Goal Setting for the Win!

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I highly recommend the book The One Thing written by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It is a terrific read and has helped me enormously with my time management challenges.  The accompanying podcast is also excellent.  Recently, I watched a webinar by the same folks and hosted by Geoff Woods, who talked about goal setting.  I’d like to share a concept put forth in the webinar because I think it would be helpful in your own goal setting.

I have previously written about goal setting, focusing on whether to set simple goals or big, hairy, audacious goals.  In the previous post, I also described the process of making your goals “SMART.”  The concept discussed in the webinar is also a repeated theme throughout the book and podcast: It’s the idea of thinking large but acting small.  With regard to goal setting, this would encourage setting lofty goals, and then breaking them down into bite-sized pieces.  This sounds ridiculously simple, and yet I think it zeroes in on a problem that people often encounter when goal setting.  It is easy to get excited about setting a goal. But even if you are careful and set a goal that is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound), you can still flounder on the execution.

For example, let’s say you decide your goal is to save $25,000 for a down payment on a house in three years.  Based on your household income, this goal might be completely SMART.  You might write this goal down and hang reminders for yourself in obvious places around your home and office to keep you focused.  This might get the job done, but more than likely, your success after taking initial steps might lag and your attention might be diverted.  Why is this?

For goals to be reached most successfully, break them down into very small, actionable steps.  Using the above example, don’t stop after writing that SMART goal down.  Take the next step.  Compute how much you need to save EACH year to make your goal in three years.  Then break that down further into how much you need to save each month and then each week.

Knowing how much you need to save each week might seem much more approachable than thinking about that $25,000 looming target.  Next, find the smallest steps that will get you to that weekly target.  Break your goal down further with a daily saving goal and come up with concrete habits you can change to meet that daily target.   Let’s look at some numbers.

Savings goal of $25,000 in three years for down payment =

$8,333 per year ($25,000 divided by 3 years)

$694 per month ($8333 divided by 12 months in a year)

$160 per week ($8333 divided by 52 weeks in a year)

$23 per day ($160 divided by 7 days in a week)

(I rounded all my numbers off to make it easier.)

How can you possibly save $23 each and every day?  Maybe you can’t.  But you certainly can come up with some changes that would add up.  Perhaps you decide not to eat meals out, but rather pack your lunch for work.  If you are the sort that eats out every single work day, that can add up quickly.  The average that Americans spend on eating out for lunch is about $10.  You just found some savings and now you have $13 more each day to uncover.

For a goal like this, consider mixing and matching your efforts.  Finding exactly $23 each day to save might be unrealistic.  But watch what happens when you creatively combine your efforts.  Let’s say you reduce your cable TV package and save $80 per month.  You cancel that unused gym membership and save $100 per month.  Next, you elect to eat at home and rent a movie each week for date night instead of dining out at a restaurant and purchasing movie tickets to the theater, saving you $70 per week.  Suddenly, along with packing your lunch, it adds up to a sizable number.

$80 x 12 months = $960 per year in cable savings

$100 x 12 months = $1200 per year in gym savings

$70 x 52 weeks = $3640 per year in date night savings

$10 x 5 workdays x 50 weeks = $2500 per year in work lunch savings

Grand total?  $8300 per year.  I’ll bet you can find another $33 a year to reach $8333.  Now you have a concrete plan of SMALL steps to take:

  • Cancel the gym membership
  • Reduce the cable package
  • Pack your lunch for work
  • Have date night at home

Having a specific plan that consists of small actions is far more likely to succeed than a goal that, while SMART, might feel like climbing a mountain each day.  Once you set up a plan to achieve your goal, you can stop focusing on the $25,000 in three years. Instead you take action with your first two steps and then solely focus on the lunch packing and date-night revision.

How do you set goals?  Do you set big goals and then act in small ways to achieve them?  Share your ideas.

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