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Setting and Achieving Goals: 3 Things to Remember

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1) Relax. You already know a lot about goals.

For example, how did you get your last job?

If you ask people that, you never hear, "Well, my methodology was to stay in bed all day, watch TV, and eat vast quantities of M&M's. I figured, sooner or later, someone would call with work."

And even on the weekend—even if you're doing something simple, like going to the supermarket—you often have a plan.

First you make a list. Then you act.

When you think about it, goal-setting is second nature.

2) Don't get too relaxed. Unfortunately, it's more complicated.

John F. Kennedy, in the early 1960's, resolved to put a man on the moon, even though no one knew how to do it.

Why?

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things," Kennedy said, "because they are hard."

The whole point of a performance goal is to exceed the ordinary.

So, back to the supermarket, goal-setting at work is more like traveling to the store in the thick of a blizzard.

Sometimes, you can barely see the path ahead. And at any moment, you could skid right off the road.

"Ok," you say, "I won't take the car. I'll put on my winter boots, haul out the sled, and somehow, secure some Alaskan huskies."

The problem is with those huskies.

3) Here's a trick.

Your goals can meet all the SMART criteria (SMART is the generic prescription for goals; see below), but still, you never get started, or once started, get derailed.

Two groups were asked to write a report about their winter holiday. In each case, the goal was SMART, and each group was given a deadline.

But one group was also asked about implementation—to specify when and where they would write the paper. The control group wasn't.

Result? Only 33% of the control group finished the report. But 75% of the "implementation" group did ("Implementation Intentions," Peter M. Gollwitzer).

Tip: If you're in charge, like JFK, let others sweat the details.

But if you're not, consider: when, where, and how will you get those huskies?

Re SMART: effective goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bounded.

But SMART could also spell Stress, Migraine, Angst, and so on. SMART creates tension. It's supposed to.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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