Happy New Year! Now Set Some Goals!

As the new year begins, now's the best time to review your progress and decide what you want to accomplish in 2004.
This story appears in the January 2004 issue of Startups. Subscribe »
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As the sparkling cider bubbles, all you savvy young entrepreneurs out there should be sneaking off to your desks to write down this year's lofty goals-either personal or business-that would result in a celebration if you achieved them in the new year. So as soon as possible after the clock strikes midnight, take 15 minutes to think deeply and reflect on 2003. In what ways did you grow as an entrepreneur? What drawbacks in your character, work ethic, presentation style and so on prevented you from reaching that next level? You should think about these questions as you focus your attention on your next big goals.

We all talk about our goals, but rarely do we take time to think about them in any sort of structured way-let alone write them down. Study after study has shown that setting clear, actionable, stretch goals increases your ability to attain them. In addition, writing down your goals and occasionally reviewing them also increases the probability that you'll fulfill them, because when you write something down, you signal to your brain that it's important.

And you can do all you want during the day to reach your goals, but the true breakthroughs come at night during sleep. Let me explain. Let's say you set a goal of doubling the number of sales you have from 10 to 20. During the day, you'll actively and consciously work toward doubling your sales. And you'll surely make progress. But if you write down that goal and review it every week, your brain will think about it and work at it even when you're sleeping.

Of course, the challenging part is often creating the goals in the first place, not the process of writing them down. Management books tout "stretch goals" as the key. Conversely, these books also implore you to not set goals that are too much of a stretch, that is, goals that are so far fetched that you may easily become demoralized when you realize they're unattainable. What you have to do is find the middle ground: tough, aim-high goals, but ones that are neither too tough nor too high. After all, you need successes to keep you going, and aiming too high means you won't get that. Only you will know where the appropriate middle ground is.

Perhaps you've heard star athletes remark that they dreamt of being professional athletes ever since they were kids. For some, this style of goal making (working at it your whole life, knowing it may never happen) works. Others prefer more bite-sized goals that involve shorter time frames and are more actionable.

I recommend a hybrid. For the new year, think of three big goals you'd like to achieve this year. Then, within each goal, set mini-goals or objectives for yourself so you can easily monitor your progress. By setting these mini-goals, even if you don't attain your new year's vision, you can still feel satisfied that you've accomplished a percent of the mission.

Now go out and do it! And happy New Year!

Fifteen-year-old Ben Casnocha is founder and chairman of Comcate Inc., a San Francisco firm focused on providing technology solutions for local governments. His work has been profiled in more than 50 magazines, newspapers, radio stations, TV outlets and Web sites nationwide. He was recently named #6 among "The 25 Who Are Changing the World of Internet and Politics." Got something to squawk about? Write to Casnocha at ben@comcate.com.

Edition: October 2016

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