How to set achievable goals?

Are you familiar with the dread that a seemingly unsurmountable task can cause? Some types of goals are impossible to estimate in time and effort, for instance, the path to changing a career or pivoting the entire premise of a business. Still, both of these things are happening every day, so how do successful people approach them?

1. Put pen to paper

You need to write down your goal. For as long as it’s only in your head, it might as well not exist at all! So, if you’re serious about achieving it and making the change, draw a mind map, use a notepad or a Kanban board to state your commitment in writing. If possible, include your team in the plan, or family members — when working on personal goals. The action of stating the goal and the plan describing how you’ll achieve it in front of others should enforce your commitment to seeing it through.

2. Split into doable steps

Divide the entire goal into small, workable, specific elements. It does not matter how many of them you end up with, the point is that each of them is easy to grasp, clear in its demands, and prescribes a method of achieving it, therefore is: doable. Transforming vague ideas into actionable tasks is the biggest help with tackling larger projects.

3. Define “done” and assign metrics

Given that you’re going to have to appraise each step (point 4, below), make sure to settle on a metric with which you’ll do the measuring. Many of the items adding up to your goal will be testable with a simple done — not done choice. But others — e.g. knowing the percentage of approval of a new product across all stakeholders — will need analysis. You need to know what this analysis is before you get started.

4. Sum up after each stage

Should it be that a given stage left you with a task finished not quite to the definition of done that you set for it, make any leftover action points your new steps within this goal — and place them further down the line. Sometimes these things will be possible to get done later, other times you will just need to adjust your step descriptions to the new circumstances. The bottom line is to take note of any discrepancies between the plan and the accomplished result. If nothing else, this will be valuable feedback for the project, possibly impacting the way you plan your future projects.

5. Give it a due date

Hardly anything motivates us better than a due date reminder jumping at us first thing in the morning. Use that to your benefit! Allow a reasonable yet strict due date for each of your smaller tasks. You don’t have to do this for all of them at once — there are 2 main ways to address this. Either set a date for the first few steps and keep adding more every time a few tasks get done, so that you’ve always got some items due; or — add due dates to a few milestone tasks from across the entire project. Both approaches have their pros and cons, and choosing the best one for you will mostly depend on the type of project you’re faced with.

6. Keep your cool

Whatever your project is, however big or small, life-changing or mundane, career-defining, or just one more thing you need to get done — don’t get phased by slip-ups, delays, or mistakes. They will happen, rest assured, and don’t make a big deal out of that. Be prepared for hiccups and be ready to address them, do rework when necessary, and learn from your or your team’s mistakes. It’s all highly valuable information — embrace it and use it well.

Applying these strategies stands a high chance of diminishing the weight that larger projects, as well as long-term personal goals, put on you. Give them a try, and see for yourself how capable of achieving your goals you’ll suddenly become.

The article was first published on the Kanban Tool Blog.

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