One thing is clear to me as we ride out the end of 2017: if you set great goals for 2018, it will make a huge difference in what you’re able to accomplish next year. The world we live in today is practically designed to distract us from keeping our eyes on our most important goals and work (for example, as I’m typing this, I’m trying to ignore the loud cartoon my kids are watching across the room). So focus is key. And great goals help you keep your focus, all year long.
But how do you figure out the best goals to set for the upcoming year? Maybe you have fifteen burning desires that you’d love to achieve, but you don’t know how to prioritize them. Or maybe life is motoring along just fine, and you know you’d probably like to improve something, but you’re not sure what.
I found myself asking those exact same questions several years ago, and here’s what I’ve figured out really works when it’s time to goal set for the upcoming year.
Get crystal clear on your values
It’s hard to prioritize your goals if you haven’t defined your values. What are your values, though? Values are what you judge to be the most important things in your life–the things that deep down, you care about the most. Given that definition, it seems like it would be easy to figure out your values. But it’s not always.
Sometimes, you want to value something that you actually don’t care about that much. For example, when I was in my 20s, I lived in Santiago, and Mr. ThreeYear and I were figuring out where we should go next. I was offered the opportunity to become part of an MBA program where I’d complete half in Chile and half at a great school in Texas. But I declined, ostensibly because I wanted to get into a top-10 MBA school, like Wharton. In the end, though, we moved back to the US and I didn’t go to an MBA school at all. To the shock of almost everyone in my family, I became a stay-at-home mom for seven-and-a-half years. It turns out that what I thought were my values–getting an MBA and climbing the corporate ladder–weren’t really my values at all. I really valued family, which was the real reason I didn’t stay in Chile to start an MBA, because I missed my family back in the US and wanted to go home. And I really valued motherhood, and making sure my children had a secure start in life.
One of the best ways I’ve found to figure out your real values is the “What do I want?” exercise. It’s fairly simple. You take out a sheet of paper, and at the top, write, “What do I want?” Now, all you do is list the things you want. They can be as small and insignificant, or as large and pie-in-the-sky as you want. Anything that comes to mind goes on the list.
When you start this exercise, your first few wants will probably be fairly trivial and perhaps materialistic.
- I want an ice cream.
- I want a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
- I want a beach house.
- I want $5 million in the bank.
As you keep writing, though, your deeper wants tend to emerge.
- I want to fall in love with my best friend.
- I want the freedom to be able to choose how I spend my days.
- I want to be able to spend a month each year with my parents.
Write until you can’t think of even one more thing to put on the list. Then, circle items on your list that are similar.
- I want to be able to choose where I work.
- I want freedom to travel.
- I want to have control over when I take vacation.
All of the above items point to a desire for autonomy over your life, for the flexibility to make choices about how, when, and where you work. This should tell you that if these wants keep popping up on your list, you’ll probably want to identify independence or autonomy as one of your top values.
Another useful exercise is to think about what you’d take with you if your house were on fire. After my husband and kids, I always pick photo albums. This tells me that memories and shared experiences are very important to me. This is right in line with my love of travel, where I enjoy making memories with the ones I love.
You can also think about your favorite memories from the past year. Maybe you loved having friends over for dinner–if so, that might tell you that you value friendship and hospitality highly. Or, you might remember a few fantastic meals at new restaurants. That might tell you that food is very important to you.
Try to identify three to five top values. My family has identified our (immediate and extended) family, travel, and financial independence as our top three values. We make sure our goals align with these values, and that our biggest goals are fulfilling our most important values.
2. Figure out your BHAG
Got your values figured out? Great. Now, what’s the one thing you want to achieve more than anything in 2018? Is there some big, hairy, audacious goal that’s hiding out in your heart, something you really want to go for, but that feels impossible or scary? That’s probably a good sign you’ve found your BHAG. Our BHAG still feels impossibly scary to me–doubling our net worth in three years.
Your BHAG is your guiding goal–it’s the one thing that all of your smaller goals are (ideally) pointing towards. And it should line up with at least one of your values. For our family, it lines up with financial independence, but in a way, it also lines up with family. When we’re closer to financial independence, we’ll be able to become location independent, not stuck to one spot, and have more choices about where we live and how much we see our extended families.
Take some time to really figure out what your BHAG is. Revisit your “What do I want?” sheet to see if anything sticks out. If you see “I want to write a book,” and feel simultaneously terrified and thrilled by the prospect, you’re probably on the right track. BHAGs feel a little scary, but they also feel thrilling. They make you think, “If I could do that…” and also, “I could never do that.”
The White Sheet of Paper
Now, find a plain white sheet of paper (or a piece of lined paper, or a piece of card stock, or whatever’s handy) and write your BHAG at the top in big, bold letters. Underneath your BHAG, write down your top values, and circle them to remind yourself why you’re goal-setting in the first place.
Congratulations! You’ve just started your goal sheet for 2018!
