Transcript of A Systematic Approach to Creating Meaningful Goals
John Jantsch: Everybody loves to set new goals for the New Year. Depending upon when you listen to this show, I have got a very systematic approach, that might help you not only create meaningful goals for the new year, but also break them down into monthly, weekly, and even daily activities.
I talk to one entrepreneur about his systematic approach to doing just that. Check it out.
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Colin Gray. He’s a speaker, teacher, podcaster, and founder of thepodcasthost.com, among other things.
I saw him speak in London this last fall, when I was there speaking at the Youpreneur Summit, the first annual event help by Chris Ducker. Met and really enjoy his talk about goal setting. So I’ve asked him to come on the show and talk about that topic again.
Colin, thanks for joining me.
Colin Gray: Happy to come on, John. Thanks for inviting me.
John Jantsch: We’re recording this at the end of the year. That’s a very traditional time for people to think “Gosh darn it. Next year’s going to be different.” (laughs)
“I’m going to set some goals and I’m going to stick with them.”
Of course, we all know that… I don’t know what the stats are. I bet it’s somewhere in the 90%. They give up within the first couple weeks.
Colin Gray: Yeah.
John Jantsch: Let’s talk a little bit about not just goal setting… I think most people universally accept that it’s a good thing to do, but I don’t think people universally stick with them.
You talked about a process that allowed you to set some goals, but then stick with them. So I’ll let you riff on that.
Colin Gray: Yeah, sure. I think the thing that seems to resonate with people and the talk I did was splitting it up into the four levels. I think that’s really where I found a bit more success with them as well.
I pictured around the bosses that you have to create for yourself. We all kind of aspire to be our own boss, but we never actually act like a boss for ourselves.
Often, it’s a good thing having a boss, because bosses tell us what to do. They direct what we do and they make sure we’re doing things. They also think a bit more strategically. Looking at that big picture and planning it out, and then doing those kind of monthly plans, the weekly plans, and the daily plans that we can stick to.
That seemed to resonate with the people: the fact that, because we’re aspiring to be bosses, we want that flexibility, but that flexibility comes with costs, I suppose. You end up being a bit directionless, and not really knowing where to go.
I quite enjoyed setting up that structure, the four levels of bosses from a yearly plan to a monthly plan to a weekly plan to a daily plan. That seemed to work for people.
John Jantsch: I agree. It’s not only different thinking. There certainly are different to-dos, tasks, whatever projects we want to call them, that go into each other those.
What would be some traditional things, or typical things, that might go on the yearly plan?
Colin Gray: The way that I’ve done yearly plans, long ago, when it wasn’t really working for me, was coming up with a set of random things I wanted to achieve in a coming year. It’d all be related to the business, but there was nothing really linking them together.
I remember, the first couple years, I had something like 10 to 12 goals. For example, get my email list to 5,000 subscribers, get on TV to promote what we do, speak at three different events. They may have related tasks, or they may have related themes, but I never really thought about it that way.
I’ve found that when I had a set of goals that were picked out, they can relate to KPIs, they relate to the business, but they had no relation to each other, I struggled with them. There was nothing to tie them together. It was hard to direct your work because there was so many different goals to go for.
More recently, the thing that I’m doing nowadays is setting themes. So much fewer themes for the year. What I do is I think about, maybe, three or four big themes for the year that I want to achieve.
For me, this year, in 2017, one of my big themes was visibility, visibility for the company.
We were doing well. We were getting a lot of traffic, a lot of attention for the business. But I could see there was a tipping point where, if we got over that tipping point, we’d be up to a next level. So I had a few goals within that one theme. One of which was I wanted to speak at a few events. Another one around our website traffic, to attain a certain level in our website traffic.
I just find that having goals that are in, say, the theme, they relate to each other. It helps me direct my work because it means that I’ve only got four themes that I need to make sure that I am achieving every month.
For me, it’s making sure that you’re taking a step forward, with these goals, every single month. You can take a step forward with 10 goals every single month, but, if you have them in themes, you know that you’re taking a step forward with each of those these each month. Therefore, those goals that are related within those themes, they’re all kind of working with each other.
That helped me direct my goals a lot more, made me feel like I was making more progress. Because of that progress, that helped me stick to those goals and keep working towards them.
John Jantsch: I like that idea, too, because it also offers you some filters. One of the challenges with entrepreneurs is we may be presented with 10 new opportunities a week, of things we could do, and some of them might not be on your goal sheet. But you might say, “You know what? That fits in my theme. I hadn’t thought about that, but that’s going to support my theme.”
Or, vice versa. You’re going to also say, “You know what? I really want to do that. That really sounds fun. I could spend a lot of time doing that. But it doesn’t fit in my theme so I’m going to say no.”
Colin Gray: Absolutely. That’s exactly it, yes.
Your goals are directed by your theme, but you’re not subservient to your goals. You’re not a slave to them. You can alter them and work with them within those themes. As long as you’re working towards those larger themes, then you know you’re growing your business.
