This is the transcript of a pretty long workshop. It is among the most effective things I do every few months to keep me focused.

This is an abridged culmination of the most effective exercises I found over the last few years. It does by far not include everything I came across, not even everything effective I came across. It’s large enough the way it is right now already, and I’d much prefer it to be smaller rather than larger.

You can find a presentation (in German) here.

Introduction

This is by no means a full guide on how to set goals or how to achieve them, but it contains the concepts and techniques I found the most useful while taking the least amount of time. Feel free to take and use what you deem useful, and disregard everything else.

Motivation

You are probably here for one of these reasons:

  • You don’t really have goals right now.
  • You think you could improve the way you set your goals.
  • You have goals, but you’re making little progress on them.
  • You are somewhat unorganized, and hope this workshop will bring you some clarity to your goals and everyday life.
  • You are intrigued, and want to see if any of this can help you.

Whichever it is, I believe that you will find something useful here.

The main goal is to get you to write down your goals, and to find someone to hold you accountable for achieving them. A friend or family member is just fine.

According to this study, writing down goals increases the chance of achieving them considerably. Not just this study, but additional information here suggests that having someone holding you accountable to your goals increases the probability of success considerably.

Content Overview

There are five parts to this workshop.

We start out with an Introduction, where we set the goal for the workshop and how we intend to achieve them, including what we need to prepare before starting.

First, we establish what the starting point is - by doing an inventory of your life. This will take about an hour, and should give you clarity about your current situation.

Next, we do the eponymous exercises of setting goals. This should take you around an hour (invest more if you have the time). At the end of this part, we will have list of three to seven goals to focus on.

Before we actually plan, we need to clearly define when we have reached our goals. After doing that, we figure out the steps we need to take to get there. This will take us about an hour, and the result will be a clear path with the next big and small steps necessary to reach that goal.

You can skip execution if you have a good Execution System already. If not, you will be able to set one up and find yourself an accountability partner. This will take up to an hour as well.

The workshop is supposed to be held over the course of five hours, including breaks. You might want to dwell longer on individual exercises, to get the most out of them. I recommend doing the workshop uninterrupted, but with breaks.

More than Setting Goals

As you might have noticed, the primary goal of this workshop is to help you achieve your goals. Setting goals is only the very first step to actually achieving them. While setting goals increases the chance of actually achieving them, we can do a lot more to increase chances for success. Planning the next steps, having an accountability partner and having a robust execution system don’t guarantee success - but they increase the chances of success. In the end, it all depends on you actually executing.

You can skip the Starting Point and Execution exercises if you have a working GTD-like execution system - but you might still benefit from them.

If you noticed that something else works better for you, you should use your way instead. If you learned about some other method that you think might do well when integrated, don’t hesitate to do so. I’m continuously refining this process - if you found something helpful for you, send me a message!

Goals and Values

What we will not delve into finding your values and principles. Thinking about them will give you more clarity - but they will naturally surface when thinking about and prioritizing goals. It might even be easier to first set some goals and derive purpose and values from them. In fact, just after having set your goals you should just write down the values and principles that your goals seem to be guided from. Apart from that, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has some good tips to finding values and principles.

Preparation

Before actually starting we need to make sure that we can focus without interruption.

Some suggestions:

  • Make sure your schedule is clear for the next few hours
  • Print lists of prior goals or tasks as reference
  • Turn off your phone, or put it in ‘silent’ mode
  • Tell others in your apartment that you are not to be disturbed for the next few hours
  • Hang a sign on your door that you are not to be disturbed
  • Ensure that no notifications on your computer (from mails or texts) can distract you
  • Print out this page and the Incompletion Trigger List (or the presentation handout) and go offline, to avoid distraction from the internet
  • Get yourself some pens and paper to write on
  • Have a separate piece of paper ready, to write down any thoughts that distract you in the moment, to turn back to them later

Start when you feel ready and prepared.


Starting Point

Thinking about lofty goals will only get you so far while drowning in your everyday tasks. So before setting any goals, we will attempt to get a clear picture of where you are right now - by collecting all unfinished tasks and organizing them.

