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It’s time for setting goals. The beginning of the year is the time to examine what we have accomplished and what remains on our ‘to do list.’ I have written about how focusing on myself has helped me accomplish goals and remove distractions. For this post, I wanted to examine how I determine which goals are worth pursuing. Over the past few years, I have been piecing together a method that has helped me identify the goals that will help me move forward. Here is the approach for setting goals in five steps.

1. Make setting goals stimulating and fun

When I used to think of goal setting, the image in my head was that of a lone protagonist plotting a trek up a deadly mountain. It does not have to be that way. Invite people over with the plan to plan out their goals together. Recently, my wife and I invited friends and family from different circles of our lives. We wanted to bring positive and independently minded individuals together. These were people who I felt truly wanted to contribute to the greater good.

It also helps to have an open space to work, ample supplies to craft a vision for our goals (see No. 2 below), and tons of healthy snacks.

5 Steps for Setting Goals in the New Year and ample space with snacks

Open space with snacks to encourage conversation and creativity.

2. Craft a vision of your future

Before we started writing out our goals, we brainstormed on the vision of our future selves. A lot of people refer to this as a vision board. There are a number of ways to put this together. The method that I used was to put something in the middle of the board that represented my motivation. It should answer why I wake up in the morning. Talking to some of my friends who have done this before, they suggested to dig deep to something that is higher than a human-made object (i.e. love or compassion).

5 Steps for Setting Goals in the New Year - Example of my vision board

Sample of my vision board. Look into what is more important to me.

3. Use a framework

After I established a center, then I needed to divide up the board into sections. Jonathan Fields suggested in his book, How to Live a Good Life, that we should divide up our focus to three buckets: Family, Finances, Health. We used another framework that further subdivided those areas. In the case of health, it split it into mental health, spiritual health, and physical health.

The next step was to find visualizations that represented how we wanted those areas to be. I found images in magazines, but sometimes I had to print them out to find the exact image in my head.

4. Backwards engineer your vision to a goal

At this point, I had a visual representation of my future self. I then started crafting actionable goals. Taking a cue from Gary Keller’s, The ONE Thing, I asked myself what was that one thing I could do now to get me closer to that vision. It was an easy question, but it took some time to deconstruct my vision to an achievable goal for 2017.

Here was my approach

Vision: I am an important contributor to a large community of tech and design leaders.
Q: How might I contribute to this community? A: Speak at a design conference.
Q: How might I might I do keynote address at a conference? A: Submit talks to design conferences.

I could have broken this down through more questions, but these were the basics steps that helped me backwards engineer the vision to a goal. Once I had a goal (i.e. submit talks to design conference), I could then apply the S.M.A.R.T. framework.

5. Make your goals S.M.A.R.T

Goal: I will submit presentations to design conferences twice a month to get at least one talk this year.

S – Specific – I will submit presentations to design conferences
M – Measurable – twice a month
A – Attainable – at least one talk this year
R – Realistic – submit two presentations a month
T – Time-bound – this year

Interested in using S.M.A.R.T. goals at work with designers? Check out this post on how to introduce them to your workflow.

Bonus! Encourage accountability

While this was not a step, it was an added bonus of inviting a group of people over for a goal setting party. Declaring our vision and goals in front of a group helped hold me accountable. Most of the people in the room knew me enough to understand why I made these goals, and they were aware of what I can do. They were not afraid to call. b.s. or push me to make a more challenging goal.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.