Keys to effective goal setting

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Despite all that has been written about the importance of goal setting and how to do it properly, many people get it wrong. For a long time, I was one of those people.

When you follow “the rules” and are continually frustrated with your results, its easy to think, “Why bother?” and give up. Which is what I did.

Eventually, I figured out why my goals weren’t working for me and made some changes. Those changes made a world of difference and I offer them to you:

  1. Set behavior goals, not outcome goals

It’s fun think about all of the goodness that awaits us once we achieve our goals, and it’s okay to do that. It’s okay to dream. But while dreams might point us in the right direction, they don’t help us to get where we want to go.

That’s because we can’t control our results. We can only control our behavior.

You can’t control how many clients will hire you or how much they will pay you, no matter how much effort you put into marketing. You can only control what you do.

So, set goals based on your activity–the actions you will take and how often you will take them.

Instead of goals based on increased income or how many new clients you’ll bring in, for example, set goals on:

  • The number of articles, presentations, or episodes you will create
  • How often you will email your list
  • How many introductory calls or emails to professionals you want to connect with
  • How many “touching base” emails you will send to former clients

When you build goals based on your own behavior, you have nearly complete control over those goals.

  1. Not too hot, not too cold

We like to think big, don’t we? We often set goals that are too big for us to handle.

If you find yourself regularly skipping days or weeks, postponing scheduled activities, or failing to put a check mark in the done column, you’ve probably chosen an activity goal that’s too big (or otherwise not right for you).

Your goals should be doable. A stretch, just out of reach, but not so difficult you almost never reach them.

But don’t go the other direction and set goals that are too small. That’s fine when you’re getting started and want to create the habit, but eventually, you need goals that allow you to make significant progress.

  1. Short-term is better than long-term

One year goals are too far down the road to be meaningful. Choose goals for the next 90 days or less.

What are your goals for this month or this week? What is your goal for today?

We live and function in the present. Day to day, week to week. That’s when we “do”. Long-term goals are dreams and we tend to romanticize them. Short-term goals are action-oriented. We either do them or we do not and you know this almost immediately and can correct course if you need to.

  1. Simple is better

The best plans for reaching your goals are short and simple. One page, one index card, one sentence on your daily calendar.

If your plan is complicated, you’ll spend too much time tinkering with it, or making excuses for why you’re not ready. You need to do more research, check out another resource, re-write or re-record one section.

Been there. Done that.

If your plan is simple, you can’t hide behind it and you’ll be more likely to take action.

At least that’s the plan.

How to make your phone ring

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The game is afoot

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One way to get more work done, especially work you aren’t otherwise inspired to do, is to make a game of it.

Jerry Seinfeld was said to have done this early in his career when he promised himself he would write at least one new joke each day.

Although he later disputed the details, he was said to make a game of it making a big X on his wall calendar for each day he met the goal. Eventually, he had a long chain of consecutive X’s, giving rise to the expression, “Don’t break the chain.”

The prize for winning this game? A massively successful career.

You can gamify your work with “achievement” goals, e.g., winning the case, signing up 5 new clients this month, or earning $500,000 this year.

You can also do it with “activity” goals, e.g., emailing 5 former clients a day for 90 days, writing one blog post each week for 12 consecutive weeks, or calling 3 professionals in your niche each week for a month.

Achievement goals provide their own reward. You won the case or signed up the clients. Be proud and enjoy the additional income.

Activity goals are a means to an end. Making those calls will eventually bring in more business. In the short term, you can also reward yourself for reaching them by taking some time off, buying something you have your eye on, or treating yourself to a steak dinner.

You can increase the odds of hitting your goal by competing with a friend, partner, or professional contact, to see who can reach the goal.

You can also increase your odds by making your goal public: mentioning it in your newsletter or on social media or telling your friends and asking them to hold you accountable.

Your goal might involve quantity (how much, how many), quality (5-star reviews, six-figure settlements), speed (getting it done by a certain date), or a combination.

Making a game of a goal can help you:

  • Overcome procrastination
  • Get more done
  • Get better results
  • Gain bragging rights
  • Challenge yourself
  • Have fun with your work

And don’t forget the streak dinner you promised yourself for reaching your goal, or, even better, the steak dinner your partner pays for when you reach the goal before she does.

Marketing legal services made simple

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The perfect time management system

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If you ever find yourself driven by the need to get organized, if you continually try new techniques or apps only to abandon them in favor of something else, if you are on a never ending quest to find the perfect time management system, stop.

