The other day I was talking with a member of our Office Space Coworking in Akron.

He wanted examples of short, intermediate, and long term goals. He wanted strategies used to support these goals as well as some tactics he could use to implement those strategies.

This is a need felt by many small business owners, entrepreneurs, executives generally any of your ambitious types wanting to do big things in the world.

My short answer? See the master, David Allen (

Now, the long answer.

I’m a HUGE GTD’r and have been for the past 3-4 years now. While Allen’s the first to admit he’s basically ‘packaging common sense.’ His system was the first to really ‘click’ with me. Simply put, GTD works because it’s simple.

Know your outcome, state your next step.

However, for a lot of people it falls a bit short when planning for the long term. GTD does address the importance of clarifying your desired outcome across multiple ‘horizons’:

  • 10k – current projects
  • 20k – roles / responsibliities
  • 30k – 1-3 year goals
  • 40k – 3-5 year visions
  • 50k – your reason for being on the planet

But most people spend so much time at the 10k level, they rarely get the opportunity to step back enough to reflect on the bigger picture. Or if they do, they just don’t have the tools to turn their long term goals into tangible next actions they can be working on today.

It’d be nice to say — I’m going to be a millionaire in 5 years and here’s my 10 point plan.

Life doesn’t work like that, though. I think people get frustrated with the ‘failings’ of GTD for the long term because they don’t realize that simply articulating your vision will begin to moving you along the path of reaching it.

David Allen repeatedly states, “You can’t manage a project. You can only manage your next actions.” In my opinion, the same is true for long term goals. You can’t manage your goals. You can only manage your next step towards that goal.

Don’t try to name the all steps. Just the NEXT step.

So say your goal is: I’m going to be a millionaire in 5 years.

Now say you have three projects to choose from:

  1. Renovate my home office
  2. Build a new Web site
  3. Launch that new product idea I’ve been dying to get to

Which do you choose from? What’s most likely to take you down the millionaire route?

Now my example above is pretty simplistic. Only because I want to make clear, your goals and your visions are your True North. You constantly need to be evaluating your next actions, the projects you’re choosing to commit to, and the customers you chasing after. Are they are taking you closer to your long term vision?

Some examples of short, intermediate, & long term goals

Before I share my examples, some quick guidelines for creating your own goals.

Avoid Dilbert-Speak – Just be honest and state what you want in your own words. If you make it bigger than what it is, you’ll never start it because it seems to daunting. What do you want? Simple as that.

They have to be true to you and your culture – You have to feel it in your gut. If you aren’t absolutely honest, the goals won’t serve their purpose. If you can’t relate to the goal as something you really want in your heart of hearts, don’t kid yourself. If you want an island full of playboy bunnies, well — sorry that’s what you want.

Long Term Vision

  • Financial Security – Our business will provide me and my family with enough annual income so as to be financially independent. We will be debt free. College will be paid for. And my wife will never have to worry about what happens to her if I should get hit buy a bus.
  • Respected – Within 10 years our business will be the largest consulting agency in the city. We will be revered by both our customers and our competitors. Our employees are happy and wildly productive. Everyone on the team will understand and value of keeping true to the integrity of our name.
  • Work with Great People – Our company will have the best management team in the business. They will have come to the business not through the lure of money, but by their desire to work with the best in the industry. We will genuinely love what we do and enjoy each other’s company. We’ll take time out for golf, time out for family, but we’ll always make money. I will have complete confidence in the team so that one day I can turn over the reins when I do decide to retire.

Intermediate Goals (1-3 Years)

  • We will have paid off the American Express Credit Line.
  • We will have received the John J. Johnson Award for consulting excellence in our industry. This will be the first of many.
  • 75% of our business will come from referrals.
  • We will be ready to hire Jim over at XYZ Company, someone we’ve had our eye on for a long time now.

Short Term (Within 1 year)

  • We will be cash flow positive. We will no longer be dependent on the AMEX credit line. In fact, we’ll begin paying it down by the end of the year.
  • We will get 20 new clients through referrals and recommendations from our existing customers. Each of these clients in turn will be willing to give us recommendations to their colleagues
    after the successful completion of their engagement.
  • We will have standardized our process enough to delegate 8 hours of the slog-work I’m doing each week. We will have established measures to ensure the work is done in a way that I would be proud to put my name on it. This will free 8 hours of my time to do big picture thinking and offer me an opportunity to practice my ability to manage others.
2 Responses to “How To Make Goals Actionable”
  1. Todd Jones

    This is a great post, Kelly. Thanks.

    I think a lot of times people like the goal setting part of the process. It’s exciting. My experience has been that it’s the following through part, the “make it happen” part, people fail at.

    My days at Sandler Sales Institute were rife with people who had written goals but once the writing part is done they forgot about it.

    Crack that nut and you’ll be a zillionaire.

  2. Kelly Brown

    Todd, I totally agree. That’s the challenge. How do you take a goal and turn it into something you can actually do. What are the steps between what will be -and- what’s next….
    ‘It’s 8am on a Monday morning. What do I do now?’

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