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Are your goals really helping you?

At the start of 2008 I made a new years resolution to read more. I set the goal at 36 books a year, with the allowance of being able to miss the 3 books a month target as long as I made up for it in other months.

The first year I managed 33 books. Despite being a few books short I still considered it a big win as I had managed to read a lot more than usual. The following year I read 39. The next 37. Then 37. 36. 41. 46. 42.

Then last year I only read 27.

I had hit the goal consistently for 7 years, but then I started to stop reading. I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. I had read all the books that I was desperate to read and was then just reading other books for the sake of hitting my target.

I had lost sight of the real reason why I wanted to read more books in the first place, and was now just reading them to hit a meaningless target.

This happens a lot with imposed targets. People will find the easiest path to reaching the goal and this then bypasses the reason why the targets were setup in the first place.

You go from a target of responding to customers within 2 hours to an auto email response. Bringing the response time down to less than a minute, but extending the ticket completion time to days.

From a target of talking to 20 leads, to a bulk spam email of random people you found on twitter. You have the initial aim to reach out strong potential matches and cultivate meaningful contacts. But then you realize this is hard work, you miss a target and get warned by your boss to work harder. You then see that you can play the system by just contacting the first people you find, despite not being a good match. Now you end up hitting your weekly target within half a day, but you get nowhere as the leads are junk.

So next time you set or review a goal, think about what you really want to achieve and make sure the target is taking you in the right direction.

—jw