Goal Setting: Find Your Sweet Spot with the Right “When”

When should you set goals? It’s clear that goals should have a time or “by when” attached to them (and you should write them down too). But what is the best time frame to use with your goals?

For more than a decade I have done a year-end review of what I’ve done, what’s been accomplished and what didn’t happen in the past year. It sets me up for setting goals and a vision for next year. I also take time to probe further and imagine what I would like to see 5 or 10 years from now.

After this process is done (and it doesn’t take more than 1-2 hours), I focus on my standard time frame for goal setting: the month ahead.

Although I’ve consulted and worked with large corporations that do long-term planning, I’ve not found a lot of personal value in long-term planning beyond the vision casting and motivation that it lends me. Trying to plan out the year ahead is just not where I am.

Not “Where is the sweet spot?” but “When”

The real sweet spot for goal setting in my opinion is 30-90 days. There are some things I cannot get to in the next month, but they seem important and shouldn’t be put off for too long. Maybe they are waiting for one or a couple of other key things to happen first. Fine. But they should be prioritized for next month or the one after that at the latest.

Here’s an example. I’ve been looking at Youtube videos for a while as a way to deliver training and reach a broader audience. I’ve invested in both a learning program and in some basic equipment to help me in that. However, in my marketing I need to focus on two other things right now: writing my email content and short courses, and recording my podcast episodes. I’m going to record videos for Youtube, but it’s not the top marketing priority for me in the next month. I’m making sure it has a specific goal that is 60 days out.

Quarterly goal-setting also fits into an OKR framework really well. If you focus on 90 days, there is a lot you can get done and it comes up quick enough that you can’t procrastinate on it too much (and still be serious about it).

Monthly goals are a great place to begin if you don’t have a system or many deliverables imposed on you by customers or a boss. Quarterly goals are the next place to look once you are seeing results from a monthly focus. The sweet spot for goal setting is 30-90 days.

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