Does goal setting work? Yes, but not the way most people seem to understand it. In my experience, the real value of defining desired futures is not so much in the world they describe, but the change in perception the process of setting goals fosters. Many people are using the online Intention Journal on GTD Connect this way, by capturing a vision for the future to serve as a catalyst for the present.
So go ahead and create your goals for the year, or the decade, or "before you die." You may find that your current reality starts shifting in wonderful new ways to support that.
All the best,
DAVID'S FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The value of goals
I was recently facilitating a senior level discussion in a medical technology corporation, grappling with the issue of the role of R&D and how to "fill the pipeline" with new products that would keep them competitive. As one top exec proposed some aggressive goals for the number of new products created and developed within the next 18 months, another equally top exec challenged "Why set goals for R&D? What difference will it make? What will anyone do differently because some committee gave them a number like that to produce?"
It is not unusual to find many people jaded at best about the value of goal-setting, given the stress created by what are often perceived as artificial expectations decreed from on high. There is always the dilemma of trying to set targets low enough to be "realistic," but big enough to be "galvanizing, exciting, challenging" (and sometimes required!).
This is a topic for endless business books and motivation pundits. I just want to highlight one perspective I've found very useful over the years. The value of goals is not in the future they describe, but the change in perception of reality they foster.
What we focus on changes what we notice. Our brain filters information, seeing one thing in a situation instead of something else, based on what we identify with, what we have our attention on, what we're looking for—more or less consciously. In one meeting optometrists notice who's wearing eyeglasses, affirmative action advocates notice the ratio of minorities in the group, and interior designers notice the color schemes.
Similarly, if you stop for a minute and give yourself permission to imagine five years from now, if your life could be as fabulously spectacular as you could possibly imagine, what might a Sunday afternoon be like? Reading great reviews of your best-selling book? Sailing the ocean in your own boat? Feeling relaxed, inspired, and having great fun with plenty of free time to read, play with kids, explore new hobbies...? Now imagine how good it could be ten minutes from now.... Likely there will be different images that you will generate or perceive.
Both are exercises in fantasy. Each will give instructions to our mind to search for information that will be relevant to the pictures. Which is "better"? That depends on whether you'd like to start noticing sailing magazines, ideas for a book, or creative ways to have more discretionary time. That information is all around you, all the time. But if you're not wired up to perceive it with a focus that opens you to it, you will be unaware that it exists.
The reason for long-term goals is the permission they give us to identify with the greatest value we can so it changes our filtered perceptions. The future never shows up (have you noticed-it's always today!) But playing with it as a working blueprint can be a remarkably useful tool to see things (and how to do and have them) that you never saw before. The most innovative companies are the ones with the biggest goals.
The future is an illusion, but a handy one.
"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably in themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die."
—Daniel Hudson Burnham
Fast Company Article on the success of the GTD book and what's changed since it came out.
The Atlantic Wire Article on dealing with the torrent of information pouring down on us.
The Dorm Room Tycoon Podcast on the keys to success startups can look for when launching their new venture.
I read Getting Things Done last March during an incredibly stressful period. It resonated with me deeply. I read it, memorized the flowchart, listened to it in audio book format, then listened to the podcasts, several of them upwards of 5–6 times. They are so helpful. Since then I have listened to the GTD CD's, and read most of David's other two books.
My wife and I operate on a whole new level of stress-free productivity. Since this spring we have been free of nondescript paper piles in our kitchen, and we are able to manage the "business of life" far more efficiently, so that when we are together we are able to focus on each other and our family. It is an incredible feeling! I think I've "sold" almost thirty copies of Getting Things Done to family and friends so far. I probably quote David a little too often—as my family, friends, and staff would tell you. :-)
My wife and I have five children, I own a business (a dental practice), teach in the music department at a local university on Fridays, and play with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir weekly. So it's a busy life with many areas of focus.
Next step: a live seminar. Maybe 2012. With all of this said, the GTD journey is only beginning for my wife and me. We are anxious to continue learning David's methodology (on the habitual level), which just takes time. We are discovering that GTD is a way of thinking, and that it gives a way to teach our kids a level of self-management that we never knew. I think it is going to take at least another 18 months to really get to where we are doing that effectively.
Hope you don't mind the biographical details. I am so genuinely thrilled to have found David's work. Perhaps I can thank him personally at some point. Best wishes for future success with the David Allen company.
—Barry HillamIf you'd like to share your GTD story, please send it along to us. We love to hear how GTD is making a difference in your life.
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