Write down Open Loops (30min)

An open loop is every mail, project or commitment where you still need to do something before you can forget about it. It also includes information or work you have delegated and are waiting for results - in short: everything that is unfinished or you should not forget about just yet.

Since open loops tend to come to mind at random times and in no particular order, it is hard to ensure that you collected all of them. To help us with that, we take a look at a mind-sweep trigger list when no further open loops come to mind. You can expect that most open loops come to mind when reading a trigger about something else, or while thinking about something unrelated. This is normal.

If you get reminded about things you want to do at some point, write them down on a separate list. We will expand that list later when writing down dreams.

If something unfinished comes to mind that can be done within 2min, just do it, and don’t bother writing it down.

Write down all Open Loops (unread mails, unfinished projects, open commitments, …) you can think of.

Slowly go through the Incompletion Trigger List and write down all Open Loops that come to mind.

Don’t forget to print the trigger list if you want to go offline for doing these exercises.

Organize Open Loops (20min)

A Project is everything that will require or required more than one open loop until completion. Essentially, Projects give you a higher-order view of ‘what’ you are doing, without the ‘how’ - the open loops and next actions yet to be done.

Take your time to give your unsorted list of open loops some structure. Combine them to useful Projects (e.g. ‘Travelling to London’ for ‘book flight to London for next Week’ and ‘ask Ben about good Hotels in London’). Add any open loops you missed initially.

The goal is to give you a higher-level overview of all things you need to do right now.

Organize your open loops to projects.

Before continuing, take a break.

Snapshop of your Life (Optional)

If you have the time, you might also want to make a review of what you managed to achieve over the last year. You might also use this to expand your list of open loops. Do note that this exercise alone can take multiple hours.

Do the ‘Snapshot of your Life’ exercise from Alex Vermeer’s 8760 hours yearly planning material.


Setting Goals

Since carrot-and-stick approaches work wonders for humans, we will visualize both best- and worst-case scenarios of the future to find goals for. Reality tends to fall somewhere in between.

After that, we will figure out what our dreams are, and break them down for what reason you want to achieve them, and how important they are to you, until three to seven remain. Then we will continue with planning.

Dream Big - Set Goals - Take Action!

Imagine yourself being Successful

Take a minute to visualize yourself being successful during the course of the next year. How much you get done. You did all the things you wanted to do since forever, and you finally took that course you wanted to. Finally you got to doing that thing you never had time for. Consistency with health and fitness feels easy when looking at your recent success. You got that promotion you really worked hard for. Others admire you for helping so many people, and you are loved by friends and family. All the hard work you are doing, knowing what it is for.

Visualize the best-case scenario for you for next year, where you work hard and everything you attempt succeeds.

Take a minute and enjoy visualizing your best-case future. That’s what we will aim for.

Write down a few bullet points if you want.

Imagine yourself being Unsuccessful

Conversely, what will happen if you for some reasons stop being successful? Take a minute to visualize what will happen if you let life run its course without you doing anything - not having achieved anything you aimed for. Fitness was long since ignored, and your health has seen much better times. Lying on the couch all day does not improve the situation either. Friends have distanced themselves from you as they got successful. At some point you became deeply unsatisfied and depression kicked in. It was only downhill from there.

Visualize the worst-case scenario for you for next year, where everything you attempt fails.

Thoroughly visualize your worst-case future. This is what we want to avoid.

Write down a few bullet points if you want.

What to Expect

Reality tends to fit in somewhere in between. Most of the time, it is neither utmost paradise, nor ultimate tragedy.

Visualizing these two scenarios should give you a sense for the difference you can make - and what will happen if you do not.

It is unlikely that everything we attempt will be successful. It is also unlikely that everything will utterly fail. Still, with a deterrent and a paradise, let us see how we can get closer to paradise.

Write down Dreams (20min)

If you are familiar with Tim Ferriss’ four-hour workweek, this is in parts taken from the dreamlining exercise (pages 57-63).

