If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.
– Bruce Lee
This past October I turned thirty.
It was a big milestone for me and I was extremely grateful to have wrapped up another decade of life here on Earth. Like what many of us do when we hit a major milestone, I took a moment to pause and reflect on my experiences so far.
But this year I tried to be a little bit more deliberate with my goal setting. (More than the typical 5-minute daydreaming I usually do). I spent several days collecting my thoughts and crafting personal goal “buckets” for the next year and beyond. I focused on goals that I’d be able to make progress on in the next year and would also have a significant impact on my life for years to come.
I found the framework I used to be helpful so I wanted to share it with you. I call it the ECCCT process. Here are the steps:
Using these steps, I crafted my 7 personal goal “buckets” for my 30th year. They range from goals on emotional and physical health, professional success, personal finance, and relationships. It was an eye-opening process for me to take the time to dig into what I want out of my life.
There isn’t a perfect process in setting goals and the framework above might not be for you… and that’s okay. This is just one way to do it. You may want to borrow elements of the framework or try your own thing. Personally, I found it particularly helpful to go through this process during the month of my birthday as it felt tied to a meaningful day in my life.
Either way, important part is that you’re taking the time to reflect and think about what you want your next year to look like. Speaking of time, I’ve also added a suggested “Time alloted” under each of the steps as a guideline on how much time you might want to spend in each stage. This is just a suggestion – if you feel like you’ve put in enough time into each stage, move on. Just make sure that you feel like you got everything you need to get out of the stage. Sometimes taking a break and stepping back from the process may help too – I’ve suggested a 24-hour pause in some steps to give time for ideas to bubble up.
Good luck with the process! If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to use the Comment section at the bottom.
Objective: Express your thoughts about things you want to explore.
Time allotted: 3 to 6 hours.
The first step is Express. The objective here is for you to take a moment to write down or type all the thoughts you’ve had around the things you’ve wanted to explore.
Here are a few questions to get you started with the Express step:
- Looking back at the past year, what were some of the top priorities that emerged for you?
- What projects do you think about starting most often?
- What are some of the areas in your life that you want to improve in?
We live in a world where there’s so much information that comes at us from every direction and we often get inundated by the thoughts and information that pop into our brains. So using a pen or a Word document to write your thoughts down can be an illuminating process.
There’s a wide range of topics you’ll want to explore in this stage. For me, I spent a lot of time hashing out priorities in health, fitness, relationships, finances, etc. Anything that’s a value or a priority in your life should be expressed at this stage. And, finally, nothing needs to be polished at this stage. All you’re trying to do is help yourself put your thoughts down. Ideally you’re spending at least a few hours on this step. Come back after a break if you need to.
Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.
For me, this process involved typing. When I saw my thoughts typed up on a page (or in an Evernote note in my case) I got an immense sense of relief. I could now look at that my thoughts objectively and work with them.
Your preferred way of expressing might be different. (You may even prefer recording audio, video, etc. over writing/typing). The important part is for you to record your thoughts around your goals and dreams. Spending enough time to get all of your thoughts and ideas out here is really important. Don’t be afraid to write down your fears and insecurities here as well. The more honest you can be with yourself in this process, the more meaningful the goals you create become.
Objective: Review your thoughts from Step 1 and identify common themes.
Time allotted: 1 to 2 hours. (Optional 24-hour pause).
Now that you’ve spent some time expressing your thoughts it’s time to connect some of the key themes together. The objective here is to bring together your thoughts that appear to be closely related. In a document or piece of paper, you may want to start creating headings like “Health” or “Work” and organize the various thoughts under these headings. If you’re more visual, you may want to draw this out or use a mindmap.
After you’ve organized your thoughts, take a moment to look through them.
- Are there common themes that seem to stick out?
- Do the headings overlap with each other?
- Is there a theme that seemed to have gotten a lot of attention from you?
- What areas are missing? Was that by design?
The idea here is to refine your thoughts a little bit more. This is also a great moment to see if there are any areas that are missing that you haven’t yet expressed yourself in. Feel free to go back to the Express stage at any point to hash things out further. I’ve also found it helpful to let this step sink in a little bit by coming back to the document 24 hours later.
Objective: Create up to seven “Goal Buckets” to organize your goals under major themes.
Time allotted: 1 to 2 hours. (Optional 24-hour pause).
At this point, you should have a lot of great ideas and themes to work with. You’ve expressed your thoughts and had a chance to start connecting some of the thoughts together. Now it’s time to start crafting your “Goal Buckets”.
Your Goal Buckets will consist of the major themes that have emerged from the Step 1 and 2. For each bucket, you’ll create a sentence to describe what that bucket is about. For example, one of my Goal Buckets for the year is to invest in friendships. So one of my Goal Buckets for the year is “Develop better, tighter friendships.” It’s a fairly broad goal but tight enough to cover the main objective.
Here are a couple more of my Goal Buckets:
- Make all-around improvements in capoeira with a focus on strength and flexibility.
- Continue to save 15% or more of my income for future financial flexibility.
The key in this step is trying to keep the objective of the Goal Bucket succinct (i.e. no more than 1 sentence). You want the goal to be something that gets you really excited to get started with everytime you look at it. It’s something that lights a fire inside of you. With that being said, don’t worry about making the goal perfect. You still have some time to tweak things later in the process. At this point, you’ll want to start writing down your Goal Buckets so that it goes from a jumble of ideas into one succinct sentence.
Finally, keep the number of Goal Buckets to five or seven at the most. I’ve found that trying to manage seven goals across an entire year can be too daunting and ultimately demotivating if you’re not making progress.
