New Year’s resolutions are the worst – probably why so many people give up on them as little as one week in.
They’re not just useless in your personal life, either! (Although our Ab Lounge turns out to be a halfway decent beach chair, so one person’s broken resolution turns out to be another one’s opportunity.)
Making New Year’s resolutions can be a terrible move for your business, too.
On the one hand, it’s useful to have certain benchmarks in mind as you look ahead to the new year. Maybe you want to grow your audience by a certain amount, or hit a certain number of sales.
On the other hand, though, thinking about these things on a yearlong scale isn’t necessarily useful – so looking at the year ahead as one big, long timeline can throw you off before you make it so far as Groundhog Day.
Running a business is unpredictable – your wants and needs change often, and quickly, and resolutions you make now might not be relevant for long. In fact, no matter how much you resolve now, you’ll probably spend a lot of the year making decisions on the fly.
You should still set goals – you just need a more productive way to do it.
So how do you plan for the year ahead without biting off more than you can chew?
At least, don’t think just about what you want out of 2016 – not the whole year, anyway.
Instead, think about what you want out of each quarter. That means for now, you’re just going to focus on what you can do between this moment and the end of March.
What do you want to accomplish in three months? And perhaps even more importantly, what can you accomplish in three months?
Planning ahead encourages you to be ambitious, but limiting your time frame forces you to be realistic – and a lot of the time, it’s the latter that gets in the way more than the former. (It’s great that you have such big plans, but it takes a little chill to make ‘em happen.)
Think of what you want to do in two ways: your goals, and your tasks.
A goal is the endpoint – the Thing You Want To Make Happen. A task, on the other hand, is a Thing You Need To Do.
Starting with a goal allows you to reverse-engineer it – you can figure out the tasks you need to complete to get there, and determine whether or not it’s realistic.
So while a goal might be something like, “Gain 1000 new newsletter subscribers,” you have to break it down into tasks, like “Implement a new signup form on my website,” or “Create better incentives to encourage people to sign up.”
If you think of your upcoming quarter as a road trip, your goal is the destination, and each task is a turn you have to make along the way. Without the goal, you don’t know if anything you’re doing is leading you in the right direction – and without completing tasks, you can’t get where you want to go. You need both to make plans that are equal parts ambitious and realistic.
Of course, even with clear, concrete goals and a game plan of actionable tasks that should lead you straight to them, there’s something else to keep in mind:
Sometimes we fail.
You’re going to make plans that don’t work out! Better to accept it now, so you’re better prepared for when those times come.
This is why that Samuel Beckett quote about “fail better” is so dang popular – cliche as it may be, there’s wisdom in accepting that not everything we try is destined to succeed, and in becoming better at improving ourselves despite our inevitable shortcomings.
Short-term goals make it easier to fail better.
We live by the rule of doing what works and ditching what doesn’t, and in some cases, it doesn’t take that long to tell which of those categories your efforts are falling under.
While you could dedicate the better part of a year to a strategy that just isn’t working, why make that the hill you die on? As a business, you don’t get points for persevering when you know that what you’re doing just isn’t right.
Quarterly goals give you the freedom to course-correct. To assess and adjust. To pivot, as it were.
Allowing yourself to fail quickly and regroup is a liberating experience, so don’t think of your goals and plans as things that are set in stone.
Write them down, but treat that roadmap as a living document that you can amend as needed. You should always look ahead, but measure your success in how well you adapt to changing circumstances, not how strictly you adhere to a plan you created long ago.
If you’re planning for the year ahead three months at a time, what do you want to accomplish in your first quarter? What’s your ambitious goal that you can achieve by the end of March? Let us know in the comments below!