First step to success is writing goals down

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 October, 1993, 12:00am

THE guiding principle in getting organised, I believe, boils down to three words: Write it down. Write it down anywhere - on a Filofax, a legal pad, a scrap of paper, or the palm of your hand - but get it down in writing.

Writing it down is the first step of any action. It articulates your desire to do something. It is a reminder when you get swamped. It eliminates the excuse that you forgot.

But most important, writing it down is a commitment - a signed contract that gives you the momentum to achieve your immediate goals.

Writing things down is also crucial for fulfilling long-term goals. Goals give you a reason to compete and do more. Without them, you just wander in the woods.

A sports psychologist I know took a company's executives bowling, dividing them into groups to assess their teamwork and competitiveness.

Halfway into the experiment, when the bowlers' competitive spirits were peaking, he lit the lanes in such a way the bowlers could not tell how many pins they knocked down.

The executives lost interest in the game. There was no goal. The effort was pointless. ''They quit when they couldn't see the pins,'' the psychologist said.

The first thing you have to understand about setting goals is what a goal isn't. A goal is not ''I want to be rich'' or ''I want to be famous''. Those are dreams in the back of your mind.

They are impossibly vague - and therefore impossible to achieve. If you cannot describe it or attach a number to it, it is a wish, not a goal.

The second thing about goals is they require deadlines. These can be flexible. You do not abandon a worthwhile goal simply because you do not achieve it by New Year's Day, 1994.

The beauty of writing down a deadline is it anchors your goal in the real world - namely within the framework of time.

When time is the issue, people become practical. Suddenly, their goals become sensible rather than pie-in-the-sky.

I know a successful entrepreneur, the co-owner of a vast chain of health clubs, who has goals ranging anywhere from 30 days in the future to 10 years down the road.

He keeps these written down on two pieces of paper in the front of a three-ring leather notebook - on the theory that every time he opens the book they will be there to tell him how he is doing.

The first sheet has his immediate goals, which he updates periodically. The second sheet lists his year-by-year goals; he is already on the fifth year. The goals are ambitious and incredibly specific, but given the time frames he has accorded for each, they are all achievable.

Not everyone, of course, can execute a 10-year plan. Most of us probably cannot even see that far.

I think in two-year increments. That is the way our business seems to run and I am comfortable with that. I supposed I can guess what will happen five years into the future, but the sports business is so volatile - athletes get injured, coaches are fired, heads of sporting federations retire, and teams go from winners to losers overnight - that my goals will need revision within the third year.

My goals not only have to make sense to me, they have to make sense for the business I am in.

The final point about writing down goals is that once you have written them down, you do not really have to think about them again.

The simple act of committing them to paper, it seems, virtually ensures they will get done.

An executive in our company once told me she wrote down her yearly goals on a legal pad in January. Some of them were trivial. She then buried the piece of paper in her desk and forgot about it. A year later, when she was going through her desk, she stumbled on the pad and was amazed to see she had accomplished nearly everything she had listed.

So if you are not satisfied with where you are and where you are going, start writing.

Question: I'm 55 years old and my new boss is 32. I know his age shouldn't bother me, but I'm having a hard time reporting to someone younger than my son. Any thoughts on getting over this? Answer: Here is a three-step programme that can lift you out of the doldrums: Rate his worthiness. Most people resent a younger boss because they think their age and experience entitles them to his job. Ask yourself: Is he at least your equal (if not your superior) in ability and accomplishment? If you cannot honestly say your track record is demonstrably better, then he is just as worthy of the job as you are. Age has nothing to do with it.

On the other hand, if you truly believe you are better than he is, you have a much bigger problem than his age.

Maintain your poise. Every new boss deserves a grace period when he and his associates test each other and find out if they are compatible.

Do not be graceless during this grace period. Do not make rash comments to colleagues about how you cannot work with him.

Do not criticise him behind his back (you will look more foolish than he will). Keep your thoughts to yourself.

If you cannot say anything nice, say nothing.

Upset his expectations. Do not forget the younger boss probably has some anxieties, too. If he has any common sense, he will know he is walking into a snake-pit of curiosity and show-me resentment. He expects you to be testy, even unco-operative.

For that reason alone, you should go out of your way to destroy his preconceptions. Do not resist his ideas if they are good ones.

Do not hold back on helpful information until he asks; volunteer it. Subsume your ego as much as possible.

Being helpful will surprise and disarm the new boss. In the long run, I will wager, he will find a way to return the favour.