New Goals for a New Year: How to Set Your Goals

New Goals for a New Year: How to Set Your Goals

New Goals for a New Year: How to Set Your Goals - Bob & Nick Slater - Look Out Above!

“If you want to be happy, set goals that command your thoughts, liberate your energy and inspire your hopes.” Andrew Carnegie

It’s the time of year for those so inclined to set goals (sometimes referred to as “resolutions”). Studies show that people with high aspirations get better outcomes. Those who set goals – written goals and high goals – achieve more. Writing down goals brings them more sharply into focus and serves to motivate you to make them happen – you’re making a commitment to yourself. Trouble is, no one – not professors, nor parents, nor friends – teaches us how to set goals, only that it’s important to set them, write them down, and keep track of them. Your boss may show you how he or she sets work goals, but these goals apply only to one sphere of your life. How many goals is best? How should you organize them? Are there tips to make them more meaningful, and hence more likely to be achieved?

Nick Slater CaricatureAn advertisement for Post-It Notes states that “you achieve 42% more when you write it down.” Hard to write much on a Post-It Note, but the point is well taken.  And Andrew Carnegie, by the way, wasn’t just a zillionaire industrialist; he was also a major, major philanthropist, with one of his most lasting contributions being the establishment of the United States’ public library system. I’d like to think he’d be excited to stock a copy of Look Out Above! in the libraries he funded!

The Look Out Above! team is here to help!  Here’s a goal-setting process in five steps:

  1. Decide on your buckets (aka categories, themes). To get you thinking, here are the buckets Bob uses. Adapt as needed to fit your life.
  2. Set goals by bucket, identifying the “One Thing.” As you identify and list your goals – beginning each with a verb–we suggest you have no more than three goals in any bucket. More importantly, though, is to identify the “One Thing” that if accomplished would make the biggest difference for you. Identify that “One Thing” for each bucket, and later prioritize the one things from all the buckets. Voila, there are your difference-makers! The items that once accomplished will move the needle most for you.
  1. Edit your goals to make them SMART. Namely:
  • Specific – narrowly-defined, such as “write and publish my book” instead of “be a writer”
  • Measurable – so you will know whether you have achieved the goal
  • Attainable – we can’t all play center for the Detroit Red Wings or striker for Chelsea FC
  • Relevant – the goal matters to you, and is worthy of your time and energy
  • Time-based – set do-able but ambitious dates for completion
  1. Create a separate “Stop Doing” list. To achieve your “one-things” you will need to focus and to avoid time wasters. As Stephen Covey categorized them, things that are not important and not urgent. Perhaps watching too much TV, spending too much time on social media, consuming too much news, spending time with negative people. Where do you waste the most time?
  2. Say yes or no to new opportunities wisely. You’ve identified your goals, including the ones that matter most. Now, as you travel through the rolling year, a shiny new thing has come along. Should you chase it? Usually, no. As Steve Jobs said, “People think focus means saying yes to the things you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundreds of other good ideas that there are.” Warren Buffet concurs: “You’ve got to keep control of your time and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set the agenda in your life.” And so, saying “no” – cheerfully and definitively – allows you to focus on high-leverage activities.

But . . . sometimes yes. If you never say “yes” to new opportunities, you’ll never realize the benefits that might follow. Nothing much happens to people who always find a reason to say “no.” Opportunities are rarely perfect. There’s always something that could be better, or more certain, that makes leaping a tough call. If you require perfection – or a sure thing – you’ll never risk. As always, judgment and intentionality is required. Do your analysis and trust your instinct.

Now, get going! Time flies, and emergencies and other distractions will inevitably occur. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. observed, “We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now . . . there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity.” So start now – onward and upward!



  • Jobs and Buffett quotes from Marcel Schwantes, writing in Inc.
  • “Warren Buffett says this 1 Simple Habit Separates Successful People from Everyone Else.”


Look Out Above! The Young Professional’s Guide to Success has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, HR Digest, CBS News, and more. It is available for purchase on Amazon, or by contacting the authors directly for discounted bulk orders.

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