TIME Goals: a Scientific Approach to Success

A guide to making progress towards the things you care about and learning about yourself as you go

This is Part 1 of a series of about creating and accomplishing goals. Check out Part 2: The TIME-entific Method: A New System for Accomplishing Your Long-Term Goals

TIME goals — an improved key to success!

Creating goals can be an effective way to accomplish success as an individual or a group. However, not all goals are created equal and bad goals can plague us with anxiety and failure. Instead of helping us succeed, some goals can become demotivating reminders that we aren’t accomplishing something we care about.

If you’ve ever made a personal goal to lose weight, quit a bad habit, or find a new job, you know how frustrating it can be to have something hanging over you that seems difficult or impossible to finish (if you even get started). The lack of success here is not symptomatic of your competence or how much you care, but simply the result of having problematic goals that aren’t helping you and may even be working against you. So, how can we create goals that help us get closer to where we ultimately want to be?

TIME Goals

Some of the big factors that make our personal goals counterproductive are the temptation to call out large, generalized outcomes that are hard to measure progress toward. Goals like “learn a new skill” or “start traveling more” are the result of us picturing a result that we want without defining how we can get there. This makes it difficult or impossible to know if we’re getting closer, or obtaining any sense of accomplishment while we try to get there.

TIME goals allow us to make small, realistic checkpoints. We can use these checkpoints to work toward something larger, enjoy a sense of accomplishment as we make progress, reflect on how we’re doing, and determine if we need to adjust course. TIME goals ensure that even if we don’t accomplish the stated goal, we still learn and have the opportunity to improve and create a better, more realistic goal next time.

TIME is an acronym for time-bound, incremental, measurable, and experimental. If you work to make sure each of your goals has these traits, I’m confident you’ll see positive results quickly which will immediately increase the likelihood of long-term success in any aspect of your life!

Time Bound

Ensure the goal has a fixed amount of time, after which you reflect on the outcome.

Each TIME goal should have a set period of time before you say it either was accomplished or not. This ensures you have the opportunity to reflect, learn, and adjust accordingly. This is also the “T” in SMART goal.

Goal: Help out around the house.

TIME Goal: At least once this weekend, ask what I can do for an hour around the house to be help.

Incremental

Ensure the goal is as small as possible and builds off of what you learned previously.

Each TIME goal should feel easy to accomplish and be a continuation of what you’ve already accomplished. If you’re starting toward a new, long-term objective, the TIME goal should be the smallest possible increment to get started. If you accomplished a previous goal, the next TIME goal should build off the progress and momentum so far. If you didn’t accomplish a previous goal, the next TIME goal should be different than the previous one and leverage what you learned from the previous goal.

Goal: Meet with Alice.

TIME Goal: By tomorrow, book a morning meeting on Alice’s calendar to meet with her before she leaves for her conference next week.

Measurable

Ensure the goal has a clear method for determining whether it was accomplished or not; ideally this would be a metric or number.

Each TIME goal needs a clear way to determine whether the goal was accomplished or not — no gray area! This, along with being time-bound, ensures you can clearly and honestly evaluate whether you’ve made progress or whether you need to make an adjustment. This is also the “M” in SMART goals.

Goal: Exercise more.

TIME Goal: This week, run at least one mile on the treadmill at the gym.

Experimental

Ensure the goal is exploratory or something you’ll have a chance to learn from.

Each TIME goal should be a chance to learn something new, push yourself outside of your normal behavior, or simply try something different to see what happens. The path to your biggest aspirations contains opportunities to learn and improve, so by leveraging an experimental TIME goal, you’ll learn something about yourself whether you accomplish the goal or not. As you experiment, you just might find a different path to your objective.

Goal: Email the status update to the team tomorrow

TIME Goal: By end-of-day today, ask Bob and Christina if they’d like to handle updating the team on our status for tomorrow

Why are TIME Goals Effective?

I’ve observed at least 3 tendencies we have as humans that can hinder our ability to be successful and how TIME goals counteract them:

1) We tend to ignore our accomplishments and underestimate the positive impact even the smallest sense of success can have on our ability to be successful moving forward.

I highly recommend this TED Talk by Shawn Achor about the power that positivity and happiness can have on our success. In it, Mr. Achor describes how we have a tendency to create goals and then move the goal posts as soon as we get there. If our goal is to make more sales, we will quickly have another goal to make even more sales.

