Goal Setting Field Guide - an a 4 letter idea to build better goals

Goal Setting Field Guide - an a 4 letter idea to build better goals

Goal setting is a very annual thing for me. I do the annual review in mid-December, then I do goal setting between Christmas and New Year.

I use this same process whether setting personal or work goals, only the frame of reference changes – more on that in a minute.

I will also share my own goals for this year. Last year I did this same process and many of you got in touch to say how helpful it was.

I would also like to thank the very many of you who responded regarding my annual review. It was so nice to hear such nice comments, great advice on dealing with my health and well wishing support. Thank you so much. Warms my heart.

Goal Setting Basics

Let’s start with the basics and hat tip to manager-tools.com who said that SMART goals are stupid – and I agree. They recommend only using the measurable and timebound parts of SMART – that’s what I do also, plus my own hacks.

I don’t set OKRs, Hairy Goals, objectives or anything else. Just goals. Pure and simple. Goal setting simplicity.

I have a video of the process here – read on for more detail and my actual goals.

And every single one of my goals is MTNO.

M = Measurable.
T = Time Bound.
NO = No Outcome.
Let’s unpack this.


All goals should be measurable. They are either done or not.

You may need to break the goal down over a time period that makes sense and measure that each day/week/month to see if you’re on track, or it could be a single goal that is either done or not.

If your goal is not measurable how will you know when it is complete?

It will keep going forever if you have no way of measuring it. Plus, when you measure something you pay attention to it – you manage it. Same at work, same in our own life. If you’ve tracked your daily calories you’ve seen this in action. The more you track, the more mindful you are.


All goals should be time bound, otherwise they will keep going forever and you will have no sense of urgency. The time frame you apply needs to make sense otherwise you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. If the completion date is not realistic you’ll likely get frustrated and rush. All of my goals are time bound. They are also measurable. And once you have both, you have a way of tracking progress.

No Outcome

All of my goals have NO OUTCOME that I cannot control. I have no targets or outcomes that I cannot control. For example, I have a sub-goal to publish 25 videos on the channel over the course of the year. It is not a goal to get 2000 subscribers or 25k hits per video. I cannot control the number of subscribers nor the hits per video, but I can control my energy and attention towards making the videos.

My job, as I see it, is to do the work and let the world decide. If I focus on the measures of views etc, I will start producing videos to play to the way YouTube promotes videos, not create the videos I want to. I will also obsess over something I cannot control.

This is hard in the modern workplace as people are obsessed with targets but when you dig into these targets they are often made up with no scientific evidence, or someone thought they sounded good on paper.

James Clear did a good piece on setting goals then focusing on the system to bring them to life. If you do the work and fix the system – you get good outcomes. When you focus on the outcomes and targets you tend to morph the system or you’re disappointed when something out of your control doesn’t come to life.

Pillars as a reference

It will come as no surprise to hear that I use the pillars of life as my reference point for personal goals. Whatever pillars are used in your company could be a good frame for work goals.

A reminder of the pillars of life:

  • Education and personal development
  • Health
  • Family
  • Finances and money
  • Impact on society
  • Productivity and effectiveness

I start with a page of yellow legal pad (my notebook of choice) and a decent pen. I then list each pillar and list some goals and ideas for each one. I don’t worry about the outcomes, process, measures or anything – that comes later. Just brain dump.

After doing this process I ended up with 50 goals – way too many. I then process them by really looking at what is important and whittling away until I get to the core.

One thing to note – when I do this, many of the goals I list are merely deliverables towards a bigger goal.

For example, I listed:

  • Improve SEO on website by updating old posts
  • Turn on paid newsletters
  • Publish 25 videos on YouTube

Each of these are sub-goals for something bigger – and that goal is to double-down on Cultivated Management and increase the publishing reach, value and income.

I could list each of these three examples as distinct goals, or as I choose to, I have them as sub-goals.

I aim to have around 2-3 goals or subgoals per pillar. Some are more important than others – and that is indicated in ToDoist (we’ll get to that in a minute) using the priority flag.

Only you will know which goals are important for your life. The retrospective and annual review is the important pre-step, as it shows me where I have imbalance, hence where to focus this year.


I then went through each goal and removed any that were wishes (not measurable), any goals that were unachievable and any goals that weren’t that important to me on reflection.

I was left with around 25 goals (including subgoals). For some people this is too many but this plays to my work ethic and system of work. Some of these goals are long term and huge. Some are small and simple. I need to see progress quite clearly so I have a mix – you will be different so play to what feels right for you.


Now I have my goals listed I add them to ToDoist. This is where James Clear’s advice for systematizing the delivery of goals comes to life. I can add measures, dates and routines to ToDoist.

Then, all I have to do is follow the plan in ToDoist – review it monthly – and adjust as I go. If I fall in love with the process – I will get some outcomes. Maybe not the ones I dream about but something will happen – I can then learn from that. And I can close out goals that are all measurable and in my control.

