Turning goals into plans

Each year, when I start considering what goals I want to pursue in the next year, I start feeling uncomfortably pressured.

My subconscious seems to obsess over the question: When am I supposed to do all this then?

But that comes up only because I am still living in the old life, making the same choices I’ve made since the previous year. My time is still taken up pursuing my former goals.

Somewhere through the goalsetting process, however, a kind of magic switch gets flicked. I let go of the old goals, the old life, the old way of doing things. And suddenly there is room for the new. And usually it happens at the last part of the goalsetting process.

All month I’ve been blogging about how to do a year-end review and how to set new goals for the coming year, taking seriously the idea that we overestimate what we can do in a day, but we underestimate what we can do in a year.

It makes sense, then, to look at what we have done over the past year in order to see what’s possible to do in the coming year (post one). And it makes sense to see what kinds of things we’ve been spending our time doing so we can compare those activities to the kinds of activities we want to be doing (post two), or that we know we would be doing if we were actually advancing toward the kind of life we most want to live. And then it makes sense to start figuring out what would be involved in starting to engage in those activities, maintaining them, or achieving those goals (post three).

Once you’ve done all that, the last step (finally!?) is to lay out what all the categories of activity, goals, and action steps are in a way that you can review and update frequently.

I first learned how to do an annual review from Chris Guillebeau. I’m linking to his process because it might fit you better that my modifications do, but I quickly realized I needed:

  1. to be more purpose-centered, and
  2. to review much more frequently than once per quarter, and
  3. to be much more qualitative than quantitative.

Therefore, I have made the following modifications:

  1. To stay purpose-centered, I used a process created by Kary Oberbrunner and described in his book The Deeper Path. This process helps you create a purpose-centered vision for your work and life.
  2. To review more frequently, I don’t use Chris’s spreadsheet (which you can learn more about on his post). Instead, I list all my purpose-driven categories, goals, and action steps in a single column of a document table, and I review my list of goals and action steps every month.
  3. To be more qualitative than quantitative, I add a second column to that table for notes about what happened, how well I did, what I learned, etc., and then I add a third for any changes/tweaks I want to make for the next month. Each month I copy that older document into a new one, delete the middle column from the previous month and add a third & fourth for any additional notes and tweaks I want to make.


Here’s what my table looks like when I begin. (Don’t bother trying to read it–it’s only an example.)


You will see that everything is listed in one column. Each box contains the name of the category in bold, followed by the GOAL(s) and then the ACTION(s) for achieving that goal. This is how the table looks on December 31.

In about  month, I’ll open up this document do my first review. I’ll make sure I have two columns to make my notes in. The first column is for me to notate what I’ve done towards achieving that goal (and/or what I’ve learned in trying to do what I’d planned to do). The second open column is for me to notate any changes to the goal or action steps.

This second open column is important, because priorities can and do change, and lessons will be learned, and I will realize I need to alter my plans in some way. That’s fine to do. This is a lesson learned from people who sail. When they use a sail on a boat, they have to use the wind–no matter what direction the wind is going–in order to actually reach their destination. They wind up taking a kind of zig-zagging pattern as they shift the boat and the sails in order to catch the wind. But, despite the zig-zag, they get to where they were going. We can use the same process with moving towards a goal.


An important note: I actually schedule about 2-3 hours every month to go through my process of reviewing and tweaking. If I get it done faster than that, fantastic! But sometimes it takes that length of time to review everything and figure out what I want to do. It’s time very well spent.

So I review each set of categories, goals, and actions, and I make my notes:


By the time I’m done, I’ve made my decisions about what will be done differently for the next month, and very often that means making changes to how I schedule my time. As I go through and figure out what I do and don’t need, I make changes to my calendar. And then I close the document and I’m done!

Toward the end of February, I’ll do it all again. Only this time, instead of just one column to review, I’ll already have three.

Important note: If you are using document software (like I do), you may want to make a copy of the document at this point. Close the old one and just work on the new copy (named something like “February Review”). If you are using spreadsheet software like Chris does, then below when I start talking about deleting columns, you can just hide them.

I will go ahead and add a column to the right for my February notes, like this:


and then I’ll go ahead and delete the column from my table. (Again, if you’re in a spreadsheet, just hide that column.)

I’m left then with just my original goals and the tweaks I’d planned to make. So now I can start my February review and notate again what actions I took and what tweaks I need to make for March.


And so it goes, each month.

At the end of the year, you’ll be able to look at the original goals you set and see just how much progress you’ve made, how much you accomplished, and how much closer you are to creating the life you want!

This is the entire process that I follow and that I wanted to share with you. I do recommend you look at Chris Guillebeau‘s process in case that one works better for you, which it might if you are more of a quantitative thinker. (He’s big on metrics, counting, and measuring.)

Enter to win!

If you do follow this process, I’d like to make an offer to you! Send a note to me via Amy@CareerLeadershipAlignment.com and let me know you’ve done it. I’ll put your name in a hat and do a drawing on December 31, 2016! One person will win a free review and coaching session regarding anything you’ve done as a part of this process.

And stay tuned — big changes coming to blog postings and newsletters in 2017! (Did you expect any less?)


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