Since we generally subscribe to the notion of “once I’m successful, I’ll be happy”, when we keep moving the finish line, we’re essentially “pushing happiness beyond the cognitive horizon”. When we make long-term goals that take a while to accomplish, and as soon as we get there make even bigger goals, we aren’t appreciating and reflecting on out successes along the way.

Because TIME goals are small and measurable, we find out whether we accomplish them quickly and often. Because TIME goals are experimental, they force us to try things out that we’ll then need to learn from before we move forward. Because TIME goals are incremental, we’re forced to reflect on what we’ve done on the past to build the next set of goals, regardless of whether we accomplish the goal or not.

This repeated process of reflecting, learning, and adapting allows us to constantly observe our progress. It also creates a record of accomplishments we can reflect back on and appreciate (all our previous TIME goals). Further, even if we don’t accomplish a goal, we’ll know that quickly and we can internalize why we didn’t accomplish the goal. This allows us to turn failures into lessons that lead to a better goal next time, instead of feeling ashamed or like a failure.

2) We tend to want our stated goals to be large, impressive outcomes rather than small, realistic checkpoints

There are many contributing factors to why we all feel pressure to create large, impressive goals. The reality is that goals like “losing 20 pounds” or “purchasing a home” will generally be more appealing and exciting than goals like “take the stairs once this week” or “only eat out 5 times this month”. Especially when it comes to discussing goals with friends or family, the bigger the goal the better.

TIME goals force us to think smaller and more specifically around finding accomplishable, incremental progress. It’s not as exciting, however it is significantly more effective.

3) We tend to underestimate the negative, internal impact of not making clear progress toward our stated goals

Beyond the positives we miss out on when we deny ourselves a sense of accomplishment, there’s also the anxiety, stress, and shame we go through when we aren’t making progress toward the often unrealistic goals we create.

When we call out a goal like “purchase a home” or “get promoted”, we’re putting a huge outcome out there that we don’t fully understand the gravity of. These can be very binary outcomes that may take an immense amount of work to accomplish. As the weeks or months pass, if we’re reminded of that goal, it can turn into stress or anxiety which can then have a negative impact on other parts of our life. This can have a snowball effect of negativity, making the bigger goal even harder to reach.

This is how poorly-stated goals can turn into a head wind that prevents us from accomplishing what we want, and also give us a negative feeling toward goals in general.

Long-Term Goals

TIME goals are clearly great when they’re small and iterative. However, what about the bigger objectives we have that may take months or years to accomplish? What about goals like purchasing a home, getting promoted at work, running a triathlon, getting your degree, or traveling outside the country?

Even with long-term goals, it’s best to challenge yourself to word them as TIME goals. The same benefits apply whether the goal will take 1 day or 1 decade. However, if you do have long-term goals, you’ll want to make sure you’re creating smaller TIME goals regularly to track progress toward them.

I will talk more about defining long-term TIME Goals and subsequent, smaller TIME goals in another post.

TIME Goals vs SMART Goals

I’ve refined the idea of TIME goals as an evolution and iteration upon the concept of SMART goals. A goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound is a “SMART” goal. There’s an immense amount of information about SMART goals that you can find quickly with a google search.

The concept of SMART goals had a lasting impact on my life and career as a leader, mentor, and coach for others. Over time, as I used SMART goals more and more with the people I was mentoring, and they used them with the people they were mentoring, I learned some of the key points and limitations of SMART goals. I also was able to experiment with some other ideas that ultimately lead to the idea of TIME goals.

I’m happy to speak more to how I evolved TIME goals from SMART goals should anyone be interested.

TIME Goals for Life!

So yeah, TIME goals are awesome and have had a huge impact on myself and the people I’ve had the opportunity to mentor and coach. That certainly doesn’t mean they can’t improve, especially since they are the result of improving upon the idea of SMART goals.

Hopefully they can help you in some aspect of your life, and if you give them a shot and find even more ways to improve them, please let me know!

Happy goal creating!

This is Part 1 of a series of about creating and accomplishing goals. Check out Part 2: The TIME-entific Method: A New System for Accomplishing Your Long-Term Goals

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