An individual would be hard-pressed to debate that behaviors and habits individuals exercise in their personal lives have no bearing or effects on their professional career. To that end, the ability to visualize, establish and pursue goals is a useful tool to realizing our personal desires, both personally and professionally. This blog post will provide some insight on basic, but useful, practices that individuals may adopt to help them start setting and achieving relevant goals, as well as explore common problems individuals run into with setting goals, with examples of how to overcome those problems and achieve what they desire.
As individuals, we typically find ourselves strictly focusing on the end result we’d like without really assessing the actions, outcomes, time and effort necessary to achieve the desired result. This leads us to having eyes bigger than our stomachs and is likely to result in failure to achieve our goals. Whether the goal involves obtaining a new security certification, a desired job promotion or paying the mortgage off early, these goals require adequate thought and planning on the challenges to be faced. As Abraham Lincoln is quoted as having said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Focusing on the journey and preparation necessary to achieve our goals and not the final destination puts us on a track to action and allows us to shed wasted energy on wishful thinking.
My own approach to setting personal and professional goals always uses the SMART method. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound. Most organizations adopt the SMART goal method for employee goal-setting, but they are useful for setting personal goals, as well. For example, a SMART personal goal related to achieving the CISA certification could be as follows (assuming a 30 June start date):
- Schedule the CISA exam for 1 October
- Finish reading the CISA exam preparation guide by 31 July
- Complete all CISA practice exam questions with a passing scope of 85 percent by 31 August
Each element is specific to CISA exam preparation, is measurable with dates on each item included, is achievable (as three months of preparation are provided), is relevant to passing the certification exam and is time-bound because the first step of scheduling the exam is driving completion of the following steps. This example shows how achieving small steps can lead us to our larger desired end result. Obviously, there is no guarantee of a pass on the exam, but by setting necessary preparatory goals, there is an increased likelihood of success.
A useful tool for ensuring the continued pursuit of goals is a printed list, either written or typed and printed. The list should be hung somewhere where it serves as constant reminder to fulfill the actions written on it. The medium is not too important as long as the list stares you in the face every day and burns a hole in your brain to get it done! I personally aim to write down and achieve approximately 12 goals every quarter that fulfill a mix of professional and personal accomplishments. Some are easy, such as attend a volunteer event, and some are more difficult goals, such as finish my first Cybrary course.
Revisit your overall personal goals at least quarterly and set new goals on a non-stressful schedule. Make it fun and enjoyable, but ensure goals are meaningful to move you in the direction you desire. Slowly, you’ll start seeing the results and stronger habits will be formed to achieve loftier goals. By leveraging this mindset in my professional life, I have found that I start setting and achieving mini-goals at work when conducting audit engagements. I often use lists to drive my daily work activities and sometimes rework the daily list several times. I usually keep no more than six items on my list, then as I achieve 50 percent or more, I create a new list starting with what’s left over from the previous list.
Our goals will not achieve themselves. Getting what we want typically will require some patience, grit, experimentation and the desire to see things through to the bitter (or hopefully pleasant) end. We are the drivers of our destiny, so again, let’s focus on the journey, and soon enough we will arrive at our intended destination.