December is always a good time to reflect and see if you are getting where you want to go. Did this year's results match your expectations? Are you heading in the right direction with your life in general and business in particular? One easy way to get measurable answers is to set goals for yourself and your company for next year and beyond. Five years is a good planning horizon to work with, and, just as you look at the horizon, the near term goals need to be in sharp focus, while the longer term goals should be general.
Start by asking yourself the basic questions Where do I want to be in 5 years? Retired? Working? Rich?Independent? What is your dream for December 2008? Make as rich and detailed a picture of that dream as you can. Really stretch your imagination to come up with specifics. Notice that the question is phrased personally where do YOU want to be, not your business or anything else.
Once you have a clear picture of where you will be in 2008, work backwards from there. What will have to happen in 2007 for your vision of 2008 to become a reality? What about 2006? And 2005? And what specific steps will you have to take in 2004 to make 2005's goals a likely result? Each year depends on the events of the previous one. You can't get from 2004 to 2008 without going through '05, '06, and '07. The accomplishments of each year are steps towards the next year's goals.
One easy way to work through this exercise is to make a chart for yourself like this one:
Fill in the blanks for yourself and make them specific and sequential. This is an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one. Also include the ways in which you will measure your steps along the way. What concrete indicators are there for success or progress in each area of your life? Use real, measurable goals and stick to them!
I recommend using this chart to document the big goals for the year. These are the big jobs that you want to see accomplished by year end. Then, take those goals and break them down into steps you will take each month or each quarter. In other words, if your goal is to sell 1,000 merchants by the end of the year, you need to sell about 80 a month which is 20 a week or 4 a day. This gives you a measurement tool as well as a daily action item if you need one. Making a monthly goal chart for yourself gives you an action plan for the month that will guarantee you stay on course.
Notice that there are four areas on the chart and only one of them is business-related while three are personal. Your business or career is there to serve your personal goals, not the other way around. If you find that your job is not going to serve your personal goals, then you need a change! Your work should certainly be enjoyable and fulfilling as well as lucrative, but don't lose sight of the fact that work exists to make life possible. The other three sections of the chart are at least as important as the professional part. You can add new categories to the chart which better fit your situation in life and your goals.
This chart can be revised annually, adding another year on the end. One day, you'll notice your vision of that 5 year time frame changing to a more relaxed approach to life perhaps. At least you will have five year's notice and can plan for the future so that you are well positioned for a transition in your life.
At the end of each month or quarter, you can review the progress made, set-backs, advances, and begin to chart your success. There will be plenty of surprises along the way, but your goal sheet will keep you focused on your long term objective.
Having a long term goal vision can also be used to change your daily routine. Are you doing the things every day which contribute to your long term goals? If you review this year and find that you present situation is not what you want it to be, then examine your daily routine and see where you are spending your time and energy perhaps your actions and your goals don't match. That conflict happens more often that you might imagine. The world is full of forces which pull at our time and force us to devote energies to unproductive actions which don't contribute to our long term goals.
There is a tremendous power in the word "No." Use it liberally when making decisions about how you spend your time. Each decision you make about each hour of the day determines where you will be heading. Every time you make a commitment, ask yourself if this is in line with your long term goals. If not, try a firm "No" and see what happens. After a few times, I think you will find that you will advance your agenda much more rapidly.
Liberal use of the word "No" also reinforces your sense of integrity and commitment to your goals and your own life plan. Other people will see that. They won't think poorly of you for sticking to your agenda.
Our world is so filled with distractions which demand our time, and any one of them can be very seductive. Take television as an example. It is the single biggest and easiest time waster ever invented. Little appearing on television these days is worthy of your time. It's all mostly designed to promote the advertiser's agenda, which is most likely not yours. Try spending this time reading a book, working on your goals, or reading to the children. You will find that after a week, you are moving toward your goals faster than you ever thought possible!