The goal is to write down all the dreams you have. Everything you want to do, achieve, know, own - everything you want. Go for quantity first, we’ll reduce it to quality later. The more the better.

Feel free to go through the following hints, and write down whatever comes to mind. You might want to pause and stop at each hint for a bit. It is normal if nothing comes up at first. Don’t care about how you will achieve it, and be honest with yourself. Dream. Go for quantity.

  • What would excite you, if you had the chance of doing?
  • What would make you fulfilled, if you had done it?
  • What do you want to strive for? (e.g. World Peace, Revolutionizing Education, …)
  • What would you do if there was no way to fail?
  • What do you want to have? (This can be material wants, achievements, …)
  • What do you want to be? (A great cook, fluent in French, …)
  • What would you do with 100 million in the bank?
  • Which places would you want to go to?
  • What do you want to do before you die?
  • What did you always want to learn, but never had the time for?

Take some time and write down what you want.

You might want to make a copy of that list, because we will remove items and add reasons in the next steps.

Selecting Goals to Work on

Feeling Excited? Awesome! However: We’ll focus on only a small part first. I need you to convert any beings (e.g. fluent in French) to doings that characterize success (e.g. making a French person think that French is my mother tongue). For everything you want to be, have a description of what you want to be able to do.

Convert any beings to doings that characterize success.

Finding Reasons (10min)

More often than not, dreams are only surrogates supposed to fill a need. The goal of speaking French might come from a need of being a member of the group, if there are several French people in your social circle.

For every goal you listed, ask yourself why you want to achieve it. If necessary, multiple times (3-5x). You might find multiple reasons, and they might overlap with the ‘why’ from other goals. Add each reason to your list, and reference the original goal.

For each goal, ask yourself if you would still want to achieve it, if you could achieve the why through some other means. If yes, list it as an additional why.

Remove goals whose ‘why’ is already covered by other, more exciting goals.

Prioritizing (10min)

Some things excite us more than others. Some are more important to us than others. For all goals, ask the following questions:

  • Is it really essential to do this?
  • What is my priority of achieving this?
  • If I achieved all my goals except this one, would I be satisfied?

Keep only those being essential, of high priority or which would leave you unsatisfied if not achieved. Having fewer goals increases chances of achieving them.

Reduce your list of goals to three to seven to actually work on.

If you feel like you can’t reduce the number of goals further, take a break. You deserve it.


Planning

We figured out your goals, but this is only the first step to achieving them. There are a couple of things to do now: We need to create a definition of done - a clear description as to when the goal is achieved. As soon as we know what we want to achieve, we can define milestones on the path towards it, as well as the very next steps to the first such milestone.

Paths in Life are rarely linear, as we'd like them to be

We would love for life to be linear. To set a goal, and have a clear path to achieve it. Reality does not care what we want, however. The smaller the goal, the more likely it is that the actual path will resemble something close to a linear path. But the farther away it is, and the more problems still need to be solved, the more likely it is to end up in a non-linear path.

Even if there is a more direct route in hindsight, they are impossible to guess beforehand. Rather than being disappointed by the discovery, you should be happy about it: you learned an incredible detail about the path, and you are bound to be one step closer.

The only way to get remotely close is to ask people who travelled the path you want to go before you.

Regardless where you want to go, you always need to know what you are aiming for, or you won’t know when you actually reached your goal.

Defining Goals (5-10min)

We first need a clear-cut definition as to when the goal is achieved. You might have heard of ‘SMART’ goals before, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Robust and Time-bound. I want you to focus on Specific and Measurable first, since they are good indicators of having achieved the goal. For each of your goals, be as specific as you realistically can about what you want. If possible, find something measurable.

When trying to learn French, your Specific and Measurable goal might be to be capable of longer-duration interactions with native speakers, without a major stumble or needing to look up words; with the goal being achieved when you had five such 30min interactions. It does not need to be the full mastery of a language, ‘getting my driver’s license’ is a decent goal criterion for ‘learn to drive’.

