How Strategic Are Your Personal Goals?

If you know Tim Fulton at all, you know three things… he loves tennis, small cars, and goals.

Growing up in the Fulton household, there were two holiday season guarantees – there would be yard work on Thanksgiving and your New Year’s goals will be analyzed and documented before the first week of January.

For better or worse, the infamous “Tim Fulton goal sheet” has been a staple in my life. Every January since I was 10 years old, my dad and I would asses what I accomplished the previous year and establish new goals for the next 12 months. As a youngster, the only goal that I had in mind was to end the conversation as soon as possible. I just didn’t see the point, so I would write my goals in between Nickelodeon commercial breaks and hang them on the laundry room bulletin board where they would go unnoticed for much of the year.

As you can see, I wasn’t exactly committed to challenging myself.

It probably wasn’t until I was a junior in college when I realized that goals were actually pretty important. I began spending significant time brainstorming new objectives and coming up with elaborate initiatives to work towards. There was only one problem… I still had no idea how to actually execute a goal. I was in the mindset of “if I write these down, I will do them”, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth.

A few years went by and the same scenario continued to play out. I would look at my past year’s goal sheet with disappointment and anger. I’d question my talents and commitments, and wonder what I’d been doing all year long.

Finally, I figured out what I was doing wrong.

As a Marketing Specialist for a scholarly publishing company in Lawrence, Kansas, it hit me.

A large chunk of my job was to write detailed strategic marketing plans for journals and non-profit organizations. I’d often spend weeks analyzing data, industry trends, and the product’s position in the marketplace. All of this was done in order to develop quality goals, strategies, and tactics. It was then I realized something so obvious yet still so nebulous… my personal goals are no different than these marketing plans. Goals are nothing without strategies and tactics. I’d always had goals, but I never had a plan of attack. What I need were strategic personal goals.

Now, before establishing any more goals, I had to completely and objectively understand myself.

Where am I right now? Where do I want to be next year? Where do I want to be in five years? What are my strengths and weaknesses, and what opportunities and threats does the outside world present?

Only after honestly analyzing myself could I create attainable, realistic, and measurable goals.

However, just because I finally had a list of strategic goals didn’t mean I had any capacity to implement them. I needed to research and document how I was going to complete each task and define the tools necessary for success. I needed strategies.

So I sat down and figured out how I was going to plan every facet of every goal. I committed to things early, created sequences of events, listed individuals who could provide support, and set firm deadlines. Maybe this seems over-the-top and cumbersome, but history had shown that I needed a new method – a plan to keep me in line.

What happened next?

I began having the best year of my life. Through the first six months of 2013, I’d run a half-marathon, received a promotion at work, successfully launched a small part-time business, taken two fantastic trips, read more than I had in years, and proposed to my longtime girlfriend.

The difference maker? I decided to treat my life similarly to my marketing plans. Instead of avoiding goals or hoping that I would achieve what I thought mattered, I took a strategic approach to my own success.

*This article was originally published in the July 2013 Small Business Matters Newsletter.