It’s in the air—that feeling of time speeding up as the end of the year rapidly approaches. And with that in mind, it’s crucial that we use the time we have remaining in the year wisely by setting ourselves up for the year ahead.
It feels good to be prepared. Like having a clean workspace, a good plan cuts down the time it takes to move between getting what we need and tackling what needs to be done. They save ourselves the energy of having to collect our thoughts on the fly and the expense of having to correct the course if we find ourselves in a spot where we don’t want to be.
Getting all your ducks in a row so you can have an incredible year for yourself begins with the end in mind. And that means walking through the exercise of Goal Setting to the Now.
Goal Setting to the Now for the Year Ahead
Goal Setting to the Now is a way to determine the best way to approach our long-term goals by deconstructing the steps required to achieve them.
Often, the biggest thing standing between us and our dreams is that we leave those dreams right where they, and never think about the steps required to make them a reality. Goal Setting to the Now is the process of putting our head in the clouds and slowly building a staircase down to the ground so we can begin taking the right steps toward the outcomes we desire most. It’s the process of taking pen to paper to break off smaller and more attainable chunks of your larger goal. Thinking about our biggest goals in this way gives us clarity on what we should expect from ourselves in the here and now. And going through the process of writing it out is a proven success tactic.
Writing down goals (and actionable steps) have been found by researchers to help people to accomplish them. Take the Dominican University’s study on written goals as an example. Several years ago in a study of more than 250 individuals, Dr. Gail Matthews found that people who wrote down their goals accomplished “significantly more” than those who did not write down their goals at all. And even more compelling, those participants who wrote down their goals and action plans, shared them with a friend, and then sent weekly progress to their friend reports performed even better. Having written goals and a plan for accomplishing them, along with people who can hold you accountable to them clearly make a difference.
As Michael Hyatt reminds us in his book Your Best Year Ever, we experience many benefits from writing down our goals. By doing so, we are forced to clarify what we want, engage with our goals and become motivated to take action on them, filter out other opportunities that take us away from our them, and recognize the progress we make on our path toward achieving them. And each of these benefits build off the other.
It may not be necessary to use Goal Setting to the Now on an annual basis. You may be so set in knowing what goals you are striving for that you do not need to go through this exercise every year. However, our plans often require adjusting once we begin executing them. It’s worth taking a look and seeing if what you’re planning to tackle next year is in alignment with your long-term goals.
A 411 for the Year Ahead
Building a new 411 is one of the hardest things to do when planning for the year ahead.
The process of putting pen to paper forces us to take an honest look at how we spend our time and where our priorities truly lie. But it’s important to get it right. The 411 is the document that we turn to most frequently when we’re on our journey toward achievement.
For those who don’t know, a 411 is an at-a-glance view at the actions we need to take every 4 weeks, 1 month, and 1 year in order to accomplish our goals. When done well, it’s an extremely effective tool for reframing our intentions and aspirations so we view them as actions. It keeps account of everything our need to do and everything you’ve done to bring you closer to achieving our goals.
When filling out your 411, remember that this isn’t a place for us to list everything we plan to do in our professional and personal life. Use a sense of priority. What are those few things that are most important for you to achieve? Maybe you’ve decided that next year you want to speak at a large, professional conference or maybe you’re focused on increasing your sales by 20 percent. List each goal in order of priority. What you write down will influence your monthly and weekly items as well.
Once you have the annual goals portion of your document filled out, drill down from there and decide what you will start working on come January. When the holidays are over and the excitement of the season has settled, we tend to get an internal push to get down to business. So what will you work on if you start the year strong and make January a success? Fill out the next portion of your 411 by working backward to determine what monthly milestones you must hit in order to accomplish your annual goals. Then, use these monthly priorities to determine what you need to accomplish on that first week back on the job in the new year in order to check off those monthly goals.
A useful tactic when filling out your 411 is to allocate an estimated amount of time required for completing each activity you’ve listed. Having a sense of how much time you’ll need to achieve your goals will not only further provide a realistic outlook on your plans, but it will also come in hand when managing your schedule for the year.
We recommend time blocking some time on Sundays in the year ahead as 411 planning time. When we time block, we make an appointment with ourselves that we commit to using to work on something specific. Time blocks are key tools for ensuring you’ve allocated dedicated time to getting the things that matter done. In other words, when you time block your planning time, you’re putting aside some quiet time each week when you can reflect on what you accomplished in the days that have passed and plan for what you want to achieve in the week ahead. It’s a good practice to start as you plan next year’s 411.
And While you can time block your planning time for the week or month ahead, you can also use it to line up your dominoes for the entire year. When doing so, we recommend using a planner like the one that Gary uses, to block off large chunks of time you can dedicate to your ONE Thing. The ONE Thing Planner can help you line up your weeks, months, and year so that you can most effectively reach your goals.
When laying out your 411, it’s important to make sure you don’t fall prey to turning it into a to-do list. If the activities aren’t related to your ultimate goals, they don’t belong on the 411. In other words, don’t include the weekly expense reports or social media posts you are expected to do as part of you job. By including items like these, you risk filling up your 411 with things that will keep you from accomplishing your big goals rather than things that will help you to achieve them.
Keeping our 20% and 80% separate
A big question we often face is what to do with the projects that need to be done but don’t necessarily align with our big goals. While we don’t want to fill up our 411s and planners with extraneous things, we also don’t want things we are expected to complete to fall through the cracks.
Life doesn’t take place in a vacuum and it’s likely that there are other things that need our attention at times. That’s where a task list comes into play.
When faced with both key priorities and tasks that need to get done, it’s important to remember that nothing matters equally. While the items on our task lists may seem essential, they are not as important as the priorities that will help us to reach our big goals and have to be treated as such.
The 411 is meant to help us manage our “big rocks.” We use it when we want to work in “achievement mode.” The task list, where you store your other to-do items, is for your “maintenance mode.”
There are many places that a task list can live in tandem with your 411. Some people write a task-list on the back of their 411. These people like keeping their goals and tasks close at hand. Others prefer keeping track of their tasks on a variety of apps. One Thing co-author Jay Papasan and his family use Wunderlist to manage their to-do’s. This app, he says, allows his family to share various to-do lists with each other and allows them to stay in sync with one another by enabling them to change the priority of the line-items within the list.
Still, others recommend project management sites like Trello. While we often think of these sites as programs to aid communication across organizations, they can also be smart options for individuals to keep themselves organized on smaller tasks as well.
If you need more guidance for getting goal-ready for the coming year, check out our Kick Ass Guide to Goal Setting here. Use these next couple weeks to plan your trajectory so that you can kick off the New Year with a burst of well-planned productivity!