on January 1st, he said “writers don’t need more goals. They need better habits.” Sound familiar?
Not unlike most entrepreneurs, writers often focus on the end game – writing a book. The reality is, however, that it’s the daily habit of actually writing that makes that possible. Goins says that focusing only on the goal is like “deciding on the finish line without mapping out the process. But here’s the truth, he says: significant accomplishments are the result of regular habits, not arbitrary goals.“
You can read that article here: How to write 500 words a day
The big lesson from Sanduski is this. Focus on commitments.
Sanduski is the founder of Belay Advisor and helps financial advisors succeed through his speaking and coaching programs. He shares a similar philosophy but takes a slightly different approach by encouraging us to focus on commitments rather than goals.
Sanduski says we all start the new year with the best intentions but points out that life seems to get in the way and derail us. “Rather than setting goals,” he says, “that are specific and quantifiably measurable in black and white, I challenge you to make ‘commitments.'” He describes a commitment as a “looser but more emotionally engaged form of a goal.” Specifically he highlights three differences between commitments and goals.
- Goals are linear, commitments are expansive.
- Goals are cold, commitments are hot.
- Goals are focused on the destination, commitments are focused on the journey.
You can read Sanduski’s full article on the subject here: Ditch Your Goals and Do This Instead
A Common Approach
While different in semantics and, to some extent, execution, I was interested that Kitces, Goins, Sanduski and I all ended up in a similar place – focusing more on the activities, habits or commitments that drive the outcomes we seek. The thing that is common is a focus on action and setting goals around actions over outcomes.
So ask yourself a few important questions as you head into 2018.
- What are the specific activities that will drive the outcomes you want to achieve? Consider the traditional things you might do, such as sales, marketing or networking, but also the things that you need to do to make you the ‘go to’ person for the right clients (like skills, team and process).
- How much of your time will you invest in those activities? You still have responsibilities to keep the business moving, but ideally how much of your time should be focused on growth?
- What will you do during that time? Get granular on the specific activities that will drive growth.
Set a commitment and try it for a month. Let me know how it goes!
Know Where You’re Heading
As a final note, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t underscore the importance of knowing where you are going. I started this post with a story about my business. Growing the speaking business is a reflection of exactly the business and life that I want to live so that goal is infused with meaning – for me. None of this means anything if you don’t have a clear vision of what you want your business and life to look like (and how the two connect). You can read more about that here.
Thanks for stopping by,
For more on goals and planning, check out these past posts:
The Unexpected Reason We Fail to Reach Our Biggest Goals
Why Goals are Secondary in Business Planning
The Science of Goals and Why it Matters to Your Future