We know we should be setting goals—SMARTER goals, not just resolutions. They’re a staple of personal and professional growth for a reason. Through setting and achieving goals, we can make steady progress towards cultivating the life we want to live.
But how many goals should you be working on at once?
That’s an interesting question. The answer ties together several principles of human psychology and human behavior.
Most people have about 7 roles through which they express their chosen purpose in life. This is how many things our brains can handle before we start losing track of what we’re doing. Let’s say you have 7 roles.
You don’t have to set a goal in every role every year. On average, you should have 7–10 annual goals, spread across your various roles. One role may not have any goals this year; another may have several as you focus on an opportunity or respond to a crisis.
You may have 7–10 goals for the year, but that doesn’t mean you should be actively working on all 7–10 annual goals. You’ll spread yourself too thin. You won’t get anything done for months. Then, in November, you’ll realize how little you’ve accomplished and how little time you have left. So you panic. You spend November and December in a flury of frenetic activity, trying to fit a year’s worth of ambition into the gaps between the holidays.
Instead, pick 3 goals that you’re going to work on each quarter. A quarter—three full months—is still enough time to accomplish something meaningful, but small enough to feel a sense of urgency. This lets you achieve goals throughout the year
At the start of each quarter, set aside some time to review your goals for the year and decide which ones you’re going to work on during the coming quarter. It’s like a weekly preview, only bigger.
Put the other goals on the back burner. Don’t worry—you’re not abandoning them! You’re just delegating them to the person best suited to work on them: Future You.
This is the top level of Michael Hyatt’s 3×3×3 system for achieving goals:
- The Quarterly Big 3: three goals you’re actively working on each quarter.
- The Weekly Big 3: three key achievements you’ll make this week.
- The Daily Big 3: three—and only three—actions you need to finish today to keep things moving forward.
When you break it down, it doesn’t seem so intimidating, does it? I can get three things done today! I’ll need to make sure I don’t get distracted by the inconsequential things that make me busy but not productive, but I can do that.
When you stack it back up, the results are impressive. If you can accomplish just three important tasks a day, that’s 750 concrete steps you’re taking every year towards cultivating the life you want to live.
That adds up. Short-term wins are impressive, but the cumulative effects over time are staggering.
The point of setting a goal isn’t the outcome you achieve. The results are meaningful, of course, but their importance is eclipsed by what you become.