Some Thoughts on Goals

For the past few years I haven’t gone through a formal process of setting and keeping goals. My life felt chaotic and tactical. But things are calmer now (actually, I think I’m calmer now, but that’s another matter) and starting tomorrow I’ll be sharing my goals for the next 12 months. Today I wanted to spend some time on my goal setting process.

Areas of Focus (Goals Categories)

I use 7 goals categories for my life: Personal Well-Being, Family, Relationships, Fun and Recreation, Finances and Legal, Career, and Possessions. You can read more about them here. Everything I am and do falls within one of those categories, from cutting the grass to being the best father I can be.

Horizons of Focus

I also think about my life in terms of levels. I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done (GTD) and I’ve always been especially intrigued by the 6 Horizons of Focus. The linked article explains the horizons in detail, but I’ll try to summarize them here with some examples from my life.

Ground Level AKA 0 Feet AKA Runway

This is the list of things you need to do. Single actions. Go to the store. Make a doctor’s appointment. Do laundry. Everyone probably has dozens, if not more tasks like this.

In my example, I’ll use “Ride my stationary bike for 15 minutes every day” as a ground level task.

Horizon 1 AKA 10,000 Feet

This is the project level. GTD defines projects as “outcomes that will require more than one action step to complete and that you can mark off as finished in the next 12 months.” Note the use of the word outcome. An outcome is a result. An outcome can be a goal. When creating a project for yourself, word it in a way that defines what you’re trying to achieve.

Example and spoiler alert: one of my 2019 projects / outcomes / goals is to “Lose 50 pounds.” My exercise task is one action step in that project. Another will involve eating healthy.

Horizon 2 AKA 20,000 Feet

GTD refers to this horizon as your areas of focus or accountability. These are my 7 goals categories I mentioned earlier, plus my job. There’s not a time frame on this horizon. I view as a check on what I’m doing. Do my Ground Level tasks support Horizon 1 projects? Do the projects support a Horizon 2 area of focus? If not, something’s out of whack. I need to either 1) ask myself whether I should be working on that project or 2) reassess my areas of focus to figure out how that project fits in.

My previous action and project examples fall under my “Personal Well-Being” goal category or area of focus, so I’m aligned.

Horizon 3 AKA 30,000 Feet

Back to a time frame; in this case we’re being asked to look 12 – 18 months into the future and think about what changes could be coming. It’s also an opportunity to think about what projects naturally follow our Horizon 1 (current) projects.

Once I complete my “Lose 50 pounds” project at the end of 2019 I’ll need to take on a new physical fitness goal. That might be as simple as “Maintain my new weight” or it might be “Lose 25 more pounds.” I might also start thinking about other things I can do once I achieve my initial weight loss goal, such as “Run a 10K race.”

Horizon 4 AKA 40,000 Feet

Now we start to look further out, about 3 years. The outlook can be more vague, but that’s okay. As the things you identify move down the horizons, or get closer, you can reassess them. Again, you need to ensure that what you identify is realistic and aligns with your other horizons.

Let’s say that 3 years from now I want to run a marathon. If I can run a 10K race sometime in the next year or two, I might be able to step up to a marathon a year later – but I need to start thinking about that now to determine if it’s realistic, and if so, identifying how I get there. Note that identifying this 40,000 feet goal probably means I create a new 10,000 feet project now: “Assemble a plan to run a marathon in three years.”

Horizon 5 AKA 50,000 Feet

Why am I here? What is my purpose? For me this equates to the Personal Mission Statement Stephen Covey advocates in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Working at this level can be intimidating. I struggled with it for a long time, largely because I wasn’t in control of my lower horizons. To paraphrase GTD creator David Allen, it’s hard to think about your mission in life when you have a work deadline looming, a water heater that needs replacing, and a dentist’s appointment you need to make to fix a sore tooth. For me, a bottoms up approach worked better than a top down approach.

I’ve also found that sometimes it’s difficult to align from the 40,000 feet level to 50,000 feet. For example, how does

  • Ride my stationary bike for 15 minutes every day
  • Lose 50 pounds in 2019
  • Personal Well-Being
  • Run a 10K race, and
  • Run a marathon

align to a life goal? I’ve found that sometimes I need a couple of steps at this level. In other words, I have a set of core values or principles that my lower horizon activities support, either directly or indirectly.

For example, one of my core principles is to be the best father I can be. All of my Personal Well-Being / physical fitness activities indirectly support that core principle: “Maintain my physical health as best I can so I can be the best father I can be for as long as possible.”

Now What?

Starting tomorrow I’ll share my goals for 2019, starting with Personal Well-Being. My focus will be at the 10,000 foot (12 month level), but I’ll bring in the other levels when appropriate. I’m looking forward to a great 2019, and hope you are as well.