At the end of each year, I always take some time to reflect on the past year – and most importantly, design what I want the next year to look like. I include both personal and professional goals into this kind of reflection and planning session, because for me, work and home are impossible to separate. In this article, I outline the steps I take for my goal-setting exercise, and how you can use the same steps to set yourself up for a successful year ahead.
A quick note that while this is the goal-setting exercise I use toward the end of the calendar year to design the following year, it can really be done any time. I have had clients say that they have found this exercise helpful when they are starting a new business or role, or simply want to reset how they are spending their time.
I begin the goal-setting exercise with a reflection on the present moment, then debrief on the past, answer questions to help me plan for the future, and end by preempting any roadblocks that may get in the way of my success.
Once I’m finished, I break down my priority initiatives into actionable steps and schedule priorities on my calendar. I also go through the process of removing any recurring meetings or tasks from my calendar or to-do list that no longer serve my top priorities – this is a critical step. As author of Essentialism, Greg McKeown said, “Sometimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.”
But let’s start at the beginning of the exercise…
Setting Yourself Up for Success in the Goal-Setting Exercise
In advance, clear your calendar for at least two hours. If you can, go somewhere beautiful with a notebook, pen, and your favorite hot drink at your side. At the very least, be in an environment where you will not be interrupted or distracted for a couple of hours.
Reflection on Present Moment
Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes, if that feels comfortable for you. This first exercise involves no writing, just your mind’s eye.
Begin by reflecting on your work life, as it is today. Consider where you are with your professional goals and your career. How is your professional life doing, really?
Consider your team or key players, your systems, your processes, your schedule, your income … look around and see how your career is working for you today. How happy are you with your level of professional success today? This involves your role, your experience, your leadership, your financial health, your expertise and education, how you spend your time when you are working, and any other areas that feel relevant to your definition of professional success.
GAP Analysis on Work Life: On a scale of 1 to 10, how successful are you professionally, with 10 being extremely successful, and 1 being not successful? Assuming that you want to be a 10/10 in your work life, what is the gap, as far as where you are and where you want to be? Jot down a number that represents your professional success gap.
Then move into reflecting on your personal life. Consider all of the components and areas of your personal world. Your relationships, your family, your health, your down time, your fitness, your religious or spiritual life, your sense of freedom, your community, and any other areas of your life that are important to you. How are you doing, really? How satisfied and happy are you with your life overall?
GAP Analysis on Personal Life: On a scale of 1 to 10, how successful are you in your personal life, with 10 being extremely successful, and 1 being not successful? Assuming that you want to be a 10/10 in your personal life, what is the gap, as far as where you are and where you want to be? Jot down a number that represents your overall life satisfaction gap.
Questions to Reflect on the Past Year:
Directly following this reflection, answer these questions about the last 12 months to try to gain some further self-awareness and understanding about your work and life:
- Go through your calendar of the past year and highlight any peak people, activities, or commitments. Note anything that is particularly positive or negative. Circle the top 20 percent that produced the most reliable / powerfully positive peaks.
- What went well this year?
- What did not go well this year?
- Where do you derive the most happiness and energy from this past year, personally and professionally? (Name at least 5 events each personally and professionally)?
- What were your biggest successes in the past year? How can you celebrate?
- What sucked your energy this past year?
- Review your goals from the start of the year (12 months ago). Did you meet them? Why or why not?
Questions to Plan for Next Year:
The underlying question baked within the questions in this section of the goal-setting exercise is: What do you want to be different next year? You can feel free to skip around and modify to make these questions your own.
- What needs to get scheduled for next year? (Answers from #1 and #4 above)
- What can you delegate (and to who?), simplify, or completely remove from your world next year?
- What do you want/need to put on your “To Don’t” List? (Get inspiration from your answers to questions #3 and #6 above.)
- How can you make more space for lightness, joy, and peace next year? And when?
- What business initiatives would make next year a 10/10 kind of year?
- What personal activities would make next year a 10/10 kind of year?
- What is one initiative you want to do for your business / organization next year that will likely create stability and revenue?
- What is one thing you want to try for your business / organization next year that would be fun and experimental?|
- Who do you need to connect with next year to help you grow professionally?
- What do you need to focus on learning next year to drive your business/career forward, and close the gap on where you are and where you want to be?
- What is one long-term (three- to five-year) goal you want to take a step forward on next year? This may involve a short-term sacrifice and if so, name it.
- How can you ruthlessly prioritize your world? What will be your process?
- How can you make any of your goals, actions, or tasks more effortless?
- Look at all of the goals and action steps you wrote down and ask yourself, if I do all of these things, will I be able to call it a successful 10/10 kind of year – personally and professionally? Identify anything missing.
Identifying Roadblocks and Accountability
This section is a chance for you to get really honest with yourself about what you need to do (or not do) to reach your goals and what might block your road to success. Don’t skip this part; it is a crucial part of the goal-setting exercise!
- Break each of your goals into realistic baby steps, milestones, and action items. If by the end of the year, you want to accomplish X, work backwards for each goal and outline what needs to be done and by when to reach the finish line at the end of next year.
- How can you measure progress weekly and/or monthly on your priorities?
- What obstacles are in your way of getting to where you want to be? What roadblocks could pop up?
- What needs to be addressed or resolved in order to achieve your goals? You can answer this on the whole or for each goal you have.
- What’s at stake if you do not make progress on your goals?
- How will you ensure you stay on track? What do you need to do?
- Who can help you stay on track? How can you hold yourself accountable?
- What systems, apps, or tools can you put into place to ensure you stay on track?
- How can you celebrate wins along the way?
Start with One Baby Step After Completing the Goal-Setting Exercise
Even the smallest progress builds motivation and momentum. As entrepreneur Adam Braun said, “For any movement to gain momentum, one must start with a small action.”
What is one step you can take in your personal life and one step you can take in your professional life, in the next week, to get you closer to your end goals? This does not need to be a giant milestone; it can be as simple as scheduling time to work on your Q1 goals, planning a family outing to spend more time with your kids, or finding an accountability partner or coach to help you stay on track.
Final Note on Setting and Maintaining Goals
Don’t forget to review your plan often and revise as needed, or as context and priorities shift. There are so many external factors that are completely outside of you control, therefore maintaining an attitude of flexibility and adaptability along the way will support you in countless ways as you climb your own ladder of success.
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As an ICF Certified Executive Coach, Melissa partners with leaders to develop their executive presence, strategic and systems thinking, resilience, communication skills, and influence in order to reach their goals. Melissa is passionate about supporting leaders and teams on their growth journeys toward greater impact, more collaborative teams, and stronger results.