The first few days of a new year is when many of us dedicate ourselves to becoming better, doing more, and attaining greater heights than in the previous year. We set new goals, both personal and professional, and have every intention of making them a reality. Then January 5th comes, and we find ourselves back in the grind. Let’s face it: most of us who write down goals don’t take the time to sit and think about how we are going to accomplish them, and many more don’t even take the time to write them down.
Ashley Feinstein wrote a great article on goal setting for Forbes in April 2014. She cited a fascinating study of the Harvard MBA Class of 1979, whose graduate students were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” The result: only 3% had written goals and plans, 13% had goals but they weren’t in writing, and 84% had no goals at all. Ten years later, the same group was interviewed again, and the results were mind-blowing.
The 13% of the class who had goals but did not write them down were earning, on average, twice the amount of the 84% who had no goals. The 3% who had written goals were earning, on average, 10 times as much as the other 97% of the class!
You can argue with the results, and as lawyers, you most likely are already thinking about all of the reasons that this study could be invalid. But you can’t disagree with the fact that time and again, it has been shown that people with written goals and a clearly articulated vision of their future seem to be able to accomplish more than those that allow others or life circumstances to control their goals and visions.
Over the years in which I’ve trained lawyers, it seems that whenever I ask a group of lawyers if they have written goals for themselves or their practices, the vast majority stare blankly at me. Admittedly, I did not have written goals until I began to work in-house at a company that, like most businesses outside of law firms, emphasized soft-skills training. I was introduced to Stephen Covey and his books, the Franklin Covey planning system, and the Covey method of goal setting. Initially, I did not use the planning tools that came along with the training, but as my life got more complicated, I decided to give the Covey method a try. I can tell you that it changed the way I made decisions, looked at my career, and envisioned my future. I was 37 years old and wondered why I had not done this sooner. All this to say that law schools fail their students and law firms fail their young lawyers when they do not help them, at the earliest time possible, understand the value of setting realistic goals based on personal core values, personality traits, and individual vision.
I utilize a 90-day goal strategy. Simply stated, I don’t set long-term goals, I set them 90 days at a time. Why? I have found over the last 24 years that trying to set longer-term goals simply does not work for me. I have too much going on to think past 90 days. Yes, I want to do things that will take more than 90 days to accomplish, but I choose to break those long-term goals down into 90-day pieces.
My 90 day goals are based on one of my core values. For example, health is one of my core values. So, I have set a very realistic goal to exercise for 30 minutes, 30 times in the next 90 days. I know I can crush this goal (or think I can!) so I am not afraid to set it. I have decided that I will do my 30 minutes using the elliptical machine as it burns the most calories in the least amount of time and I can watch TV while I am on it. Bonus! I have added exercise to my calendar each week, just like any other appointment. Finally, I have “3X30” written down on a post-it® note on my computer monitor, refrigerator, and bathroom mirror. Doing this provides a consistent visual reminder to exercise 3 times for 30 minutes each week. My son is holding me accountable and reminding me to exercise. I need to get healthy as I need to be a good example to my kids and I want to live a long time. I am off to a good start. After 90 days, I will be in better shape and can set another 90 day goal that will further improve my health.
Great goals have a what, when, where, how and why element. For this 90 day goal, improved health and fitness are the what, 30 minutes 3 times per week is the when, on my elliptical is the how, at home in front of the TV is where and my kids and longevity are the why. You get the idea. A billing goal or business development goal can be broken down in a very similar way.
Once you get used to setting and achieving goals, you will find that you feel more accomplished and more confident. You can use this same formula to reach almost any goal.
Have a vision. Set a goal. Make a plan. Work conscientiously to achieve the goal. It feels really good to succeed.
If you would like more tips on the 90-day goal setting strategy based on your core values, please let me know. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to help you formulate your first goal for 2018 (at no cost). My passion is to see lawyers and law firms become better over time using sustainable and impactful tactics. So, it is game time…get in the game.