For all of your goals, clearly define when you have achieved them.

Usually the best way is to ask how people who have achieved what you want to do knew that they have achieved it. You might want to do this later and adapt your own criteria based on their answers. While you’re at it, ask them about some tips for the way.

Defining Sub-goals (5-10min)

Bigger goals tend to have steps. They are not just done suddenly, there are steps in between that need to be achieved, sometimes in a specific order, before the actual goal can be achieved. When you want to do that awesome trip, you need to book the hotel beforehand, you need to check if you need to apply for visas, and buy new hiking shoes if you need some. These are all milestones, or sub-goals that are necessary to achieve the actual goal. Progress on one of them means progress towards your goal.

While you can work independently on some (booking hotel and buying new gear), others, like checking if visas are required visas, might create additional milestones - getting the required visas.

Sub-goals should be achievable within a few days at most. It’s okay if they only need a few minutes - as long as they are conceptually enclosed. (Sometimes there are sub-goals of sub-goals, that’s ok too!)

Find and write down all relevant sub-goals for each of your bigger goals.

Death by Winning (5min)

Sometimes, it feels like we are working towards a goal and being successful, but we are actually not.

There is a story of the early days of the X.com/PayPal rivalry. They were both frantically trying to put in more hours than the other and trying to get one more feature than the other. And for them it felt like progress. Except: It did not matter. Customers mostly ignored these features.

If all you care about is to keep the ship’s nose pointed east, you won’t notice the ship sinking. Working for years on your career will only amount to so much if you realize that your (now broken) family would have been more important.

There are situations in which we think everything is going fine, and we see progress happening towards a goal. Only to realize after weeks, months, or sometimes years, that while the ship’s nose was pointed east, the sails have never been set. The ship did not move forward - in fact, the waves slightly pushed it back.

There would have been a simple way to avoid that - just the additional check that the sails are set. Just one small thing. If we just had made sure that the boat is actually moving, we could be much closer to our goal.

By avoiding these kinds of situations, you can avoid wasting immense amounts of time, effort, and energy. Just staying clear of those will improve your effectiveness tremendously.

Look for ways you might ‘cheat’ your goal, and write them down. If it is an actual shortcut, use it! If it will instead not get you closer to your actual goal, stay away from it.

Lead and Lag measures (20min)

We first take a good look at what Lead and Lag measures are before using them to make our goals and milestones more tangible.

The fallacy of Lag measures

A classical new-years goal is to lose weight. Let’s say the goal is to lose 10 kg until next year. At first, losing weight is rapid and easy. Until suddenly, you gain a bit. But then you lose weight again. And the reverse again. Your actual weight is fluctuating a lot, and it does not really feel like progress at all. This goes on for a bit, until most people quit.

When trying to lose weight, weight is the thing you want to get down long-term. But there are a lot of factors influencing weight in the short-term. These include factors such as the time of day when measuring, how much water you just drank, the percentage of carbohydrates in last weeks’ diet, and so much more. All of them can influence your weight right now tremendously. Noticing actual trends is hard, and impossible with less than two weeks of data. Most quit before a trend can manifest - but they couldn’t see a trend in the first place, since they don’t remember last week’s exact measure.

Weight, just like most interesting metrics, is a Lag measure. While it is your ultimate goal, it is very susceptible to a wide range of factors and thus quite volatile in the short term. It is only useful in averages and long-term-trends. Results lag behind if you will. Looking at it today and feeling depressed about it will not do you any good - and it will not get you closer to your goal, either. So what if you want to measure something to feel good about it?

Lead measures

What you could measure instead, is daily calorie intake. Not just the intake, but ensuring that you have a certain calorie deficit each day. With a daily deficit of 500kcal, you are short 3500kcal every week, which is the energy stored in roughly 500g fat. The biggest benefit: it’s something that can be done every day, and it’s not susceptible to short-term variance. Keeping this up for Half a year will make you weigh less about 13.5 kg - a third more than the initial years’ goal of 10 kg.

