See the rest of the blog posts

An Exercise in Better Goals

August 26, 2011


The other night I was having drinks with some friends in the Vondelpark near my home in Amsterdam. From there we moved on to a few other bars and the conversation ran from one topic to another, as they probably should. At one point we ended up on goals and the question was posed to me about what my goals were for the next one to five years. And I had to admit that I don’t really have any. I never had any.

I live a pretty good existence today. I live in one of the coolest cities in Europe, I own an awesome apartment,  I have a job that amazes me, I meet a fair number of amazing people, and I have fun. I’ve kind of meandered through life without much of a plan, just taking each step as it comes along. OK, thats not totally true. I have written down goals in the past but the problem with writing them down, at least for me, is that I then lose the notebook and forget about that one “important” page.

Back at that bar in Amsterdam, my friend used the salt and pepper shakers and his glass of wine to describe where someone is today, where he sees himself in 20 years, and where he was 10 years ago. Often, they aren’t in a straight line…not even close. And getting to that endpoint when you have veered so far off is going to be tough. So goals that you can refer to often are important; goals keep you on track, as long as you remember what they are.

What he was saying was nothing new to me, but for some reason it really stuck in my head. Maybe it was his background and that I actually knew him. This guy was a partner at one of the biggest head hunter firms in the world and a few months ago retired from running a significant chunk of one of the biggest sporting goods companies on the planet. Heck, he has bio pages on Forbes and BusinessWeek. Sitting in his incredible new house in Amsterdam showed me what the power of following up on good goals can really mean.

Goals have always been an important part of the employee process wherever I have worked. A few weeks ago I completed the review season where I work and while I definitely rock in a lot of areas, there were some things I forgot about. We set goals 12 months ago, and while they seemed great at the time, I forgot what they were just a few months later. The areas I excel at usually make up for the areas I lack in, and everything ends up on the plus side, but it could probably be better if I kept in sync with all of those goals as life goes on.

But here is the big hurdle when it comes to those corporate goals and performance tools. They are usually in websites that suck. They are kludgy, painful, and awkward. Sometimes the process is filling out a Word document at the beginning and end of the year. Despite the claim that it’s a “living document,” apart from those two change points, the document is fairly static. It’s really difficult, at least for me, to visualize whats going on and where I am in the process. The toolset my current employer uses is definitely the best I have ever seen, but its still awkward. Its still a tool I hate using and it takes so long to get into that I avoid it as long as possible. And once you are in, its just the same static info thats hard to understand. Of course, this is just for my goals at work; it doesn’t have anything to do with personal goals.

And then I discovered a tool that seems to help solve all of the problems I have with the majority of goal setting tools. It’s a visual tool that not only lets you see what you planned, but how well you are working against that plan. It’s not just focused on corporate goals, but any kind of goals. The tool is called Goalscape.

Screen Shot 2011 08 26 at 6 58 26 PM

Goalscape makes recording your goals as painless as possible. Recording how you are doing on achieving those goals is also very easy to do. What’s probably most important though is that you get a very visual picture of how you are doing in the overall picture of your life. It lets you see how all of your goals fit together and allows you to adjust their importance in your life. When you want to zoom in to just the things you have to do this month, you can do that and see how to best spend your time.

This is not a task management tool though. At least I don’t see it that way. It doesn’t create a list of what specific items need to get done today, this week, this month. This is a higher level. Yes, that means that I need more than one tool to help me process everything. But I think I am OK with that. I can use Goalscape to see if I am spending the right amount of time now on the right things. Then I can use that knowledge to come up with the right tasks to work on in OmniFocus, which happens to be the tool I use for task management. If I see I have too many tasks in the wrong areas, I can start to figure out ways to avoid taking on those areas in the future. It won’t be an overnight change, but I can use the information to get myself back on the right track…get myself back to my path to that pepper shaker.

When I started using Goalscape, I focused on my job. Recently, I agreed with my manager on what my goals for the new year, Fiscal Year 2012 which started on July 1, should be. I entered those 4 top level goals into Goalscape. I then recorded the S.M.A.R.T. measurements as subgoals and further subgoals. As I zoomed out to see the bigger picture, I realized that I forgot something. Its the same thing I always forget about. I know my goals for work, but I forgot my goals for the rest of my life. I started looking at the rest of the picture, adding what I want to do and what I want to learn. I used the tool to assess what is most important to me in my life right now. Work is still a very large part of that because I really do enjoy what I am doing now in my job. But this bigger picture allows me to keep everything in perspective.

As I worked with Goalscape for the last week, I realized some of my goals weren’t S.M.A.R.T. so I have been figuring out better ways to describe what I meant. I’ve also been recording what I have done and seeing the little bar creep close and closer to overall completion, even this early in the fiscal year, has been incredibly rewarding.

To learn more about Goalscape, I encourage you to check out their site at Watch the video at the top of the page, then check out the blog for more details on how you can use this software.

I still have work to do on my Goalscape. I still need to focus on the original reason I looked into this. I still need to figure out my goals for where I want to be in 5 years and beyond. But I am confident that this is a tool I can work with going forward to get those goals recorded. As the weeks and months go by, I am pretty sure my picture will be a lot more complete and I’ll have a really good idea of how I am progressing.

Find Matt online: