Is it time to stop making annual goals?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably had to set some long-term or yearly goals. If you’re not the type to do it in your personal life, you’ve probably had to do it at work. After having done this for a several years, I’m beginning to think that the process of setting yearly goals is a thing of the past and should be avoided.

There are some of you out there who are very driven and can probably manage to stay on task for an entire year to carry out something. Let’s face it though, how many people set a goal to lose 20 pounds and forget about it by the time Valentine’s Day chocolates arrive? The same is true in the business world.

In the workplace, you’re expected to plan out goals to accomplish for the year. They usually have to be S.M.A.R.T. goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Result-focused
  • Time-bound

That’s all well and good, but in my experience it has been a relative waste of time, and here’s why. Like anything else, businesses change. The direction they were headed in at the beginning of the year doesn’t always resemble where they ended up going, especially on the micro level. An important project in January becomes low priority because of a new directive in March.

In addition to that, you usually have to wait for upper level management to set their goals so you can align to them. This takes time. Time where you don’t have any goals set. Then there is a review time at the end of the year where you go over your goals and management reviews them. I’m sure there are some companies that have figured out how to plan it so goal setting and reviews don’t reduce the amount of time you have to work on your goals, but I’ve seen instances where the goal setting and review times can eat up 4-6 months of the year, leaving only 6-8 months of actual time to work on them.

Setting personal annual goals has similar issues. Two typical types of goals are related to fitness and money. People usually want to lose some weight, pay off debt, or save up some money. By setting your goals for an entire year, you might work hard on them for a while and then forget about them as they drift from your mind. It starts by thinking you’ve “got 6 more months to get in shape” or “this other expense came up that I need to take care of.”

Ultimately, we either fail at reaching our goals or we make them so simple that we will accomplish them without much effort.

So what are we to do about it?

My suggestion, and what I plan on doing this year for my personal goals, is to try not to accomplish as many goals and set a shorter time frame to complete them. Last year, my wife and I had probably 15 total goals for the year. We accomplished some of them, and others we did well at for a few months and then tapered off.

This year we plan on only having about 4-5 goals at a time and our time frame is only 3 months. This does a couple of things. First, it keeps us more accountable since we’ll be reviewing them more often. Also, it allows us to break up our goals into smaller increments that are easier to achieve.

For example, if I wanted to lose 30 pounds this year, for the first three months of the year I might try to lose 7.5 pounds. This keeps me from losing interest and thinking I’ve always got more time to work out later. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment after achieving a smaller sized goal that I can take with me into April and beyond.

What are your thoughts on setting annual goals? Have you set them for yourself personally or where you work? How have you been at accomplishing them? Let me know your outcomes and strategies in the comments below.