Here’s ToDoist:

I have structured ToDoist per month in a kanban model, with each column a month of the year.

I can then plot each of the activities relating to a goal across the year. This prevents overwhelm from simply having a big list of things – and it allows me to see the spread of goals to ensure some semblance of managing that tension.

I do front load goals – I try to get momentum in Jan / Feb so that I can get projects started and get over the initial hump. This idea works well in the workplace too – before the drama, complexity and natural drop of energy kicks in.

The goals themselves are all listed in the first left hand column. Each goal has the reason why I am doing it, why it’s important, how it is measured and when it needs to be done. The goal setting activity turned into a visual view of these goals.

I assign a unique label to each goal so that each activity and process in the monthly columns can be tied back to a goal. I have blurred some of the more personal goals and activities. I share a lot with you but I have some limits

Each of the activities and sub-goals listed in the monthly columns has dates assigned. Some are static dates for when things must be done. Some have recurring dates, such as completing the Work Out of The Day on the ski machine – this happens every day.

ToDoist keeps the history so I can see my completion rate. Incomplete tasks roll over and remain incomplete until I tick the box to say I’ve done it. I can even see on recurring tasks which days I have missed.

I can store notes and comments alongside the tasks also. And even when I complete a task/goal in ToDoist, I can view those completed tasks in their original place – so I can see the history of what got done when.

Goal Setting – My Goals for 2023

Reset my health in Q1.

ToDoist actually needs updating as I am doing the walking in Jan and skiing in Feb – I shall amend that.

Meditation, journaling, eating clean – all activities that feed into this goal.

No alcohol, no gluten, no dairy for Jan

My overall goal measure is non-scientific – am I feeling better after all of this? I see no harm at all in having non-numerical measures.

I have a measure of all “Work Out Of The Days” completed and 10k steps per day walked for those two sub-goals.

I will also track my daily eating, weight, miles walked etc but these are to support the overall goal – do I feel better?

Get the house started / finished

We are building an extension and we need to get it going – lots of tasks and mini-goals in here.

This will consume a lot of my year and hence the priority goal is No1 – fix my health. I need to be healthier to support my family through this big challenge.

Can I turn Cultivated Management into a publishing business?

I have no idea but I have a lot of sub-goals here to try.

SEO, newsletters, more videos, podcasts, audio snippets, books etc are all in here.

This master goal has some measures which I won’t be sharing with you but all of the subtasks are due this year and should feed into this master set of measures.

I see this one as an experimental goal. I have given myself two years to try and grow the business – then I’ll pivot, continue or quit

Focus on my learning.

I have just two learning goals this year and I will be spending 6 months on each.

I found myself not learning anything deeply as I was switching from subject to subject – not this year.

Goal 1 is to learn letter writing and calligraphy

Goal 2 is to learn model making

Continue Stationery Freaks

Stationery Freaks is a passion project but I have some core measures for this year.

Podcast frequency, No of guests etc, No. of newsletters

These will all influence the numbers around this project but it’s a passion and fun project – and when we stop having fun we’ll need to re-assess whether this needs pivoting or turning into a more serious venture. Let’s see.

Publish a photo book of Winchester.

I’ve always wanted to do this – so this is the year. I have tasks to take photos throughout the year to capture the city in different seasons.

In November I will build the book for a December release.

A long burn and it simply needs small steps throughout the year to bring it to life.

No measures around sales or distribution – I can’t control that.

Financial Goals

I have a couple of financial goals also but I have not included them in this screen shot as they are personal. And yes, the Take a Day Off book is a subgoal and it WILL get done.

Summing Up

I have 9 main goals and around 16 sub-goals for the year.

Now I simply have to follow the plan, the schedule and bring my energy and attention to the work, routines and plans I’ve laid out. Slow and steady, day by day, little by little and let the results take care of themselves.

The good thing about using ToDoist is I can quickly add new tasks and assign them to the main goal. This allows me to filter on all activities and tasks that need to be done to bring the goal to life.

This plan will change, life will throw some curveballs, new projects will vie for attention and motivation will wane. But, I have a plan and it feels sustainable. It feels right and if I deliver even half of what I have planned, I will be a better person because of it and other people will benefit from this.

This is the process I have used for years and it works (at least for me) – set the goals, ditch targets (if you can at work) and focus on the routines, habits, behaviours and discipline – the results are often more staggering than you could ever have codified as a target.

I hope this has been helpful. Reach out via email with any questions or clarifications if you have any.

I will be turning on paid newsletters in the next week or so – and will drop you a special email outlining what this means, how to subscribe, how to convince your boss to pay for it and more!

Have a cracking start to your New Year and I’m grateful and thankful to share the coming year with you.

Take care