Which goals to chase?

Life is busy and our time is limited. How do you work out which goals to go after and which to ignore?

I try to make these major decisions in a holistic way by looking at my entire life and lifestyle so that I can prioritise between my many competing demands.

Unless you’re a professional tennis player, it’s not as simple as just choosing one goal and following it blindly. Most of us need to make our goals work in the context of a balanced life. For that reason, we need to think about goals as they relate to:

- Our family, relationships and personal life;

- Our career and study;

- Our friends;

- Our community interests; and

- Our personal pursuits such as hobbies or exercise or sport;

Every extra bit of effort we put into one of those dimensions can take focus away from another. Of course, we can often satisfy two dimensions at once. If we enjoy playing sport with our friends, that will satisfy the friendship dimension and our personal pursuit dimension.

One technique I have used is to list down each of those five dimensions in a spreadsheet, one on each row. In the first column I write down my current level of satisfaction with each dimension; in the second, I write down where I’d like it to be in the future (eg what I’d like to achieve or contribute in 1 year or 3 years time).

By considering all of the dimensions on the same sheet of paper, it means I am less likely to set unrealistic goals in any single dimension. If I want to chase one goal particularly hard, I will at least do so knowingly and can consciously choose to sacrifice one of the other dimensions.

I have found that using this technique to get the big picture right helps me plan my day to day and week to week activities, the achievement of which gradually contributes to the achievement of long term goals.

Reference: I have adapted this technique using some of the principles of “Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind,” which is explained in Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Follow the link for more information on the 7 Habits.

3 thoughts on “Which goals to chase?

  1. That’s an interesting idea. I wonder if you need to be inherently analytical to adopt the spreadsheet approach. What am I saying? I’m analytical and I’ve never penned my goals with a timeline. While it may mean there’s little risk of disappointment if they remain unfulfilled, perhaps they would have a better chance of being fulfilled if I wrote them down. Agh – If only I could find the time!

  2. I definitely find that writing them down helps me focus on them. It doesn’t require a big time commitment, because long term goals only need to be revisited once every 6-12 months. And in terms of being disappointed, I would argue that not achieving a goal is not necessarily a major negative. This will be the subject of a future post …

  3. It didn’t occur to me until driving home from the ACT today that I do in fact set objectives frequently. Quarterly in fact! Under the ever-expanding umbrella of ‘career development’ I have to set around three goals every three months. This is all done via an online system which does not allow you to alter the goals once they’re set. They are then reviewed at the end of each quarter with my manager. It would make for an interesting exercise if I was do the same thing for ‘personal’ goals. I’d need a life manager.