Powerful Goal Setting Practices
In order to be your best, you have to learn to focus on what Stephen Covey referred to as not urgent but important goals. These are the goals that matter most to you and your purpose but are likely to be neglected or even never addressed because people tend to focus on what is immediately in front of them, and when it comes to long term goals versus short term goals, short term goals tend to win out for most people. That is why people keep smoking cigarettes even after having a heart attack. When short term goals conflict with long term goals, people tend to go for short term goals. This unfortunate, self-destructive tendency may be wired into our DNA, but to be your best, you have to learn to override this tendency and consistently work on your long term, most important goals.
Your first step is to identify what your most important life goal is right now. Call this goal your "Purpose Goal." After you identify your current Purpose Goal, commit to working on it every day for a specified time between five minutes and an hour a day. My current Purpose Goal is writing a book about performing at one's best, regardless of the circumstances. Your Purpose Goal should appear on your calendar or a to do list or even on your wall every day. My Purpose Goal is above my desk and has a picture with it that would be a good one for my book cover. The picture inspires me, and the words "Work an hour today on book," guide me. I won't feel good unless I complete my goal.
When I went to graduate school to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, I realized that most people took five or six years to complete the degree because they procrastinated on their Mater's thesis and dissertation. From the outset, I aimed to spend an hour a day first on my Mater's thesis and then on my dissertation after completing my Mater's thesis. Most weeks I only completed about five hours toward my Purpose Goal and if I fell behind, I would try to make it up before then end of the week. If I got ahead, I would bank my time, but each week I made a fresh start, aiming for an hour a day, seven days a week. In the end, I completed my Master's and Ph.D. in record time - 3 years, and I learned to apply this to new purposes and dreams.
I call this "the one hour solution" and have maintained this practice ever since completing my PhD, spending an hour a day on my Purpose Goal and forgiving myself and starting over if I fall short at the end of the week; these days I usually forgive myself each day and just start over the next day, but I seldom have to forgive myself. Other variations are also completely acceptable. You need to make this work for you. Some of my clients can only devote 30 minutes a day to their Purpose Goal, and that's great too. I have even had some clients who do better with a technique for procrastination developed by David Burns and used by the CEO of Instagram- just commit five minutes a day to a goal you're procrastinating on and you will probably do a lot more than five minutes after getting started.
In addition to working five minutes to an hour a day on your Purpose Goal, you should also set two "Urgent Goals" every day and write them down where you can see them, or put them on your calendar, or both. To determine your two daily Urgent Goals, ask yourself, "What are the most important two things I need to do today?" These goals can be short or lengthy, but they must be realistic and necessary. It could be making an unpleasant phone call, or completing a presentation, or researching something. These are goals that Stephen Covey called important and urgent, and you should strive to complete two a day.
I think about my two "Urgent Goals" goals the night before, right before going to bed, and if they are clear, I write them down, and if they are not clear, I sleep on it and determine my Urgent Goals first thing in the morning, while coffee is brewing. Sleeping on it allows my brain to process life and determine the best goals. Each day I place my two "Urgent Goals" over my desk, beside my Purpose Goal. When I complete these three goals, I cross them out with great satisfaction, knowing I am moving closer to my destination and fulfilling my purpose. I urge you to try this powerful practice.