Section Review

Strategies for Success: Goal Setting and Goal Getting

Christine LeBelChristine LeBel practices environmental law as an associate with the law firm of Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas LLP in Springfield, MA. She would like to credit ABA Young Lawyers Division materials for many of the ideas behind this article, which she has put to good use.

Well, the first part of 2003 has come and gone. Are your New Year's resolutions panning out? If not, you are not alone. Setting goals is one thing, achieving them is something else. It takes more than good intentions to get there. It takes a system.

Simplicity is the key to successfully establishing a system of goal setting and goal getting. Ideally, your system should consist of a mere three steps:

•  Define

•  Schedule

•  Follow up

Defining your goals

Because no one can dictate your dreams, defining your goals is the hardest part of establishing a successful system. As a way to organize your thoughts, think about each of the roles that you play in your life (e.g. attorney, friend, parent, spouse, volunteer, self, etc.) and the specific goals that you want to achieve in each role.

Write down each of your roles and, under each role, list the things that you want to achieve. Be as specific as possible. For example, instead of listing (in your role as attorney) "I want my own clients," you should definitively state, "I want to have a book of business of at least $30,000 per year by the time I'm an eighth-year attorney." By setting specific goals, you will have something concrete by which to measure your progress.

Scheduling your goals

Now that you have defined your goals, you should establish realistic time frames for achieving them. You should consider whether the goal listed is a lifetime goal (to be achieved before you die - which will hopefully be a long way off), a long-term goal (to be achieved more than several years hence), a medium-term goal (to be achieved within the next three years or so), or a short-term goal (to be achieved within approximately the next year).

Continuing with our prior example, if you are in your first year of practice and want to achieve a book of business of at least $30,000 by the time you are an eighth year, you should put that goal in the "long-term goal" column associated with your role as an attorney. (Whatever format you use, WRITE your goals down with approximate deadlines. Studies have shown that the commitment inherent in writing something down assists people in achieving their goals.)

Once you have a general idea of the time frame in which you would like to achieve each identified goal, it is time to identify and schedule mini-goals; that is, you should establish interim goals that will pave the way to the "uber-goal" you have identified. Wanting a $30,000 book of business takes a lot of interim work. As a wise person once said, "The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step." If your goal is to have $30,000 in your own receivables by the year 2010, where should you be by the end of 2006? Where should you be one year from now?

Identify these mini-goals and write them down. Finally, identify bite-sized (i.e., "manageable"), discrete tasks that you can do this week (or at least within the month) to begin your journey. I've found a chart like the one below helpful in this process, but it is not necessary to be so formal. A calendar will work just as well - if not better. You must be specific - a specific task is much more easily achieved than a vague one.

Following up

The key to getting there from here is making sure that you fulfill the promises you make to yourself. Be sure to set aside time regularly to check your progress. None of this has to be drudgery; instead, it can be therapy. Setting aside 10 minutes every Friday at 8:45 a.m. to review your own life's progress (while you slowly sip your coffee and savor your maple walnut muffin) can be extremely satisfying and energizing.

The point of this exercise is not to berate yourself for missing self-imposed deadlines but rather, simply to stay on track and keep in touch with your personal vision from week to week. If you didn't meet a promised goal by the stated deadline, reschedule it for the following week and maybe add a small additional task so that you will feel that you're moving forward. This is your life. No one's going to be checking up to make sure you get there on time. In fact, as you reevaluate, you may change the "there" to which you are headed. If you want to reach your goals, you owe it to yourself to check where you are from time to time along the way.

Another sage said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." I hope the strategy above will help you to make sure that you "do well" in those things you find worth doing. Best of luck in the new year and beyond!

GOALS: WEEK (OR MONTH) OF ___________________
ROLE LIFETIME GOAL LONG TERM GOAL (~5+ yrs) MEDIUM TERM GOAL (1-3 yrs) SHORT TERM GOAL (<1 yr) WEEKLY (OR MONTHLY) STEPS
Attorney Develop own $30K/yr. book of business by 2010 Develop $10K/yr. book of business Bring at least one new client to my firm By [DATE], contact undergraduate alumni association for a list of graduates or local alumni groups in the area. Join alumni group by [DATE] and/or identify and contact at least 3 alums in relevant fields
Self Stay in shape Run a marathon by the time I am age 35 Sign up for American Stroke Institute fundraiser and be trained to run marathons. Develop and stick with weekly running schedule Join a gym by Friday and ask for advice on aerobic and cardio training
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