Daily calorie deficit is a Lead measure. Lead measures have much shorter intervals, such as days or weeks, and lead to the goal - eventually. For these, consistency is key. Consistently hitting your lead measures ensures that you hit your lag measures as well.

Tips for applying them

A Lag measures can be singular as well: ‘Finish writing the Goal Setting Workshop post’ is a current Lag measure for a milestone of mine. It does not necessarily have to be clear how lag measures are achieved, but it should be clear how to hit the lead measures.

Lead measures might change across milestones, the important part is having a Lead measure for each milestone.

It is absolutely okay for both Lead and Lag measures to be time-bound: One of my Lead measures is to read 30min in a focused manner each day. Sometimes I read up to two hours, but 30min is the minimum. No average, no ‘but I did double yesterday’, 30min a day, every day. This takes away the pressure to achieve a bit. This is especially useful when it is hard to estimate workload - I just cannot estimate the time required for reading a chapter or even a single page, since both chapters and pages are sometimes more, and sometimes less dense with information. Making it time-bound increases predictability as well: you’re done after 30min, continue tomorrow - though of course, there’s nothing stopping you from doing more work either, and doing so feels incredibly good.

Exercises

You get bonus points for robust Lead measures - if it’s hard for you to manipulate them, or cheat the measures in any way.

For some goals (or even just some milestones) it is hard up to impossible to find good Lead measures - because circumstances, conditions and targets change so fast. You could meta-measure in these situations:

  • Make one next action step towards the goal today, and make sure at least one is ready for tomorrow.

I use similarly defined metrics for two of my goals.

Go through your goals and Milestones and note which already have a Lag measure.

Define Lead and Lag measures for each of your goals and milestones. If it seems impossible to find good Lead measures, set a timer to 3min and attempt to find one during this time.

Identify Next Actions (10min)

At every point along the way, it is extremely important to have specific next actions. Sometimes the only things getting you closer to your goal are actions. Execution will focus on that more, but here is the basic idea: When in a situation where you could easily make progress towards your goals, you will not do so if you are unaware of the possibility.

A next action is a clearly defined and described physical action that can be done immediately (if not blocked) and will bring you closer to one of your goals or milestones. Sometimes next actions are blocked, since you are waiting for a mail first, or need someone else to help you - be aware of those blockers.

If you want to build an awesome tree house, and you go to the hardware store (getting color to paint a room), it can help to know if you need nails or not. If you noticed a week later, you would need more energy and momentum to go to the hardware store again. Knowing things like that at the right time will save a lot of energy and effort.

Everything requiring more than two next actions to get it done is a project. Goals and milestones are necessarily projects, but you might be working on projects that are not part of your primary goals as well. Organizing a birthday party is unlikely part of your goals, but nonetheless something you might have committed to doing.

For each of your milestones, find three next actions you could work on right now, each taking a few minutes at most.

Do the first now (or later, but today)! Do the next tomorrow before 11am (or no later than 4h after waking up, whichever comes first), and the third the day after tomorrow before 11am. Ensure that you have new next actions to work towards by then.

Take a break before continuing with Execution. Skip to conclusions if you have an execution system like gtd already.


Execution

Ideas are cheap. It’s all about execution. - Chris Sacca (Shark Tank)

While we already defined the first three next action items for each of your goals, they should be done the day after tomorrow. What then?

There are two parts to execution, and they answer different timeframes to the questions ‘what do I do next?’.

First is how to execute in the moment: While just sitting down and working on it is pretty effective, there are some techniques you might at least want to try, which could spice things up a bit. But just working and working and working on something is not guaranteed to work out. Being busy is absolutely not the same as being effective. Keeping the ships nose pointed east is fine, but you need to make sure that it’s moving as well.

Second is the bigger-picture planning and execution. This includes taking a look at all the projects you want to work on, the tasks you have left, your progress and your current results, to determine if you’re going the right way. To determine that the ship is actually moving forward while pointed east. We’re primarily going to take a look at that one.

