If you've ever been to a Tony Robbins seminar, you've probably heard him say, “successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” I've discovered that he was correct—questions reflect how we perceive the world. One of the most important questions I ask my clients as a productivity consultant is, “What is the most important step in prioritizing goals?”
Every CEO, executive, manager, and entrepreneur understands the importance of goal setting, but not everyone understands how to do it correctly. In fact, many people confuse their goals with their dreams.
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There is nothing wrong with fantasizing. It's often a wonderful place to visit on occasion, but as Napoleon Hill once said, “a goal is a dream with a deadline.” It conveys the message, but there's a little more to it.
Setting goals is an art form. A goal is not a vague idea in your head, nor is a list of things you want to accomplish. There is a goal-setting system that will greatly increase your chances of success. Failure to use a system to achieve your goals reminds me of a quote by Brian Tracy: “failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Mastering the art of goal setting is not only important, but also required for anyone serious about success. Fortunately, it is not difficult. In fact, it's the polar opposite—deceptively it's simple.
So, let's look at how some people approach goal setting, and then we'll be able to answer the question: what is the most important step in goal prioritization?
1. The Ivy Lee Technique
CEOs, entrepreneurs, and managers should be familiar with the name Ivy Lee. In 1918, he walked into the office of Charles M. Schwab, president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and shared a technique with him that Schwab later described as the most profitable advice he had ever received.
Inquiring minds would be curious to learn what that advice was. After all, Lee was paid $25,000 for it (equivalent to $400,000 in 2016 dollars).
He requested 15 minutes with each of Schwab's executives, and this is what he taught them:
- Write down the six most important things you need to get done the next day at the end of each workday.
- Rewrite them in ascending order of importance.
- The next day, as soon as you arrive at work, focus solely on the first task. Don't stop working on it until you've finished it.
- This procedure should be repeated every working day.
- The key point here is twofold. Limiting yourself to six goals ensures that you ignore all non-essential goals, and working on them one at a time (in order of importance) ensures that you complete your most important goals first.
2. Jim Rohn's Method
Jim Rohn was a master at simplifying things, and his goal-setting technique is a prime example of this. It's a straightforward four-step procedure:
- Choose what you want.
- Make a list of them and write them down on a piece of paper.
- Put a date next to each goal that you expect to complete.
- Go to work and cross items off your to-do list.
- It's the epitome of simplicity. The key factor here is determining exactly what you want.
3. The WOOP Method
WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.
- Wish – Set goals that are exciting, challenging, and achievable.
- Outcome – Imagine yourself achieving the goal and how it feels.
- Obstacle – Identify any potential roadblocks that may prevent you from achieving your objectives.
- Plan – Make a detailed plan of action for dealing with each obstacle.
Nothing ever goes as planned, but many people make the mistake of assuming everything will go off without a hitch. Things will inevitably go wrong, resulting in chaos. That is why the fourth stage of the technique is so important. Having a plan in place to deal with any problems that arise will save you countless hours of stress and headache.
4. The SMART Method
As a young entrepreneur, this was the first goal-setting technique I learned. It was inspired by a management paper written by George Doran, former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company, in 1981.
It's ideal for beginners because it's simple to remember. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
- Specific – You know exactly what you want to achieve.
- Measurable – Your goal can be measured and tracked.
- Attainable – Your goal is attainable and realistic.
- Relevance – Your goal motivates you.
- Time-Bound – You have a specific deadline for achieving your goal.
The key to this technique is to set goals that are attainable, specific, and measurable. For example, you must distribute flyers. Your objective should not be to “hand out 1000 flyers in two hours.” The reason for this is that you have no control over whether or not people take the flyers. As a result, if you do not meet your goal, you will be disappointed.
“I will hand out flyers for two hours and greet people with a smile,” would be a more appropriate goal statement. This is possible because you have complete control over your attitude and the amount of time you spend on the task.
5. The HARD Method
HARD is an acronym that stands for heartfelt, animated, required, and difficult. Unlike SMART goals, which are focused on achieving realistic outcomes, HARD goals are designed to push you to your limits. They are designed to take you out of your comfort zone and test your limits.
As a result, HARD goals may not be the best choice for newcomers to goal-setting. However, if you've had some success with other methods and are ready to take things to the next level, these could be just the ticket.
- Heartfelt – Each goal must have an emotional component to it.
- Animated – Visualize yourself as having achieved success and imagine vivid images of yourself accomplishing each goal.
- Incorporate a sense of urgency into your goals.
- Difficult – Set goals that stretch you and look forward to the challenge.
6. Brian Tracy's Method
Brain Tracy divides goal-setting into six steps.
- Take a blank sheet of paper and write the word “Goals” at the top of the page, followed by the date today.
- Make a list of at least ten goals you want to achieve in the coming year.
- Each goal must start with the word “I,” then be followed by an action verb.
- Describe all objectives in the present tense, as if they have already been accomplished. For example, “I expect to earn $100,000 by the end of the year.
- They must be written in the affirmative. Don't write, “I'm going to stop eating chocolate.” Rather, write, “I eat healthy snacks.
- Make a list of goals for your work, personal life, finances, and health.
It should come as no surprise that the techniques have a lot of overlap. So, let us now answer the question, “What is the most important step in goal prioritization?”
The best person to answer this is best-selling author and speaker Simon Sinek, who explains in his famous TED Talk that it all starts with “why.” “Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, not the “I Have a Plan” speech,” he explained. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a vision for the future, which inspired him to take actions that changed the course of history. His why was crystal clear not only to him, but to everyone else as well.
Whatever method you use to set goals, you must understand why you are doing so. “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how,” Friedrich Nietzche said. Big goals necessitate a lot of effort, which is why only a small percentage of people achieve them. They don't have a compelling enough “why” to drive them to do the necessary work and fight for what they want.
Managers, entrepreneurs, and CEOs all understand the importance of goal setting, but not all of them take the time to write them down on paper.
Ideas in our heads don't leave. They only become real when they are presented to us in black and white. When we write them down, they become real to us, and we can then decide which goals to prioritize and, more importantly, why.
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