On goal-setting: Activity goals are better than achievement goals

I love setting goals. But it’s so easy to fall short of achieving them.

Perhaps one of the reasons is that I’m building goals around an ideal end-state. That end-state looks very specific in my mind.

But how often do we actually achieve that end state? It may end up looking somewhat different (although that doesn’t mean we failed). And in many of the end-states I envision and work toward there are external factors that can influence what that end-state looks like.

Take the example of a sales goal: A sales goal might be: “I want to close a sale this week.” At first, that seems like a decent goal but it’s based on an end-state… and one that is not entirely in your control. As a result, you run the risk of not achieving the goal in the way you want. (Perhaps you close a sale but not a very big one; or perhaps you laid the foundation to close a massive sale the next day — either way, the achievement is different than the end-state you worked towards). And, the success of this end-state goal is only partly determined by you but it’s also partly determined by an external factor outside of your control — the person or organization you are selling to.

A better goal is one built around an activity. Something you do; something that is entirely up to you. There are no external factors. The measurement of success is easy. You gain so much clarity.

To use the same example of a sales goal: An activity-based goal might be “I want to make 10 sales calls today.” I like this better because the success of this goal is based on you, not an external factor. And, it’s much easier to determine whether you were successful than if you used an end-state goal.

As an added bonus, activity-based goals also give you a better sense of how much time you have available to complete them.

Again, to use the sales example: Closing one deal a week may take many hours in the week… but how much? It’s hard to be accurate and therefore you open yourself up to over-committing. But the activity-based goal of making 10 sales calls a day is much easier to estimate the time required.

So rather than sitting down at the beginning of the week and thinking “I need to close a sale this week”, you’re instead sitting down at the beginning of the week (and each day that week) and thinking “I need to make 10 sales calls today.”

That’s a huge, clarifying, freeing difference.

This concept ties nicely into the GTD methodology: When I create Next Actions to be completed during the week, I fell into the trap of creating Next Achievements… of creating mini end-states that I would work toward. So I need to remind myself of the importance of Next Actions and to build activity-based goals to achieve each day.

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