Forget goals, let’s start building habits and processes.

19. August 2015



As people, we’re obsessed with setting ourselves goals. We’re obsessed with looking at what we do and finding out if there are better ways we can do things. Rightly so, why wouldn’t we want to improve our lives by improving the way we do things?

Today I’m going to talk about goals but more specifically why setting “goals” might be holding back your productivity and stopping you from achieving as much as you would like. As an alternative solution I would like us to consider creating systems and processes.

Think about the times you have set yourself a goal:

Perhaps you told yourself you would start going to the gym in January to lose all the excess christmas weight.

Perhaps you set yourself a goal of being able to code fluently within a year.

Perhaps you set yourself a goal of quitting your job, working for yourself and working on a beach somewhere warm.

Whatever it is, we’ve all been there and set goals for ourselves. I wonder if you wrote a list of all the goals you’ve ever set in your life and compared that list to a list of all the goals you’d ever achieved. How many would be in both lists?

First of all, before we understand why setting goals might not be making the most of ones productivity, let’s look into the reasons people set goals.

“Everybody has their own Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.”

Seth Godin

We’re constantly being reminded if we’re not setting goals for ourselves then we aren’t going to improve, we’re not going to get where we want to be and we won’t achieve the things we want to achieve.

There’s a saying which says if you don’t try to achieve your own dreams, you’ll be hired to help someone else achieve theirs. This is probably the reason why every year at New Years, or every quarter during your business meetings, people think about their life or their business and set themselves goals.

So we’ve established so far that there are two schools of thought. First the people who think goals are effective and regularly set goals for themselves or their company. Second the people who think goals are ineffective. We should also consider the third group of people. There are some people who don’t consider setting goals an issue they need to address in their life.

“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

Jim Rohn

Some people are okay with the way their lives are and don’t wish to seek out any further goals. If you’re one of those people then that’s okay and the advice about setting habits and processes can still be relevant to you. You don’t have to start employing habits and processes in your life that lead to an end goal. In some case you might create habits and goals simply to make your life a little bit easier.

Aubrey Daniels, in his book, Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time And Money, argues that stretch goals are an ineffective management practice.

Let’s think about what happens when we set goals for ourselves or our company. Take this goal for example:

“I want to start going to the gym so I can lose weight and be more healthy”.

This is a goal perhaps a lot of you have considered before and it’s a goal that often falls through. This is one of the reasons gyms offer special offers and discounts in January because they know  this will be people’s goals and they will be willing to pay for the service.

The first thing we need to understand about goals is why we have them. The fact something is a goal means it’s something you don’t already have/can’t already do.

So in the example of our gym membership, we obviously don’t go to the gym already because if we did, it wouldn’t be a goal for us.

The reason most goals don’t work is because they don’t take into account why we don’t already have what we’re aspiring towards and the elements that have been stopping us get there.

What I mean by this is that the reason people stop going to the gym after 2 weeks is often because they get bored, they can’t find the time to go, they find it too difficult. These are the problems you need to tackle and then the gym will follow suit.

For example there are three restrictions we have for going to the gym:

We find it boring – we’re not used to exercise and we don’t automatically see results.

We can’t find the time to go, eventually life gets in the way and we stop going to the gym as we argue we don’t have the time.

We haven’t exercised before and so it’s really hard to do an effective workout as we’re not quite as physically fit as we would like.

These are the reasons why goals don’t work and so in order to make your life more productive and achieve the things you want to achieve you need to break down the goals into processes or habits and achieve those first. Once you’ve done that it’ll be much easier to get to where you want to be.

“All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.”

Orison Swett Marden

If you want to make a change that is real and actually lasts, you need to condition yourself to changing your processes.

One of the problems with goals is it sets you at a lower rung than you’d like to be and frankly, this isn’t good for your mentality. When you set a goal you’re saying to yourself that you will only be good when you achieve the goal. While you’re achieving your goal, you’re effectively failing and this doesn’t end. Once you achieve the goal all you do is simply find a new goal to put in its place.

The thing about goals is they are not scalable. When you achieve one certain goal, you can’t automatically repeat the process for a different goal, because they’re all going to be unique.

This is why we advocate for creating processes and systems that work well for you. When you create a process for yourself, a better way to do something it can become habit. Once you’ve built these processes into habit they become part of who you are and how you work.

They are scalable, you can use it for other things as well.

Goals: Targets we set ourself, normally with no real idea how we can achieve it.

Processes & habits: Small, manageable things we change in our lives that lead to us becoming more productive.

So let’s pretend your goal was to become more productive in the mornings. Instead of saying that, why not look at finer details and work out what processes you would need to change in order to become more productive.

So you set yourself a system and you turn your system into a habit and in result you actually achieve your goal.

Goal: to become more productive in the mornings

Systems & processes that will help you get there:

  1. Eat a healthy breakfast every morning to give the brain energy
  2. Spend less time wondering what to wear
  3. Ignore e-mails and don’t touch phone for the first 30 minutes of waking up
  4. Go for a run in the morning to clear mind

Habits you will form in order to make it easier:

  1. Eat breakfast at the same time every morning whilst catching up on the previous days articles
  2. Choose the next days outfit the night before
  3. Spend the first 30 minutes of waking up meditating and thinking about the day ahead
  4. Leave running shoes by the door

As you can see, these small actionable systems and habits will all lead to you becoming more productive in the mornings, but because you think about it in a different light, the chance of you achieving it increases.

If you make a habit of leaving your outfit for the next day out and ready to put on the night before then in the morning you will spend less time flicking through your wardrobe wondering what you should put on that day, this in turn will already make you more productive in the mornings.

The important thing to learn is you’re already achieving your goal if you’re putting in time to change the way you do things with systems and habits.

Processes can take time to develop, it’s a hard task retraining your brain to work in a certain way, but once you’ve done it, it lasts forever.

The problem with goals is they are so big and it’s disheartening to know that you might not achieve your goal, despite the work you will be putting in. So work out what the processes are stopping you from achieving your goals and work on those first.

Small victories lead to big wins, always.