We will take a look as to why execution tends to fail in the first place, to understand why an execution system is a decent approach to addressing these issues properly.

Failing Execution (5min)

Execution tends to regularly fail, and there is a number of reasons why. Taking some time to think about root causes, you might end up with a list similar to this:

  • Aversion: When thinking about our goals or execution plans, we experience some form of discomfort (stress, guilt, dread)
  • Distraction: Instead of doing the hard work, we procrastinate and distract ourselves with urgent or pleasurable things instead
  • Limited motivation: Somehow our goal and our plans don’t give us energy any more
  • Limited time: It’s easy to be busy in the moment and focus on other things instead
  • Limited energy: We are too tired to work on something else after a long day at work
  • Limited attention: It’s not even clear what we want to do, since it’s hard to keep track of everything
  • Limited accountability: We rarely have someone else holding us accountable, resulting in conscious and unconscious guilt to increase accountability.
  • Limited self trust: A low self-efficacy self-fulfilling prophecy; We don’t think we will ultimately follow through, so we won’t

In fact, it might not be just one, it might be multiple reasons at once. And sometimes, that’s fine - as long as you don’t beat yourself up over it.

There are ways to improve in-the-moment effectiveness, but they are band-aid at best and don’t help if you can’t get started in the first place. Execution systems go for multiple of these potential failure modes at once, helping us tremendously in achieving our goals.

Figure out the main reasons why your last project or goal was unsuccessful, and what you would change next time.

Accountability Partners (10min)

One very simple way that will help you to get started and to keep doing it, is to have someone hold you accountable for it. In fact, it is a very simple execution system and will help a lot with the common failure modes.

It mostly does not matter who will hold you accountable, but a friend who needs someone to hold them accountable for something themselves is ideal. Just schedule a meeting or call every week, month, or other timeframe you are comfortable with, and you’re good to go.

The goal is that you state your goals and the progress you want to make each meeting and get asked about the progress you actually achieved prior to planning your progress the next meeting. That’s it. Repeat.

Here are the steps again:

  1. Find a friend to hold you accountable and schedule regular calls or meetings
  2. Report progress and current challenges on your goal(s)
  3. State your next steps and what you want to achieve until next time (Lead measures!)
  4. Schedule the next call/meeting before hanging up/separating
  5. Repeat from Step 2 at the next call/meeting

Obviously you shouldn’t talk the entire time. Intersperse your meeting with listening to the progress and next steps of your friend. I’m doing my monthly planning similarly with a friend, and it helped me tremendously to stay focused and to achieve more. In our experience, talking about non-goal-related topics in the first few minutes is a good and comfortable way to start.

Find yourself an accountability partner and schedule the first meeting.

You might want to take a look at Execution Systems before actually doing so. It explains a similar system that is synergistic with Accountability Partners, if implemented right.

Setting up an Execution System (30min)

Accountability Partners is in itself a basic Execution System, and works best when implemented with a second Execution System over a different timeframe.

Fundamentally, every execution system has these four parts, weighed as required:

  • Review: Taking a look at the progress that happened, evaluating taken approaches
  • Retrospective: Taking a look at the current process, making adjustments for parts that are not working as well as they should
  • Planning: Planning milestones and tasks for the next timeframe until Review, clarifying when they are done
  • Execution: Actually working on the collected Tasks, in a way to make progress on them.

Another very important parameter is your cycle frequency, or how long it takes for a full cycle in your Execution System. We’ll take a look at each of these parts in detail, before we discuss how to implement it.

Review

A regular review is the single most important part in an execution system. It enables both planning and execution to build on the most recent insights of how things stand.

The goal is to get a bigger-picture perspective about the goals you are working on. The most important part is reviewing what was planned and what was achieved, and just generally taking inventory of made progress. If you haven’t marked some tasks as done yet, now is the time to bring your notes up to date.

A big focus is how you approach the problems you encounter and how well your approaches are working. If they’re not working well, you adjust them during ‘Retrospective’, to do better next cycle.

