Does writing down goals help?

We do a lot of things on our smart phones. We don’t do much writing anymore. It’s fair to ask if writing down goals is really necessary. Is it possible that the advice to have written goals is out of date in our digital age?

Allow me a short digression. Back around 2010 I remember that ebooks and digital publishing was coming on strong (the Kindle first came out in 2007). There were many predictions that printed books would soon go out of style. Don’t worry about firemen or bookburning like Bradbury wrote about in Fahrenheit 451. Old-fashioned printed books would fade away. The ebooks market grew strong for several years but then it flattened out and hasn’t shown signs of overtaking printed books. (Audiobooks, however, are showing signs of growth…)


My digression isn’t meant to suggest or champion the return of old-fashioned print. It does demonstrate, I believe, that our predictions of all things digital taking over the real world are probably off the mark. Many people continue to enjoy reading physical books. More people are learning to access books in audio version instead of visually reading them.

What about goals?

Goals help us achieve more and get things done.

If I needed to convince you of that, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. But how should you use goals to be most effective?

“You need to write your goals down.” That advice has been around for a while. Is it true and does it really work?

In my experience (and for the several hundred managers I’ve coached over 20 years) writing down goals works. To explain why, I’m going to give two analogies then I’ll get to three reasons why written goals work.

My first (unscientific) observation: grocery shopping. I still go to the grocery story the old-fahioned way and buy my food every week. I try to avoid separate quick runs to the store to buy things I forgot or discover I need. How do I stick to that? A written shopping list.

Without a written shopping list, I discovered three things. I often (read “almost always”) forgot to buy one of more things I really needed when I went to the store without a list. Second, I usually got home having spent more and with more items than I intended to buy. Third, I made more ad hoc runs to the store during the week. The grocery store corporation is happy! Modern merchandising methods work. Needless to say, shopping with a written list took care of these problems.

My second (unscientific) observation: hiring decisions in small companies. Most small businesses wouldn’t dream of trying to do production or inventory management without systems to record their processes. Too many, however, do exactly that when it comes to the important decisions that make up their personnel roster and hiring effectiveness. Why is that? Why, indeed.

Why written goals work

First, we forget.

Writing things down – whether they are goals or other things – helps the memory. Whether students in school or managers hiring candidates for jobs, taking written notes produces a superior recall of what happened.

Second, we need focus.

Writing aids not just memory but it drives the encoding or imprinting of the thing on the brain. We are better able to focus on something we take the trouble to write down. In this age of endless distraction, focus is a distinct advantage.

Third, goal setting is really a learning process.

Goals need refinement and our efforts to achieve them often run into challenges and require course correction. Writing helps the learning process and slows down thinking and deliberation so that better quality learning can take place.

DO try this now

Write out your goals – by hand.

One week later, if you haven’t reviewed them already, take the list out. Re-write your goals. Keep practicing this each week until the goals are all accomplished.

Try this process. It works. Let us hear from you how you implemented this coaching.

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