Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Want to Kill It in 2014? Use the Rule of 3 Things.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I know, articles called "How to [fill in the blank] in [fill in the year]" are usually just useless generic fluff. Besides, New Year's resolutions are dumb. All they end up doing is making you feel guilty later.

All true. Which is why I don't subscribe to that nonsense. But after more years as a corporate executive than I care to think about and 10 more running my own business, I've learned that if you don't set goals, you never reach them. If you don't figure out what has to change, nothing ever does.

There's a simple reason why every successful company, big or small, has something akin to an annual planning cycle. Because, if you don't put a stake in the ground and force yourself to look in the mirror and see where you are, determine where you want to go, and plot a course from one to the other, it never happens.

Related: How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy

That said, I've seen plenty of individuals and companies go overboard by setting one big crazy goal that's simply unachievable or coming up with laundry lists that are too long and not impactful enough. That's why I use the Rule of 3 Things. It's great for small businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals because it's simple, easy and flexible.

More importantly, it works.

The simplest way to use the Rule of 3 Things is to set three goals for the upcoming year. Not two, not five - three. Not crazy, ridiculous, over-the-top goals where the odds are slim-to-none that they'll happen and definitely not easy no-brainers, either. Just the three most important things you need to do to have a successful year.

If you run a consulting firm, for example, your goals might be: 1) implement a marketing / business development program that actually works (and measure its effectiveness); 2) land at least one quality new client every quarter, and 3) make every client a potential repeat customer by exceeding their expectations.

Simple and straightforward, right?

Related: Need Inspiration? Here Are 9 Ways to Find It

Now here's how to use the Rule of 3 Things when things aren't going so well for you or your business. First take a good hard look in the mirror, be honest with yourself, and list three key insights about your current situation. Then come up with three things that need to change to turn things around and three ways you're going to make them happen.

For example, let's say you want to become an entrepreneur and strike out on your own but you've got a pile of bills, can't quit your day job and can't seem to get out of the starting gate. After some soul searching, you realize that you 1) are terrified of failing; 2) haven't a clue how to get started, and 3) have too many things going on anyway.

The three things you decide that need to change are 1) get out of debt and save some money so you have a safety net; 2) come up with a solid plan for your own gig, and 3) quit wasting so much time on BS that doesn't matter. Moreover, you realize you have to bite the bullet and delay your dream for a while until you can get your situation under control.

To accomplish those three things, you plan to 1) find a new job at a better company with more opportunity to move up and learn how business works; 2) join a local entrepreneurial group or attend some networking events, and 3) spend at least 50 hours a week, every week, working and improving your chances for the future. That means really working, not just screwing around online.

On the flip side, if things are going great for you, you might want to capture three things you're doing right, imagine three things that can derail your success, and come up with three ways to reinforce the former while creating barriers for the latter.

Get the point? Try it. It really works.

I'm going to do it for my business while I'm off next week - probably with a glass or two (or, in the spirit of this column, three) of some eggnog and dark rum. No kidding.

Related: The Best (And Only) Tips You Need for the Office Holiday Party


Entrepreneur Editors' Picks