When collecting decent Lead/Lag metrics, plotting them can be really useful in noticing outliers and general trends. It is also motivating to see the progress that has been made, making it easier to keep going.

Retrospective

This is the phase to make changes to your execution system and how to use it, to adapt it to your needs. Beware of many changes at once, since a single change can modify the nature of Execution Systems tremendously. It’s not necessary to make changes all the time, but if there’s something bugging you, figure out a way to improve it. Even small changes can help you substantially - especially in the long run.

This is also the time to figure out solutions for obstacles preventing you to execute during ‘Execution’ - e.g. getting a ‘Do not disturb’-sign to tell your flatmates when you prefer not to get interrupted.

If you noticed that a Lead or Lag measure does not fit for the goal or milestone, now is the time to make adjustments.

Planning

This is more or less a ‘mini’-planning section, with the core focus being to ensure you have at least one if not multiple next actions for each goal and project.

After reviewing the progress and status for all of your projects and goals, you might need to plan or adapt the next steps for each. It might not be necessary, but more often than not I notice a missing task, clarify descriptions or reorganize priorities.

Execution

When actually working on tasks, it can be helpful to try one of the following productivity helpers:

  • Pomodoro
  • Work Cycles
  • Co-Working Spaces

A ‘Pomodoro’ is a 30-min interval with 25min work-time and a break of 5min. Work Cycles are similar, with 30min work time interspersed with 10min breaks, in which you do a bit of work-related planning and reviewing.

Co-Working spaces such as libraries are great, many have found themselves to be much more productive there. It’s harder to let yourself slack off, and easier to stay productive, with or without pomodoro. A virtual co-working space such as the LessWrong study hall can have the same effects.

However, it’s all about actually getting your next action items done, and making progress on your goals, projects and milestones. So feel free to use whatever method best works for you.

Timeframe

The timeframe you plan for is an important factor. It can be anything you are comfortable with, but I would recommend a one-week-cycle as a basis with a complementary one-month-cycle of Accountability Partners. But a weekly cycle is essential to enable continuous execution of your goals.

Putting Everything Together

Your execution system should enable you to easily figure out what you both want and need to do in the moment. New tasks get added during the weekly review/planning session as well as when something comes up during the week.

The core parts to enable that is the weekly review - it is normal to forget details during the week. I tend to have both completed tasks not yet marked as done as well as new open tasks not yet included, but maybe written down somewhere else. The weekly review is the time to synchronize the execution system to what happened in the real world.

As long as your execution system is (mostly) current when taking a look at it during the week, you are able to get the open tasks that require your attention now.

Improving your Execution System

If you have an execution system in place, it is useful to use it for as many tasks as you can, even those not primarily related to your big goals. Examples include calling your dentist for an appointment or writing a mail to a colleague.

This improves not only retention (continuing to use it for a longer time), but also effectiveness in achieving your goals. Since, every time you look in your execution system to do something else, you inadvertently see what the next actions for your goals are as well. And maybe you can combine them easily!

There are multiple execution systems out there, each working for some people and not for others. A pretty common one is GTD, short for ‘Getting Things Done’ (my review). Most people use a slightly adapted version, and not the vanilla system. The same goes for all the other systems as well, they are not static. If making a change you learned somewhere to improve your effectiveness and productivity, then go for it. It will be hard to fully use it from the get-go, adapting it step-by-step will probably be better.

You might find the GTD Weekly Review list useful when adapting or modifying GTD.


Conclusion

In short, we first collected everything you wanted to do, everything that is exciting for you. We then found reasons for doing and priorities for them, based on what we actually wanted to do.

Planning helped us to get a clearer picture on what we actually want and how to get there. We also got a sense for what we might want to avoid, while trying to achieve our goals. Measuring is important to see progress, and always having a next action is incredibly helpful in actually making progress.

Execution is all about regularly reviewing the current progress, and clearly tracking and enabling the next steps.

That’s it for now. It’s a lot, so take your time digesting it. Write me a comment or mail if you have feedback of any sort, or encountered an awesome way to improve the goal setting experience.