A Scientifically-Proven Method to Help You Achieve Your Goals

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tracking goalsI’m a big believer in tracking my progress toward reaching my goals:

I track my fitness with a Garmin Vivosmart fitness tracker, I track my bike rides and runs with Strava, and I keep track of how my business is doing with LivePlan.

For me, just showing up at the gym or keeping the chair warm at work isn’t enough. There’s no motivation to improve and it’s hard to figure out what types of workouts I should be doing, or what work I should be doing if I don’t set goals—both for myself, and for my teams at work.

This feels pretty obvious to say, but I’ll say it anyway: Setting goals is a fundamental part of improving. If I don’t know what I’m working toward, I don’t know what I should be doing on a daily basis to reach my goal. If you haven’t already, read my article on How to Improve Your Company 3 Times Faster Than Your Competition. That article dives into the reasons why goal setting is one of the key factors that drive improved performance in business.

But, what I didn’t know (until recently) is that setting goals is only part of the equation for success. It turns out that how frequently I monitor my progress toward my goals impacts whether or not I will achieve those goals.

Tracking your progress is key

Little did I know that obsessively tracking my progress was a key to success.

According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association, checking in on my progress frequently actually increases the likelihood that you will succeed.

In fact, the study shows that the more often that you check in on your progress, the greater the likelihood that you will succeed. The same study also concludes that your chances of success increase even more if you report your progress publicly or otherwise physically record how you’re doing.

If you take a closer look at this study, you’ll see that the research is focused on people who are setting lifestyle or fitness goals such as losing weight or quitting smoking. But, what’s interesting is that the findings are very similar to the research findings on business planning.

When I’ve examined the research on business planning, it shows that when a business creates a plan for its future, it grows faster than businesses that don’t plan. And, business planning is nothing more than setting goals for your business: sales goals to reach, budgets to keep, and strategic milestones to attain.

So, it makes sense that setting goals for your business and setting personal fitness goals have a similar effect: they improve your chances of reaching those goals.

The key insight is that you need to do more than just set goals. You need to track your progress to increase your chances of success.

To help you achieve your goals, I’ve put together a quick three-step process that’s backed up by the science of planning and monitoring:

1. Define your goal

This whole system isn’t going to work unless you set goals that are concrete and measurable. The best way to do this is to use the SMART system for goal setting. SMART is more than just another business acronym—it’s a way to ensure that your goals aren’t so vague that you can’t tell if you’ve met them.

Instead of just saying, “I want to improve customer satisfaction,” you need to define a goal that is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Based

That’s SMART. An example might be: “I want 80 percent of customers to give us positive customer service rankings by the end of the second quarter of this year.”

To do this, you’ll need to have a method for measuring customer satisfaction. You’ll need to know where you are today and if it’s realistic to reach this goal in 6 months. You can read more about the SMART method for goal setting right here on Bplans.

It’s good for your goals to be a bit of a stretch, but don’t make them completely unrealistic either. You and your team aren’t going to be very motivated if the goal seems completely out of reach.

2. Track what you want to change or improve

Monitoring progress is the critical piece that comes between setting a goal and attaining that goal.

Monitoring progress ensures that goals are translated into action. Even more important, make sure that you have a schedule that you keep to review your progress. Some things you might want to check daily, others weekly, and still others monthly. Whatever schedule you decide to keep, the key is sticking to that schedule.

Here at Palo Alto Software, we review our financial metrics with the management team once a month. But, we also check in on those metrics frequently during the month to make sure we’re on track.

Remember: The more frequently you check in on your progress, the more likely you are to achieve your goal!

3. Report publicly on your progress

If you’re tracking your fitness goals or trying to quit smoking, then posting your goals and your progress on Facebook might be a great idea.

You probably feel a bit differently about your business goals, though. For business goals, make them as public as you can within the company. Some companies are not comfortable sharing too much data internally, but I’ve found that sharing more openly just leads to everyone having a better understanding of what the goals are and how they can help reach those goals. That’s what we do at Palo Alto Software, and it works.

If you can, share your goals with your company and regularly update everyone on your progress. The science is on your side that this will help you grow faster!

If you’ve had any personal experience with sharing and tracking goals—either personally or in business—I’d love to hear about it on Twitter @noahparsons.

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Noah Parsons
Noah Parsons
Noah is currently the COO at Palo Alto Software, makers of Outpost and the online business plan app LivePlan, and content curator and creator of the Emergent Newsletter. You can follow Noah on Google+ or on Twitter.
Posted in Goals & Productivity