Goal Setting – When YOU are the Project

Goals are about change. Whether you want to lose those last ten pounds, become a master coder, launch a business or fix a broken marriage, there will have to be some behavior changes in order to get from here to there. Change is good and scary at the same time, but it’s not impossible.

Pro-ject (n) – an individual or collaborative enterprise that is carefully planned and designed to achieve a particular aim.

Treat your goals like a project. Be systematic and methodical and build in levels of accountability.

Most people fail in their goal-setting efforts because they don’t plan effectively. In order to successfully achieve your goals, you need to take action and have a plan. Simple, right? Easy? Not always.

Recognize the need for change

All projects are borne out of some type of need. Companies may want to develop a new product or new technology. Individuals may want to start a business but the common thread is a need for something new and different. We can keep doing things the way we’ve always done and get the same results or we can attempt something new and see our lives change. Sometimes people are hungry for change. Other times, it can feel like a lucky mistake and other times, it’s thrust upon them. This is the essence of Project Management and Goal Setting.

Goal setting can be applied to a set of best practices loosely based on Project Management principles. Achieving your goals will take careful planning and lots of agility.

Identify the gaps 

In order to get from Point A to Point B, you need to take an honest look at where you are now compared to where you need to be. This is the first and sometimes the hardest step. I recently took an Emotional Intelligence test, and though the results weren’t surprising, they were still hard to see on paper. According to this test, I am very adept when it comes to interpersonal relationships, but almost hopeless when it comes to self-awareness. Below are the things that brought my Self-Awareness score down.

  • Not fully grasping the role you play in creating the difficulties you encounter.
  • Not fully appreciating the impact your behavior has on others.
  • Not spotting when others influence your emotional state.

I knew that there were aspects of my personality that needed work, but I couldn’t really identify them (although my husband had been saying this for years in a less clear way). Once they were identified, I was able to work more effectively toward changing them. The gap is still there, but I’m much less prone to dismiss or downplay my own behavior and I’m also less prone to shift blame.

Assess the risks

All projects come with a certain amount of risk. There is always the chance of failure, but forewarned is forearmed. Risk assessment is always forward-looking. For example, if I’m trying to lose 10 pounds, will my weekly family dinner derail my weight-loss goals? Can I be in the presence of Aunt Dee’s peach cobbler and only eat one piece? That’s a known risk. Another PM best practice is the Pre-mortem. Look ahead proactively at what could go wrong. This sounds a little morbid and it can be. This involves looking at everything that could derail the project, from a vendor giving a wrong quote, to flights being canceled because of bad weather, to a death. It not only involves looking at what could go wrong but also ways that we can be prepared for these small and large disasters. Most PM’s hate this aspect of the job, but I actually like it. I’m a bit of a futurist at heart (and a conspiracy theorist too), so this type of thing excites me. Some people look at this like a “sky is falling” mentality, but it actually encourages innovation and new solutions. It allows for new perspectives to be seen.

Commit to change

One of my husband’s favorite expressions is “Proof of desire is in the pursuit”. Until you move beyond lip-service to real action, then you can’t say you’re pursuing your goals.

  • Commit to giving of your resources. Count the cost in terms of time and money. I’ve been teaching my girls about Opportunity Cost. In order to get one option, you may have to give up another. So, if I’m studying for my MBA, it will likely cut into my Sunday nap time. Am I willing to pay that price?
  • Put it out there – but with one caveat. Some people are motivated by the haters, but most times, haters just demoralize you. When you put your dreams and goals out into the universe, be sure to broadcast it to those who will support you and cheer you on.
  • Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism from your support section. Constructive criticism propels your dreams by helping to remove obstacles and show blind-spots without demoralizing you. That takes trust and maturity.

“The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Socrates

Make a plan and follow it…unless it’s not working

I’m sure by now, you’ve heard about SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound). Goals need to be measurable and should be tied to some type of achievement. For example, a weight loss goal could be “I want to lose 2.5lbs and 2 inches in 30 days”.  The next thing you will want to do is break down each element of your goal/plan into a specific set of activities and steps. In project management, this is called a WBS or Work Breakdown Structure. It’s a top-down structure that lists the main goal at the top and breaks down each step in greater detail. For example, if you’re studying for an exam, break it down into modules. Study Microeconomics this week and Cost Accounting the following week. Piling all tasks into one huge task will cause you to lose focus and won’t allow you to properly allocate resources.

Once we determine the specifics of your goal, devise your plan. In order for me to lose 2.5lbs and 2 inches in 30 days, I will need to cut out 300 calories/day. This means that I need to cut 100 calories from each of my main meals. What do 100 calories look like in food? Or you can ask yourself, “How long will I have to do a certain activity to burn 100 calories?” Break each step down into smaller, bite-size pieces. The next step is to plan your shopping list and then do you weekly meal prep.

Align Risks with the Plan

Remember how we talked about pro-active risks? Now is the time to align them to your goals. If you know that you have a family dinner every Sunday that brings you 2000 calories past your goal, come up with a contingency plan. I still want to eat Aunt Dee’s peach cobbler, so I can either reduce the serving size and stay on track. Or I can enjoy the same serving size and cut back somewhere else. Another alternative is to go for an hour-long walk after dinner or do 50 weighted squats to offset the calories. Whatever contingency plan you choose, you need to be prepared to execute it OR be prepared to achieve your goals later than expected. Again, this comes back to counting the cost.

Be Agile

Another project management concept that is instrumental in achieving your goals is agility. It’s pretty new on the PM scene, but it’s been transformational to the industry. In a nutshell, agile is about making plans, but not sticking to them too tightly. Traditional Project Management looks ahead to the plan, whereas Agile breaks the goal/project up into smaller, incremental pieces. Instead of setting long-term goals, look at your goals from a daily perspective. What does this look like? You can start by setting daily intentions that tie into your goal. For those studying, this can look something like “I’m required to read 300 pages by next class so I will read 60 pages each day.”

Resilience is key

In order to achieve our goals, we need a plan that we can look at to keep us on track. Have something visual in front of you that will serve as a daily reminder of what your future is going to look like. Download my Goal Setting Worksheet to keep yourself on track.

You would be surprised at how many high profile projects started out as failures. The key is to apply Lessons Learned (a very important Project Management concept) and learn for next time. You have to be able to bounce back and have resilience when you are working toward a goal. Failure is never final.

You have something inside you that is going to serve and help others. You are the answer to someone’s question or problem.  Remember that you are the project.



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