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10 goal-setting tips for project managers

Michelle LaBrosse
October 24, 2012

Project managers are always thinking of the goals of their project when they should also consider their personal aims.

Imagine yourself at the starting line, stretching and flexing and making sure that your shoes are tied tight and that your winning bib number is securely fastened. This is you, at the gate, achieving your wildest dreams. As the starting gun sounds, you sprint into action, with every muscle in your being toned and prepared to get you to your end goal. As you race across the finish line, the crowd, full of your friends and family, go wild, yelling your name and congratulating you for your race of a lifetime.

Now, come back to reality. How did that scenario make you feel? You just completed an amazing accomplishment with the support of friends and family; an accomplishment you were so passionate about that it compelled you to perform at your very best. Now imagine if every goal you went after ended this way. It can happen when you pursue your goals vigorously and passionately. Here are 10 ways to help you sprint towards your goals:

1. Make sure your goals are SMART
You have a big, hairy, audacious goal—that is fantastic. Now how will you know when you’ve reached that goal? When making a goal, ensure that it’s SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. When your goal is measurable, you can be held accountable for your goal, and will be more likely to achieve it.

2. Don’t limit yourself with limiting beliefs
What are your limiting beliefs? If you’ve ever thought to yourself: “I’m unlucky” or “I’m not the running type” or “I’m a bad negotiator”, these are limiting beliefs, and they just aren’t true. Take a moment to take inventory of any limiting beliefs that may be holding you back from going after your goals. When you get rid of your limiting beliefs, you get rid of your limits.

3. Visualise your goal
Just as you visualised finishing the sprint just a few minutes ago—practice visualising how you will feel when you have accomplished your goal. See it in your mind: that is, see yourself achieving the dream, whatever it is. Like passing the PMP exam, or having happy children, a very successful career, your dream house, a very in-shape body—whatever your dream is. Think and feel how awesome it is you achieved your dream for a few seconds… (1,2,3)… Amazing right?

4. Take small steps
One of the biggest things that can stop us in our tracks is when the enormity of our goal paralyses us. To prevent that, break your goal down into bite-size deliverables that can be accomplished every week, and decide when and where you will make time to accomplish that weekly goal.

5. Make the time
When is the last time that you sat down and focused on your goal, and only your goal, for 30 minutes straight without interruption? This is called timeboxing. Like a sprint, timeboxing will help you cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. Set a timebox for yourself today, and sprint towards your goal.

6. Write it down
You write out your grocery list, your ‘to do’ list, your guest list—what about your GOAL list? According to a study by Virginia Tech professor Dave Kohl,people who regularly write down their goals earn nine times as much over their lifetime as people who don’t. What goals can you put on your goal list today?

7. Learn to say NO
Say it with me: “NO!” Now get used to saying this word over and over again. Why is the word ‘no’ so important? If you always say ‘yes’ when asked to do something, you are giving away your time, your resources, and your talents. Say ‘no’ in order to create the time and space you need to go for your goals.

8. Get psyched
Napoleon Hill, in his book Think and Grow Rich, wrote: “The starting point of all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desires bring weak results, just as a small amount of fire makes a small amount of heat.” What goal ignites your desire? What gets you over-the-top psyched? Get that feeling towards achieving your goals and watch how fast you can turn your dreams into reality.

9. Get in the driver’s seat
YOU are the driving force in reaching your goals. While others can help you, no one can do it for you. This means that you cannot live in your circle of concern and worry about what you can’t control and how that is preventing you from achieving your dreams. Focus on what you CAN control, and steer yourself in the direction that you need to go to successfully complete your goal. No one will do it for you—embrace the driving force inside you so you can race towards your goal today.

10. Today is the day
A wise Chinese Proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.” Do you have a tree you’ve been meaning to plant, but stop yourself because you are ‘too late’? The power of the present should not be underrated. Plant your tree today and watch your dreams grow, and do it TODAY.

We hope you are excited as we are about you racing towards your goals today. On your mark, get set, GO!

With co-author Kristen Medina

Michelle LaBrosse
Michelle LaBrosse (PMP) is one of the Project Management Institute's (PMI) 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the World and the founder of Cheetah Learning, a former PMI Professional Development Provider of the Year. She boasts a background in engineering and is a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Owner President Managers (OPM) program, as well as a prolific writer and educator, having authored Cheetah Negotiations, Cheetah Project Management, Cheetah Know How and Cheetah Exam Prep as well as numerous articles in publications worldwide.
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