3. Create guiding goals
Next, you’re going to create five to seven big goals for the year that will help you reach your BHAG. However, you want to make sure your goals are covering multiple areas of your life, not just one. So set one goal each for five to seven of the following categories:
- health and wellness
- free time
- faith or contribution
I’ve read this advice from multiple corners, and when I first started to set goals in all of these different areas, it felt awkward. I was great at setting financial goals, but mediocre at setting goals in other areas. Over the years, though, those are the goals that have helped me remain a well-rounded and happier person.
Last year, one of my goals was to meet a college friend of mine for a girls’ weekend. I am perennially bad at nurturing friendships, but they are the part of my life that brings me some of the most joy. I knew if I didn’t set a goal to meet up with my friend, it would never happen. I would prioritize other uses for my money and my time if my goals didn’t remind me that this was also a priority. We finally got together in October, and we had so much fun catching up and reconnecting. It was definitely a highlight of my year.
I want to…. because… by this date.
One way to make sure you’re writing SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) goals is to use the sentence starters I first read about from Jack Canfield. When you set goals in each of the categories above, write down what you want, and why. Then write down the date you’d like to achieve it. Many of my goals have the same end date–the end of the year. But that’s okay. It means they’re time-bound, which is what you want.
So, if your financial goal for the year is to save $20,000, you might say:
- I want to save $20,000 by December 31st, 2018, so that I can quit my job for 4 months and write a book.
Mine might be something like this:
- I want to max out both 401K plans with $18,500 each by December 31st, 2018, so that I can maximize our retirement savings and minimize our tax implications.
Reminding yourself why you’re setting the goal is important. Also, make sure to avoid setting a goal that you don’t have control over.
For example, if your goal were Get a raise at work of 10% by April 1st, 2018, so that I can more easily max out my 401K plan, that would be an example of a bad goal. Why? Because you may not have any control over whether or not you’re given a raise and by how much. However, if you changed that goal to Develop a spreadsheet detailing contributions to the company and present it to my boss by March 31st, 2018, then that’s a better goal, because it puts you in the driver’s seat. You are able to create an awesome presentation and present it to your boss. And you are able to look for a new job, work with a salary coach, or find a side gig if you don’t get the raise you’re looking for.
Once you have your 5-7 guiding goals, write them down on your sheet, just under your BHAG. Take a look at the goals and see if most or all of them help you achieve your BHAG. Some may not, and that’s okay. Again, part of your goal-setting exercise is to remind yourself that all work and no play makes Dick a dull boy.
4. Break your goals down by quarter.
This is the most practical part of goal-setting, in my opinion. Each quarter, write down three (or four, max) specific, time-bound smaller goals that will help you achieve your bigger guiding goals. I write down:
Underneath each quarter, decide what three things would help you achieve your larger goals. For example, if your goal is to save $20,000 in a year, you know that you need to save $5,000 per quarter to do so. One of your quarterly goals might be:
- Transfer $1667 per month into my CapitalOne360 savings account.
Or, one quarterly goal for the first quarter might be:
- Set up an automatic transfer in CapitalOne for $834 per paycheck by January 15th, 2018.
If a goal for faith or contribution is to start volunteering at your local food bank, a quarterly goal might be:
- Contact three local food banks by March 31st, 2018, and get added to at least one volunteer list for Saturday mornings.
You may not be able to write down each of the steps you’ll need to take to reach your goals in the Quarterly Goals section. This section is designed to make sure you’re on track each quarter with where you need to be, so that you make solid progress on your goals all year long.
5. Display your goals
Now that you’ve got your goals written down, read them over. Make changes to any goals that aren’t SMART goals, and make sure they’re goals that you can achieve, and not ones that are dependent on someone else. Rewrite your sheet of paper if you need to, and then hang it up prominently where you’ll see if often. Or tuck it into your journal, like I do with mine.
The point is to review your goals often. It doesn’t necessarily have to be every day, although that would be awesome. But make sure to regularly check in and see how you’re doing with the things that you’ve identified as most important in your life.
For me, one of the sweetest exercises of the year is checking off completed goals on my goal sheet. By the way, I’ve never had a year (yet) where I’ve completed ALL of my goals. Sometimes I just don’t complete a goal. Other times I complete it, but not in the time frame I originally set out for myself.
But I have always completed a majority of the goals I set out for myself at the beginning of the year.
I often go back to old goal sheets and check them off if I end up completing a goal in the following year, or the one after that. It is so cool to read goals from 2015, and think, “Wow. We have so far surpassed that one.” It helps me reflect on how far we’ve come, as I can tend to be a bit too future-focused otherwise, and forget to celebrate our wins.
Goals are milestones. They’re guiding posts, and by setting great goals for 2018, you’re giving yourself the gift of a more productive year for yourself, where you’re taking yourself into the direction you’d like to go. So take an hour or two for yourself, do some thinking, and set great goals for 2018!
Hope you’re having a wonderful end to 2017. I’ll be back with more stories from Chile soon!