Written by: Alison Anderson, CEO, SuccessionMatching and Regan Patrick, Ph.D., Departments of Neuropsychology & Geriatric Psychiatry, McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School
Founders. You see us from time to time, usually tied to an electronic device and a caffeinated beverage. Our social groups usually consist of other start-ups or networking groups, often at the expense of former close friends who just can’t understand what drives someone to plunge into deep sink or swim waters.
One thing many founders fail to realize is this is a marathon, not a sprint. Biz Stone, Twitter -CoFounder, spoke to this when he said: “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” Many of us will burnout and go back to the corporate world and the rest of us will find a better balance. This is important because during the roller coaster that is business ownership, we will experience setbacks and things won’t happen as quickly as we would like them to. When that happens, we may have to lean on other pillars of our life that will help encourage us to keep trying. Complete balance is unrealistic but in order avoid burnout, I recommend all entrepreneurs and business owners set goals in the following seven areas:
- Physical well-being goals. Are you eating properly? Getting enough sleep and active? When I first started my business, I was doing none of these things. I used to pride myself on how little sleep I could function on, my body rebelled and my bowel proliferated. As an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t need a near death experience to act as a wake up call.
- Relationship goals. In the last six months how much time have you spent with your family, friends and romantic partner? Some of my biggest regrets over the last ten years was not making enough time to attend a few weddings of people who were really important to me. There is no such thing as not enough time for relationships, it comes down to proper time management and communication.
- Personal development goals. What are you doing to better your mind? Are you taking a class? Are you continuing to read? There are a number of free resources and classes available. In the morning while I get ready I watch Khan Academy videos and every Wednesday I attend a meet-up for French language speakers.
- Financial goals. How much money do you want to have in the bank? How much money do you need to have in the bank? Personal finances are similar to running a business, you can successfully attain these goals by managing your expenses even if you can’t predict your cash flow.
- Company goals. Do you know why you started you company? By understanding where you would like your company to end up will help you set priorities and focus in the short term. My biggest goal for my company took me four and half years to achieve. Along the way I had some distractions, but understanding what I eventually wanted helped me avoid projects and contracts that would not serve my long term goal.
- Fun goals. What do you do to relax? Are you still doing those things? I will never forget the meeting that one of my staff referred to me as: “Captain No Fun”. I am a grinder, I put my head down and work very hard until the task at hand is complete. I value productivity but also understand that it can’t be business all the time. From time-to-time we need to take breaks, a day off or go on a trip.
- Spiritual goals. Do you have a sense of higher connection or meaning? This does not have to be religious. Religion is one form of spiritual meaning, but you need to take time for something that gives you purpose. I volunteer for a Rotary Camp Enterprise, helping introduce high school kids to the idea of entrepreneurship. Their inquisitive minds challenge me on “why” I do what I do and seeing the up and coming brilliance that renews my hope for the future.
This all seems simple enough, but there is one stipulation: none of these goals should overlap! The first time I tried this, I did not have a single purple sticky note on the wall, which meant I couldn’t come up with something “fun”. Yes, I went to networking events, which I enjoyed, but that was still firmly work-related. I struggled to come up with a single “fun” thing I wanted to do. That’s when I realized I needed to find a little more balance. You might try doing this with seven different colours of sticky notes and putting them up on the wall so you can see what jumps out based on colour.
To evaluate my process further, I reached out to Dr. Regan Patrick for his feedback on how to set more meaningful goals. Dr. Patrick is a Research Psychologist in the Departments of Neuropsychology & Geriatric Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Boston. He is also a Clinical Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Here is what he had to say…
Having a balanced set of goals is very important. It’s far too easy to become overly focused on our professional or academic pursuits at the expense of other areas that are just as important. Trying to place equal value on the seven areas listed above is a great way to prevent this from happening. However, beyond striving for balance, every goal we set should be attainable. This is crucial. Setting goals that are overly challenging or ambitious increases the likelihood of failure. Too many failures will deplete your motivation and confidence, which in turn might dissuade you from pursuing new goals that could make a meaningful difference in your life. On the other hand, successfully accomplishing goals will boost your self-esteem and drive to keep moving forward. Building these “wins” into your life on a regular basis will help sustain your momentum and enthusiasm over time, which is central to continued personal and professional success.
So how do we go about making attainable goals? The first step is understanding the difference between an ultimate goal and an immediate goal. Ultimate goals typically have a longer timeframe and require more than one step. They also tend to carry more weight and personal significance. For example, an ultimate goal might be: “I want to improve my fitness level” or “I want to expand my business.” These goals are incredibly meaningful, but are unlikely to happen overnight. By contrast, a goal you can reach fairly quickly, often in only one step, is an immediate goal. Every ultimate goal can be broken down into a series of immediate goals. It’s these short-term, immediate goals that have a higher probability of success.
Now, simply setting an immediate goal does not guarantee its success. There are certain qualities every goal should have that will increase your chances of getting a win. These are called SMART Goals: Specific, My Own, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Time-Bound.
- Specific. When constructing your goal, try to be as precise and clear as possible. Make sure to include specific times, dates, locations, and actions. For example, instead of saying: “I’m going to be nicer to my co-workers this week”, you might revise this to, “I’m going to write Alison an email on Monday morning at 8:30am to let her know how awesome her presentation was last week.” There isn’t much ambiguity in that goal, which makes it much easier to execute.
- My Own. Making a goal your own has two meanings. First, it should be something YOU want, rather than something you think someone else wants you to do. The more intrinsically motivating a goal is, the more likely you are to follow through. Second, your goal should not depend on someone else’s cooperation or participation. You can’t control other people’s behavior, so why risk a goal that could be derailed by someone else’s actions (or lack thereof)?
- Action-Oriented. Your goal should be to DO something. While this might seem obvious, people often set goals that are aimed at changing how they think or feel, rather than specifying an action they want to carry out. For example, a common goal might sound something like this: “I want to have a more positive attitude in my early morning staff meetings.” This type of goal is problematic because simply changing your emotions or thoughts is very challenging. If it were easy, things like anxiety and stress wouldn’t exist. By contrast, behaviors are generally easier to control. Moreover, how we act can significantly influence how we feel and think, and vice versa. Therefore, focusing on DOING things at your 7:30 AM meeting, like bringing your co-workers donuts and coffee, may give rise to the more positive attitude you are seeking.
- Realistic. Every goal you set should have a realistic and achievable target. In other words, you should only set goals that you know–with 100% certainty–you can accomplish. If you are unsure that your goal is attainable, make it easier. You can always adjust your goal again in the future. While there is certainly value in challenging yourself and testing your limits, that is separate from successful goal-setting. In fact, the whole reason we set goals is to make progress and get stuff done!
- Time-Bound. Immediate goals should have a clearly defined time frame for completion. Try to avoid making goals that include phrases like, “Sometime this month…” or “In the next week…” You’re much more likely to put things off if there isn’t a firm deadline. So, if your goal is to start cleaning the bathroom, give yourself a specific date and time to start scrubbing that toilet.
What do you want to accomplish in 2017? As we enter the New Year it is a great time to sit down and write out your goals no matter what stage of the business cycle you are in. Writing them down is important, a goal that is not written down is a dream.