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What is on your to-do list?

I was recently standing in a line waiting to get on an airplane and overhead a child talking with an adult.  The part of the conversation I heard began, “When I grow up I want to be. . .” Whether the child knew it or not, he was espousing a goal based on his vision of the future. In the run-up to the New Year, it is important to remember the benefits of goal setting. Setting goals is important for deciding what you want to achieve in a specific period, whether a day, month, quarter, year or lifetime. Goal setting provides value by forcing a degree of introspection, acting as a filter to separate the important from the irrelevant and as a guide to channel behavior.

Introspection is the act of calmly reviewing one’s thoughts, sorting through the clutter of day-to-day living. Techniques like retrospectives are a structured approach to introspection at a group and personal level. Meditation is also a valuable technique for individual introspection. The act of stepping back and thinking about the future is an excellent first step in the process of goal setting by providing the quiet space to consider what has been accomplished and to consider aspirations. You need to first agree upon a vision of the future to pursue so that you can set  goals to help to achieve that vision.

Goals and goal setting acts as a useful filter to determine which request or task should actually be completed. I have a list of tasks and ideas that should, can or might be pursued; the list is so long that it crashed my version of Evernote once. That list would be overwhelming if I did not have a way to prioritize and groom the list. Requests and tasks that don’t help further one of my goals are never prioritized. Any team with a backlog or portfolio of work that is larger than they can do at any one time needs to have a set of goals to guide work selection. Whether user stories, problem tickets, phone calls, emails or text messages, there is a wide range of requests competing for time and attention and goals are a primary filtering mechanism.

Individuals, teams and organizations set goals to influence behavior. Goals state what is important so that people can try to attain the goal. The developer of the Atari video game ET was given a deadline of five weeks to deliver a functional product. The deadline helped to shape a game that is often pilloried as the game that killed Atari (and the video game industry in the 1970s – consider watching the great documentary Atari: Game Over). Goals influence behavior, just ask the Howard Warshaw who worked literary nearly around the clock for five-week to create and write ET the Video game. The goal to create a game in five weeks generated bad development behavior. Wrong goal equals wrong behavior.

Like many things in life the journey is often as important as the goal destination. As you consider developing goals and New Year’s resolutions for 2016, embrace the process to get the maximum benefit.

Coming Goal Topics

  • SMART Goals
  • Downside of Goal Setting
  • Visualization
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