Objective: Commit to 1 or 2 micro-goals for each of your Goal Buckets.
Suggested time allotted: 1 to 3 hours.
Step 4 is to commit to tangible micro-goals within the major buckets you created above. For example, if one of your major goals is to “eat a healthy diet and lose 10 lb”, how are you planning on achieving it? How can you break down that goal into mini-goals that you can work on during the year?
Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.
– John Wooden
Think of these micro-goals as either 1. a habit you want to establish (e.g. workout for 15-minutes everyday) OR 2. a milestone you want to hit by a specific day (e.g. read 6 books by July) . Just a couple of guidelines to consider when you’re setting your mini-goals:
- Make it fun.
- Make it small.
- Make it measurable.
Fun doesn’t get the credit it deserves. If you’re not having fun, the goal itself won’t be very motivational. If you’re looking at the goal you’ve written down and thinking “Oh boy… this isn’t going to be fun” then try a different angle. Fun can also mean new, exciting, or challenging.
Small and measurable are also important for micro-goals. Keep the goal small so it’s something that you should have no problem completing. You can increase the difficulty or commitment at a later stage but the key is to make the barrier to start as low as possible.
I really like measurable goals. Whether it be a checkbox for a habit you completed that day or more detailed data you were able to collect. My habit goals like reading 15 minutes everyday or spending 15 minutes to work on my blog are both measurable. I can also be more detailed with goals to sleep 8 hours per day by tracking my Fitbit data on how much I actually slept the night before. Having measurable goals will help you feel motivated as you make progress.
Finally, the Commit step involves sharing your Goal Buckets with someone who will keep you accountable to them. This can mean a friend, family member, or colleague that will be supportive and honest with your progress. If you want to raise the stakes even higher, considering posting your Goal Buckets/micro-goals on social media or on your blog. You may also want to consider using stickK – a website that lets you put stakes on whether you achieve your goals or not. If you don’t achieve your goal, you can have stickK send the money to your least favourite charity! How is that for some added motivation?
Side Note: You may have heard of the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goal-setting framework. I think it’s a helpful framework for setting micro-goals but it’s missing a major component of a great goal: Emotion. If the goal isn’t connected deeply to your emotions, it’s bound to fail. So if you’re setting a SMART micro-goal, perhaps add an “E” for “Emotional” and tie it back to Goal Buckets you got excited about in the Craft step.
Objective: Track your progress on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.
Suggested time allotted: On-going
Tracking is probably my favourite part of this process. You’ve done the heavy lifting by creating meaningful goals for yourself and now it’s time to execute. Making sure you track your progress is essential to keeping your momentum going and course correcting along the way.
The important part with tracking is that you’re looking at your goals on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Each timeframe allows you to see your progress (or possibily the lack thereof) from a different viewpoint. Trends you might be able to see from a monthly timeframe may not be apparent from a daily or weekly timeframe. And likewise, there are insights you can gain about yourself only from a daily review of your progress. Experiment with some of the tools below and see how they might work for you!
I use a Daily Tracking spreadsheet to help me keep track of my key daily activities starting with the sleep I got the night before all the way to my daily reflection questions. I also use this spreadsheet to keep the goal “buckets” that I created to continuously remind myself about what the big picture looks like.
Daily tracking is really important to me as I get a chance to interact with the data on a daily basis and uncover some really interesting insights about my behaviours and habits.
For weekly tracking, my favourite tool is the Weekly Big Rocks. The concept of Big Rocks was first introduced by Dr. Stephen R. Covey the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Big Rocks represent the important things in your life such as your health, relationships, finances, etc.
If you can imagine your time as a large glass jar and your priorities as the big rocks and non-priority items as sand, you can fit all your big rocks and sand into the jar only if you put your big rocks in the jar first. If you put the sand in the glass jar first, there will be no room for the Big Rocks. It’s the same with life. If you fill your life with the trivial items first, you won’t have time to take care of your priorities.
I use a template from Travis Hellstrom’s Crafting Your Purpose Course to set my Weekly Big Rocks. He’s got a fantastic mini-course on how you can identify your key values and priorities in your life. I highly recommend it if you want to check it out.
The purpose of this document is to note down the biggest “roles” you play in your life (e.g. husband, father, colleague, friend, etc.) and write down 1 or 2 of the most high impact activities for each role you play. I do this every Sunday evening to make sure that I carve out the time for my most important roles I play. This dovetails very nicely with your Goal Buckets as many of the roles will relate to the goals you’re trying to achieve.
Finally, monthly tracking involves doing a quick review on the progress you’ve made over the past month. Taking 30 minutes to answer the following questions can help you reflect and reset for another productive month. Credit to Leo Babauta from Zen Habits for sharing his monthly review process in this blog post.
- What work did I get done?
- What projects did move forward?
- What personal learning did I work on?
- What health and fitness challenges did I do?
- What other big life events (some of them unexpected) happen?
- What are some things I’ve learned and want to remember?
- What are my hopes for the next month?
It’s usually quite surprising what we can accomplish over a month. Taking the time to complete this review can open your eyes up to your capabilities and keep you motivated.
I hope you find the above framework helpful. It’s still an evolving framework and I hope to come back to this post on a yearly basis to add my thoughts and experiences to them.
Gretchen Rubin, the author The Happiness Project, wrote in her book that “the days are long, but the years are short”. I think that’s absolutely true. But if you live an examined life in which you deliberately set your goals and live according to your values, you can look back knowing that those years that felt so short were packed full with meaning.