Just stop.

Many productive, happy people don’t use a system.

The have a calendar. They write down what they need to do for the day. They have files they can turn to when they need something. And. . . that’s about it.

They don’t make elaborate lists with tags and contexts for every task. They don’t use digital reminders. A post it note is more than enough.

They don’t set goals or write detailed plans. They don’t make ‘New Year’s Resolutions’. They know what they want and spend their time taking action.

And their “system” works.

They don’t forget things. They never worry about having too much to do, or stress out about what they haven’t done.

Their system works because they trust their subconscious mind to know what they want and show them what to do to get it.

I know, you’re life is complicated and you want more. You can still use your favorite tools and techniques. Just don’t obsess over them, or spend so much time tweaking them that you don’t have time for anything else.

The new year is upon us. It’s a good time to re-think your system. Get rid of things that aren’t necessary or don’t serve you and simplify everything else.

You might want to start over. Pretend you have no system. One by one, add back things that work.

And ignore the rest.

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How bad do you want it?

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Of all the reasons there are for not achieving a goal, the biggest reason, it seems, is not wanting it enough.

According to research, when you are excited about a goal, the structure of your brain literally changes to help you achieve it. Your brain causes you to see obstacles as less potent, making them less likely to stop you.

Desire is the most important factor in goal achievement.

But not the only one.

According to studies reported in the Psychological Bulletin, the more difficult the goal, the better we tend to perform:

In 90% of the studies, specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than easy goals, “do your best” goals, or no goals. Goals affect performance by directing attention, mobilizing effort, increasing persistence, and motivating strategy development. Goal setting is most likely to improve task performance when the goals are specific and sufficiently challenging.

A paradox? On the one hand, we’re told that strong desire causes us to downgrade the potency of obstacles, making it more likely we will achieve the goal; on the other hand, we’re told that the more obstacles there are, ie., the more challenging the goal, the more likely we are to achieve it.

I’m not sure what to make of this.

All I know is, the more excited I am about a goal, the more likely I am to keep working on it until I achieve it.

And when I’m not excited about a goal, it doesn’t take much for me to lose interest, slow down, or abandon it.

I also know that I like (and stick with) goals that are not too difficult or too easy.

I guess we could call this the Goldilocks approach to goal setting.

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What if I could?

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A while back I saw this post on Flakebook: “If you had to reach your five-year goals in 6 months, what would you need to do now?”

What a great question. 

We assume that five-year goals will take five years to achieve and so we plan and operate accordingly. This question forces us to think outside that damn box.

Let’s give this some context:

If you knew you only had six months to live and you wanted to earn $500,000 in (additional) cash to leave your family, what would you do?

Hold on while I put on my philosopher’s hat.

If you don’t believe you could earn an extra $500k in five years, how could you possibly believe you could earn that in six months? You need a different goal, right?

“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve,” Napoleon Hill said, the key word being “believe”. We need a goal we believe is possible.

Really?

Does this mean we can never have big goals? Do we have to settle for what we believe is possible?

That’s no fun.

Maybe the point of this exercise is to ask “impossible” questions, to see where it takes you.

Questions that force us to dig deep into the creative recesses of our minds to find ideas we never knew we had.

Questions that force us to become better observers and researchers, to discover what other people are doing that we never thought was possible for us.

Questions that force us to ask, What if I could?

What if you could double your referrals this year?

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How I prioritize my day

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In the past, before I knew any better, I allowed my client work to dictate my schedule. Unless I had a court appearance, an appointment or a hearing to prepare for, my day consisted of starting at the top of the stack of files on my desk and trying to get through as much of it as possible before it was time to go home. 

As my secretary took calls and did the work I had assigned her, she would replenish the stack of files. When the phone rang, when the mail or a delivery arrived, that work got added to the mix.

I got a lot done but every day was chaotic and stressful and every day I went home exhausted. My big projects, therefore,  usually resided on the back burner.   

Today, I prioritize work differently. I do my best to follow two simple rules.

1. Instead of trying to get everything done, I focus on getting the most important thing(s) done;

2. I try to do the most important thing(s) first. 

The most important things are tasks and projects that provide me with the most value. In productivity parlance, they are my “big rocks” and big rocks go in first. (If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, watch this video.)

If I was still practicing, my big rocks would include things that provide my clients with the most value because that usually provides me with the most value.

