Good goals are a beacon to let you know you’re headed in the right direction. They enable you throughout the course of a year to review your list to affirm whether you are taking actions to help you achieve the goals you’ve set. Without goals, you are a boat adrift at sea. You can paddle as hard as you’re able, for as long as you can, in whatever direction you see fit. But without a specific destination in mind and a beacon to guide you, there is no correct direction for you to travel. Your efforts become flitting and circular.
More often though, if you do not set your own goals, someone else will impose his own goals on you. Your efforts then will be achieving someone else’s agenda. Not growing your own business. Not building your own practice. Not seeking what is in your own best interest. Instead, you will be a cog in another’s machine. And that’s the best case scenario.
The other alternative is that you go nowhere at all. A body at rest tends to stay at rest unless some other force acts upon it. Without goals to guide you, you may just sit in stagnant doldrums toiling away, accomplishing nothing.
Setting Goals Has Real Effects
I started setting goals three years ago. Now, as the leaves start to turn, my mind also turns to ruminating on the upcoming year and what I want to accomplish in the next 12-month cycle. I’ll start scribbling things down, and eventually, I’ll formalize a list as December rolls around. This method has served me well. It enables me to know what actions I need to take throughout the year to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.
There is a system I like to use for setting goals: S.M.A.R.T. Goals. These are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. The University of Virginia provides the following helpful definitions:
- Specific: Goals should be simplistically written and clearly define what you are going to do.
- Measurable: Goals should be measurable so that you have tangible evidence that you have accomplished the goal. Usually, the entire goal statement is a measure for the project, but there are usually several short-term or smaller measurements built into the goal.
- Achievable: Goals should be achievable; they should stretch you slightly so you feel challenged, but defined well enough so that you can achieve them. You must possess the appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to achieve the goal.
- Results-focused: Goals should measure outcomes, not activities.
- Time-bound: Goals should be linked to a timeframe that creates a practical sense of urgency, or results in tension between the current reality and the vision of the goal. Without such tension, the goal is unlikely to produce a relevant outcome.
You May Not Achieve All Your Goals
I can tell you now that by the time 2018 draws to a close, I will not have accomplished all the goals I set for myself, but I will still have moved the ball forward. I will be in a better position in 2019 to reset and achieve those goals, than if I had never set them. There are other goals I have accomplished.
In 2017, I set out to publish my first book this year. I signed a book contract in late November 2017, but there was still a long row to hoe before the book could enter the world. Lots of writing and rewriting. Working with the good folks at the ABA. Then in June, days before my second kiddo was born, my book Building a Better Law Practice was sitting on virtual bookshelves.
Setting Goals for Your Law Practice
As it related to my practice for my 2018 goals, I wanted to strengthen and develop my relationships with a few specific clients. Keeping that in mind helped me do things throughout the year that would continue to build our business relationship through trust and collaborative processes.
To help you keep your goals in mind, I recommend you put your list somewhere they are visible to you. A constant reminder to take affirmative steps and make strategic decisions toward achieving those goals. I’ve seen people frame their list of goals and hang it on the wall. Others have made their lists the backgrounds on phones and monitors.
However you choose to do it, now is the time to start thinking about next year’s goals. Setting goals is your opportunity to take control of your future and work toward the practice you want for yourself, rather than the future someone else will impose on you if you do not fill that void yourself.
Photo by Josh Beam.