What Is the Most Important Step in Prioritizing Goals?

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending one of Tony Robbins’ seminars, you have likely heard him say, “successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” I’ve found that he was spot-on—questions reflect how we see the world. As a productivity consultant, one of the most important questions I ask my clients is, “what is the most important step in prioritizing goals?”

Every CEO, executive, manager, and entrepreneur knows the importance of setting goals, but not everyone understands how to set them properly. In fact, many people make the mistake of confusing goals with dreams.

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming. It’s often a great place to visit from time to time, but as Napoleon Hill said, “a goal is a dream with a deadline.” It gets the point across, but there’s a little more to it.

There is an art to setting goals. A vague idea in your head is not a goal, nor is a list of things you want to accomplish. There is a system to setting goals that will help increase your chances of success many times over. Failure to use a system for your goals reminds me of something Brian Tracy used to say: “failing to plan is planning to fail.”

For anyone serious about success, mastering the art of setting goals isn’t just important, it’s imperative. Thankfully, it’s not complicated. In fact, it’s just the opposite—it’s downright simple.

So, let’s take a look at how some people approach goal setting, and then we’ll be able to answer the question: what is the most important step in prioritizing goals?

1. The Ivy Lee Method

Ivy Lee is a name that CEOs, entrepreneurs, and managers should be familiar with. Back in 1918, he walked into the office of Charles M. Schwab, the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and shared with him a technique that Schwab later said was the more profitable advice he had ever received.

Inquiring minds would want to know what that advice was. After all, Lee ended up being paid $25,000 for it (the equivalent of $400,000 in 2016 dollars).

He asked Schwab to give him 15 minutes with each of his executives, this is what he taught them:

  • At the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish the following day.
  • Rewrite them in order of importance.
  • The following day, as soon as you arrive at work, work on only the first task. Do not stop working on it until you have it finished.
  • Repeat this process every working day.

The key here is two-fold. Limiting yourself to just six goals ensures that you ignore all non-essential goals and working on them one by one (in order of importance) means that you will succeed in finishing your most important goals first.

2. The Jim Rohn Method

Jim Rohn was the master of making things simple, and his goal-setting technique is a perfect example of that. It’s a simple four-step process:

  1. Decide what you want.
  2. Write them down on a piece of paper, and make a list.
  3. Add a date next to each goal when you expect you can finish it.
  4. Go to work and check things off your list.

It’s simplicity itself. The key element here is determining what exactly it is that you want.

3. The WOOP Technique

The acronym WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.

  • Wish – Have goals that are exciting, challenging, and realistic
  • Outcome – Visualize yourself achieving the goal and how it would feel.
  • Obstacle – Identify any potential obstacles that could prevent you from achieving your goals.
  • Plan – Create a meticulous plan of action to deal with each obstacle.

Nothing ever goes according to plan, but the mistake many people make is assuming things will go off without a hitch. Things inevitably go wrong, and chaos ensues. That’s why the fourth stage of the technique is so critical. Having a plan in place to deal with any obstacles you might come across will save you countless hours of stress and headache.

4. The SMART Technique

This was the first goal-setting technique I was introduced to as a young entrepreneur. It actually originated from a management paper by George Doran, former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company, back in 1981.

It’s great for beginners as it’s easy to remember. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound.

  • Specific – You know exactly what your goal is.
  • Measurable – You can measure and track your goal.
  • Attainable – Your goal is realistic and achievable.
  • Relevant – Your goal inspires you.
  • Time-Bound – You have a clear deadline for your goal.

The key to this technique is setting goals that are within reach, that are specific, and can be measured. For example, you have to hand out flyers. Your goal should not be “to hand out 1000 flyers in two hours.” The reason is that you cannot control if people will take the flyers. As such, if you fail to reach your target, you will feel disappointed.

A more appropriate goal statement would be, “I will hand out flyers for two hours and greet people with a smile.” This is achievable because your attitude and the amount of time you spend on the task are entirely under your control.

5. The HARD Technique

HARD stands for heartfelt, animated, required, and difficult. Unlike SMART goals, which focus on realistic goals, HARD goals are meant to challenge you. They are meant to get you out of your comfort zone and push you to your limits.

As such, HARD goals may not be the best ones for goal-setting newbies. But once you have achieved some results using other methods and are ready to take things to the next level, these could be just the ticket.

  • Heartfelt – Each goal must have an emotional attachment.
  • Animated – See yourself as having achieved success and imagine vivid pictures of achieving each goal.
  • Required: – Build a sense of urgency into your goals.
  • Difficult – Have goals that stretch you and welcome the challenge.

6. The Brian Tracy Method

Brain Tracy breaks down goal setting into six steps.

  1. Take a clean sheet of paper and write the word “Goals” at the top of the page with today’s date.
  2. Write out at least ten goals you would like to accomplish in the year ahead.
  3. Each goal must begin with the word “I,” followed by an action verb.
  4. Describe all goals in the present tense as if they had already been achieved. For example: “I earn $100,000 by the end of this year.”
  5. They must be written in positive form. Don’t write, “I will stop eating chocolate.” Instead, write, “I eat healthy snacks.”
  6. Write goal lists for your work, personal life, finances, and health.

The Answer

It should come as no surprise that there is a lot of overlap between the techniques. So now, let’s answer the question, “what is the most important step in prioritizing goals?”

The best person to answer this would be the best-selling author and speaker Simon Sinek who, in his famous TED Talk, explains that it all starts with “why.” As he explained, “Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech. Martin Luther King, Jr had a vision for the future and it inspired him to take the actions that changed a nation. His why was crystal clear not just to him, but also to everyone.

Regardless of which technique you choose to set goals, you must understand why you are doing it. As Friedrich Nietzche said, “He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how.” Accomplishing big goals requires big effort which is why only a small percentage of people actually achieve them. They don’t have a strong enough “why” to motivate them to do the necessary work, to keep fighting for what they want.

Final Thoughts

Managers, entrepreneurs, and CEOs all understand the importance of setting goals, but not every one of them is actually taking the time to write them down on paper.

Ideas in our heads stay there. They only become real when they are right there in front of us in black and white. Once they are written down, they become real to us, and then we can figure out just which goals to prioritize and, most importantly, why.

More Tips on Prioritizing Goals

Featured photo credit: Scott Graham via unsplash.com

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