When thinking about goal setting, especially creating bigger goals for yourself and your team, one of the first things to consider is this: What is your organization's status quo? And is your hope to maintain the status quo? Or to surpass it? As we turn the page to a New Year, it's important as leaders to examine how to maximize your and your employees’ potential by setting bigger goals and providing stretch opportunities for further development.
Why improvement goals work
A study published by the Harvard Business Review found that contrary to what managers and leaders may assume, respondents felt more favorably about goals that exceeded their baseline than ones that preserved it. Rather than feeling daunted by larger goals, participants in the study suggested that focusing on maintenance felt complicated by existing circumstances.
It wasn’t that larger goals seemed necessarily easier to achieve, but that the gap between medium and ambitious goals appeared small when two complementary purposes—such as maintaining or increasing sales numbers by a small percentage versus a large one—were compared.
Larger—or improvement—goals also offer greater incentives because achieving them is more satisfying. When you ask yourself if you’d like your current achievements to stay the same or increase, the answer is obvious! Achieving a loftier goal may take more effort, but the reward for that effort is far more motivating than simply maintaining the status quo. As you set improvement goals, remember that you’ll need to replace the old with the new.
To help yourself find a balance, follow these few tips:
Pick your priority
Make a list of ongoing projects alongside new goals, then continue, finalize, or delegate what you can. Before pursuing something new, it’s vital to “clean house” and consider your existing time constraints along with the requirements of that new goal.
Evaluate your approach
To better declutter your schedule and free up time for tackling new goals, consider ways to streamline existing obligations. Can meetings that in the past took 60 minutes be shortened to 45? Are there “busy” tasks filling up your day that can easily be shifted or set aside? Use the time saved by streamlining existing tasks to pursue what’s more important to you.
An important aspect of goal-setting is being strategic and realistic about which goals to pursue. This realism doesn’t mean not setting big goals! Instead, be aware of the time and energy requirements. Try to set five goals instead of 10 and schedule downtime into your weeks to avoid burnout. Remember that achieving a small number of goals is far more motivating and satisfying than almost achieving a lot. It’s easy to assume that setting smaller goals is better because they seem easier to achieve, but research shows that feelings about larger goals are more optimistic.
New Year’s may be the official time to set resolutions, but when it comes to setting goals, the best time for new ones is always now, whenever “now” may be. Setting resolutions can be a fabulous way to outline your and your team's personal and professional goals for the coming year, but what happens when those aspirations feel too far off? A year is a long time, and without setting a schedule or timeline for specific goals, the path toward achieving them can become amorphous, hard to follow, and easy to set aside.
Instead of waiting to set goals until some later moment, be it the New Year or a future date, try:
- Set short-term goals now. By setting time-limited goals or segmenting long-term goals into smaller, more easily digestible portions, you and your team can better focus on the task at hand in a timely matter. Instead of this task being “something you’ll get to someday,” it becomes what you do now, providing a sense of accomplishment and moving you closer to your overall goal, and freeing you up to move on to the next thing.
- Use making the goal list as a moment for self-reflection. Taking the time to sit down and write out what goals you and your team want to accomplish now gives you the opportunity to reflect on why you want to achieve those goals. Are you pursuing what you should be? Do they work in conjunction with what you want for your life?
- Be more efficient through focusing. Perhaps the strongest link between the world’s most successful people is their ability to focus. Setting goals and making schedules for achieving them will help you focus on what you can do right now to reach where you want to be in the future.
- Dream big. Don’t wait to think big! Instead, set those big goals and then use the previous suggestions to break them down into immediately manageable steps. You’ll be amazed at how even the largest, long-term goals stop feeling like “pies in the sky” when you sit down and write out the concrete steps you can take to make them happen.
One step you can take right now is to look at your calendar and block off a time slot in the next week to start working on your goals list. Making time to start working on your list is the first step in achieving your goals!
All aspects of goal setting, large and small, have one thing in common: focus.
Focus can mean deciding on and listing priorities by importance or paring down concurrent obligations by dismissing unnecessary tasks and delegating to others. It can also mean trying to be present and live in the moment. In our complex hybrid world, focusing on the present can be much harder than it sounds! With deadlines, news, social media, personal obligations, and needs, right now can get lost in the noise. To simplify, try these steps:
- Center your thoughts on the present. When you’re in the middle of a specific moment, be it a professional or personal task, or even while doing something for entertainment, be aware of a tendency to look to the past and future. Instead of saying, “I hope I can come back here someday” while visiting a place, remember that you’re in that place right now! By modeling mindfulness for your team, you help remind employees of the importance of slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time when things get overwhelming.
- Don’t be afraid to lose track of time. Once you’ve scheduled your day or blocked out some time for a specific goal-oriented task, don’t be afraid to ignore the clock. Forgetting about the passage of time while working on something, or being in a state of total absorption, is what psychologists call “flow.” Lean into those flow moments!
- Look at your challenges head-on. It’s our natural tendency when faced with frustrations or pain to avoid the cause of that negative feeling or interference. But instead of looking away, try staring at those feelings and their origins head-on. Acknowledging such causes of negativity can shift your feeling from distraction to acceptance, allowing you to move beyond them and refocus your mental and emotional energy on the present moment.
Focusing on the present doesn’t mean forgetting about your long-term goals. Instead, it means concentrating on and utilizing your present moment to achieve those goals. Keep those big goals in mind, remember your personal compass, then focus on what you can do now to make that future happen.