When I work with women to help them achieve success, one of the key topics we discuss is goal setting. We talk about the importance of planning out your goals, which can mean anything from daily planning to ten-year goals. But though I am a strong advocate for goal setting, I am not an advocate for having goals in every area of your life.
Why Too Many Goals Can Be Counterproductive
We have only so much bandwidth to work with, so much energy to expend. If you try to exert that energy across all avenues of your life, it will become weaker in any given area. Plus, when you’re looking at a long list of goals, it can be harder to determine which ones are important and prioritize accordingly. (That’s why standard to-do lists aren’t optimal—they don’t provide clarity on what’s most important.)
Even just the act of looking at all those goals can be daunting. According to the “paradox of choice,” too many choices leads to “choice paralysis,” which is why, for instance, too many menu items can make us feel overwhelmed by the decision to be made. The same goes for goals. If you see 15 goals, how can you pick just one to start with? How long will it take you to decide, and how could you have better spent that time?
Chances are, if you set goals in every area of your life, you will end up not meeting them all. So often, the results are frustration, a sense of being overwhelmed, and, consequently, procrastination. The thinking goes: I couldn’t do it last time, so why bother now? You could start feeling as though you can’t achieve what you set out to.
We both know that isn’t true. You absolutely can meet your goals. You just have to decide which ones to set.
When to Set Goals
What goals you set depends entirely on your bigger-picture objectives. They may be business-oriented, or they may be personal. The important question to answer is: What is my top priority? Pick just one answer. That priority should be somewhere bouncing around in your mind whenever you’re “on the job” (or, if it’s a personal goal, “in the zone”).
For example, say you have three cool app ideas that have been brewing for a while. One is fashion-related, one is beauty-related, and one could be the next Snapchat. They’re all fantastic, and you could see any of them really taking off. If you try to move forward with all three at once, chances are none of them will end up in the App Store. Focus on one objective, maybe in this case based on time sensitivity—By x date, Snappy Face will be available for download—and then break it down into time-frame-based MIPs: Most Important Priorities.
- Quarterly: Determine one to three goals for a 90-day period.
- Monthly: Each month, decide on one to three goals for the month that will help you reach your 90-day goals.
- Weekly: Each week, decide on the one to three MIPs for the week that will move you closer to your monthly goals.
- Daily: Each day, decide on the three MIPs for the day to get you to your weekly goal.
- Decide on your MIP for each day either the evening before or first thing in the morning.
When to Move Forward Without Goals
Limit your goal setting to your MIPs and big-picture objectives. In other areas of your life, don’t challenge yourself to make specific achievements. That’s not to say that you should give up on other things that are important to you—just that you should do them without setting high expectations for yourself. If you enjoy running, go on a run, but don’t set an extreme training program for yourself so you can get to an eight-minute mile. Not if you have other MIPs.
Where you set goals or don’t set goals in your life is entirely up to you: You are in control of your own aspirations. Maybe your bigger objective is to train for a race, in which case, maybe your goal should be an eight-minute mile. I can’t tell you the exact scenarios that are best for your goal setting, but I can give some general advice.
- Remember that less is pretty much always more. It’s so tempting to try to bite off more than you can chew, but remember that in pretty much all scenarios, less is more. It’s true for home decor, outfit accessorizing, words in an email—and it’s certainly true for goals. If an area of your life wouldn’t benefit from having goals attached to it, keep it goal-less, to help you focus on the concise number of goals you have set.
- Don’t let goals get in the way of “you time.” Every single person needs downtime, whether that’s time spent in yoga class, on a walk around the neighborhood, sharing a glass of wine with friends, or watching your favorite TV show on Netflix. You will not only be more well-rested after “you time,” but your goals will become more achievable. We are so much more focused when we give ourselves brain and body breaks.
- Be flexible and self-forgiving. Of course, you should aim to meet your goals—that’s why they’re there. But what if it’s five o’clock, your partner is coming home from work soon, you were planning to make a nice meal for the two of you, but you haven’t achieved one of your daily MIPs? Ask yourself: What will I feel better about accomplishing, making dinner or meeting my MIP? If you think making dinner would be relaxing and comforting, and if you’re exhausted by everything you’ve done so far that day, it’s okay to stop working. If you have to revise your schedule a bit, don’t blame yourself for it. It happens to us all! It’s important to think flexibly. Enjoy making something special for the two of you —and don’t set a goal for how delicious it should be!