I don’t always start with the most important work. Urgent matters crop up. Sometimes, I haven’t allowed enough time to finish something that’s due and I have to fit that in. And sometimes, I like to take care of a bunch of small things first, to get them out of the way and free up more time to work on a big project. 

But generally speaking, I prioritize my day by focusing on quality, not quantity. 

If want to do this, start by figuring out what quality means to you, not just at work but in other aspects of your life. If time with your family is important to you, for example, add this “big rock” to your schedule before you schedule anything else.

Because big rocks go in first.

Have you seen my referral marketing course?

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Taking inventory

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If you want to make this year better than last year, a good place to start is by taking inventory. 

What do you have in terms of cases or clients, relationships, and hard assets? 

Go through your calendar and apps and note how you spent your time. Similarly, go through your financial apps and note how you spent your money. 

As you examine last year, write down the positive experiences–victories, successful projects, good decisions, areas of growth.

Also write down the negative experiences–mistakes, failed projects, unresolved problems, unrealized plans. 

What did you do well? What can you improve?

As you do this, consider the people in your life. With whom did you associate most? What value did they bring you? How might your relationships be improved? Is there anyone you need to spend less time with or remove completely from your life?

Finally, go through your notes and write down the opportunities you see for this year. Projects, new habits or relationships, areas for improvement. 

To create your future, examine your past and learn from it. 

But don’t dwell on it. 

Don’t beat yourself up for your mistakes or missed opportunities, but don’t rest on your victories, either. 

The past is prologue. Use it to write your future.

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Why is this night different from other nights?

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And by “night” I mean year. Why will the upcoming year be different from the current one?

Look at your list. What important goal or project did you fail to accomplish this year?

Assuming you still want to achieve that goal, what will you do differently next year?

You can’t do the same things the same way. You can’t just work harder. You have to change your methods or approach.

Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result.

So, what will it be?

If you never started the project, why not? What got in the way? What will you do differently to ensure that you take the first step?

If you ran out of ideas, money, or time, what will you do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?

If you gave the project your best effort but it wasn’t enough, what will you do to improve your skills, resources, or process?

Think.

You need a new plan.

Don’t take action until you know why next year will be different.

This will help you create a new plan

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Instead of setting goals next year, I’m doing this

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I know you’re ready to think about your goals for next year. Ready to put pen to paper, chisel to stone. 

Before you do that, think about the goals you had for the current year. 

How’d you do?

If you’re like me, you missed a lot of things and you’re not happy about it. You set big goals because you want to accomplish big things, but you’re tired of falling short. 

It’s discouraging. It makes you want to lower your goals, or do away with them completely.

Don’t do that. You need goals. You need to have a place you want to go.

Robert Heinlein said, “In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it.”

I agree. But next year I’m going to do something a little different.

I’m going to call them “projects” instead of goals. 

Projects don’t define us the way our goals (and “life’s purpose” or “long-term vision”) do. If we don’t meet a project’s objectives, we adjust and carry on. Or we move the project from “active” to “inactive” or “pending”.

We’re in charge of our projects, unlike goals which seem to be in charge of us. 

Projects? Goals? Yes, these are just words, but words frame our thoughts and infuse them with emotions that attach to those words. 

So, no goals next year. Just projects. 

I can’t wait to see how they turn out.  

Plan your marketing with this

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What’s the big idea?

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Think big. Act small. That’s the ticket to success.

Thinking big means setting big goals and finding big ideas to achieve them.

If you want to triple your income in the next 12-18 months, you can’t rely on small ideas to help you get there. You need big, hairy, audacious ideas. Things you’ve never done before.  Things that simultaneously excite you and scare the hell out of you.

Here’s a test to see if you have a good candidate: when you share your idea with someone who cares about you, they either laugh at it or try to talk you out of it. Or both.

(They do this because (a) they don’t want to see you get hurt, or, (b) they don’t want to see you succeed, because your success diminishes them.)

Big goal. Check. Big idea. Check. Now what?

Now you execute. You do the little tasks that advance your idea and move you towards your goal.

We live our lives minute to minute, day to day. The little things we do each minute create momentum towards our goals. It’s the only way we can get there.

You can’t triple your income in the next few minutes but you can do something that moves you forward.

Think big, act small. That’s how you get where you want to go.

What’s your big goal? What’s your big idea? What will you do in the next two minutes?

You can triple your income by bringing in more referrals

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