Start Planning for 2012

Brandon Eley
Brandon Eley

It’s hard to believe that 2011 is almost over … it seems like just the other day I was complaining about still writing 2010 on documents and now we have less than a month left. Before you can blink, 2012 will be here.

How do you feel about this year? Did you accomplish most of what you set out to do, or are you disappointed that you didn’t get more done? There’s always more projects to work on than time to work on them, but without proper prioritization how do you know how to prioritize throughout the year?

We have so many fires to put out on a day-to-day basis that we often neglect and overlook the overarching “big picture” goals, the important but non-urgent, to work on the small picture urgent, but not important, tasks.

I’m not that big on new year “resolutions”—they often seem like lofty wishes rather than attainable goals. But I do think the new year offers us an opportunity to review the previous year, look at the goals we strived to achieve, and look forward to the next year to create a realistic plan with attainable goals.

Here’s a glimpse into the process I go through around the end of each year.

Review The Previous Year

As every year comes to an end, I like to take some time to review my goals for that year and take measure of how well I executed them. I set aside some time to review my goals, one by one. Block off several hours (I prefer early in the morning) and make sure you’ll be free from distractions like email or phone calls. I usually get up early and lock myself away in my office while everyone else is asleep. It’s important to have time to focus without distractions.

Priorities change throughout the year—as you review your goals, ask yourself first whether that goal is still a priority. Out of 10 goals, I will often have two to three that are no longer priorities at all. It could be because new goals have risen up above them in priority, or because factors outside our control made them unattainable. Discard these goals—don’t hold yourself accountable for not completing something you don’t still feel is a priority.

Next, take a look at the goals you completed. Are you happy with outcome? Of the goals you didn’t accomplish, but still think are important, what was the reason you didn’t accomplish them? What were the obstacles that you faced, and how can you progress towards completing the goal next year? What is the very next thing you can do to move the goal forward? Write it down.

After reviewing your goals for the current year, you should have a list of goals carrying forward to next year.

Set Realistic Goals for Next Year

New year resolutions are rarely successful because they are often lofty aspirations that are made based on our current emotional state isntead of attainable goals with an actionable plan. Lots of people have made resolutions—set goals—before, and because they didn’t achieve them, they give up on goal setting altogether.

Setting attainable goals is a specific process. First, make a list of everything you would really like to get accomplished—the aspirational stuff—in the next year. Small or lofty, it doesn’t matter … just write it down. It’s a great exercise to just brainstorm about what you want out of life. Now that you’ve got a big list of aspirations, it’s time to cull them down into a more manageable, and realistic, list.

Some of the goals will be impossible to obtain. You may really want to be rich, but realistically that is probably not attainable in just 12 months. Also look for which goals require major changes you may not want to or be willing to make, such as moving your family. Move those goals to a “maybe/someday” goal list or delete them altogether. Now sort your goals in order of priority, with the top goal being the most important thing you want to accomplish next year.

Create Action Plans

Now that you’ve got a list of goals (probably around 10 or so) that you really want to accomplish next year, it’s time to create an action plan. I like the GTD (Getting Things Done) method of planning projects—take out a piece of paper or create a new word processing document for each goal, and write (or type) the goal’s name at the top of the page.

Next, write the very first action you can do to move yourself closer to that goal. What is the first physical thing you can do? Make a phone call? Google something? Keep going if you have time—write down all the actions, in order, required to get you to the point where you have accomplished your goal. Even if you don’t have time to write down all the action items now, always make sure as you complete one action item you take the time to determine the next action necessary.

Review Periodically

I try to review my goals and action plans weekly, monthly and of course annually. Weekly, I just look at each project and ask myself “can I do the next action item on this list this week?” That will keep the project and tasks top of mind, and you will always know what you need to do to move it forward.

Monthly, I assess my progress on each of the projects. How am I doing? Am I still on schedule to complete by the end of the year? Have my priorities changed, is this still something I want to accomplish?

How do You Set Goals?

I’d love to hear your process for setting and managing your goals. Do you make resolutions or goals every year? How do you keep up with them? Let us know in the comments below.