John Jantsch: So the monthly theme… I should say the monthly activity sheet, or goals sheet, really is something that’s very fluid. You’re not planning out: “Okay. In March, I’m going to do this. In April, I’m going to do this.”
You wait till April 1, then you’re planning. Right?
Colin Gray: Yeah, yeah. This was the tool that I found that really made the biggest difference to my planning in the last two years. It’s probably something that a lot of your listeners will be familiar with, which is the board pack.
If anyone’s worked in a corporation or really big business, they’ve probably come across a board and a tool that a board uses. The board being your chairman, your CEO, your financial directors, all that kind of thing. They get together every month, and they set the strategy of the business. The set the direction for that month. They make sure you’re going toward your yearly goals.
They way they do that is their board pack. The board pack is quite a short document, just two or three pages, which lists what happened last month. What tasks were we trying to achieve? How well did we do with them? What are we going to do next month? What are the tasks we’re trying to achieve in the coming month?
A few things are in the strategic decisions. That’s things like the challenges that we can see coming up, the opportunities that we can see coming up. Things we have to keep an eye on.
I set up my board pack in January the first time I used it. I had the themes in there. I had my themes in there, and I started setting tasks that I thought would go towards my goals. That’s the key thing: you could set those tasks in there, and every task had to be aligned with one of my goals.
I didn’t have to be going towards each goal every single month, because I had the themes on the board pack. I knew, as long as I was spreading my tasks relatively evenly across the themes, and I was being as clever as I could about going from month to month to month, making sure that it’s aligned each month, because I looked back at the previous board pack before I created the next board pack, that was a big factor in making a lot progress.
I could align stuff much more easily. I know I’m always making progress, in each of those themes, towards the related goals. There’s always a bit of enlightenment from month to month because I’m looking back before I look forward.
That was a big thing for me, that alignment. That was what I’d been missing before. Just going off in random directions at any given time.
John Jantsch: You are essentially doing this activity on your own, right? There’s no team members that you’re doing it with. Is that right?
Colin Gray: No. At the start, I was actually doing it on my own. It does work for one person on their own. But, these days, it’s for our team. We’ve a team of five, in total.
John Jantsch: Do they participate in the process of creating that document?
Colin Gray: Not everyone. But my kind of second in command does, yeah.
Generally, it’s me that creates it. As the director, the CEO, I suppose I’m responsible for creating the board pack, but I’ll meet up with him. At the start of every month, we’ll have our kind of own board meeting, just the two of us.
He’ll give me feedback on it. He’ll see the direction and we’ll talk it through. It’s him that I kind of back and forth with the strategic decisions, the opportunities, the challenges, and get feedback on what I’ve put together.
John Jantsch: How has this changed your daily activity?
I’ve been in business for almost 30 years. I’m pretty sure, every single day, I have made a to-do list for that day.
Colin Gray: (laughs)
John Jantsch: But that list has changed. What goes on there, what doesn’t go on there.
How is your daily planning been impact by the fact that you have a monthly and a weekly plan?
Colin Gray: From the monthly plan I’ve got a set of large tasks. A lot of them, those tasks, will take a few days to complete, like create an automated emails sequence for a particular purpose. It’s something that’s going to take a little while to put together.
Every week, what I do, at the start of the month particularly, just after I create that pack for the coming week, on a Monday morning, I’ll spend a couple of hours. I’ll look through the board pack. I’ll transfer some of those monthly tasks into my week.
I say, “Here’s what I’ve got on this week.”
I’ll take out five or six things, and I’ll put it into… I actually use a Google Doc for this. Really simple. Just a bullet point list of the five or six big tasks I want to bring out in my monthly pack into my weekly schedule. That’s my starting point.
It’s the only way that I’ve found to organize my week and feel in control. It’s having a spreadsheet that aligns every single day. I have a spreadsheet, which has Monday through Friday, left to right. I have slots in that week where I’ve got the regular stuff.
Every Tuesday morning I’ve got email list, so I need to either send out an email to our members or our general newsletter. One Wednesday morning I’ve got blogging, so I need to write a blog post or refresh a blog post or something to do with the blog. On Thursday, podcasting. I’ve got a whole morning to put together a podcast. They’re slots that are in there every single week.
I also have, on that schedule, open deep-work slots. I have at least one every day, at least quarter of a day, but more like half a day. Maybe a four-hour slot. At the start of the week I actually slot these big weekly tasks into one of those slots.
Say that email sequence task that I’ve brought from my board pack. I’ll put that in on Wednesday afternoon, thinking that’s what I’m going to do Wednesday afternoon.
So my days tend to be planned ahead of time. They’re planned on a Monday.
When it gets to Wednesday, all I do is open up that spreadsheet, and I’ll look at what I’ve got on that day.
I said at the time, at the talk, I’m not naïve enough to think that I’ll stick to this every single day. Things come up. Things break. That kind of stuff. But, I think, having this start or plan for the week, and reviewing it each day, just to say “Realistically, is this feasible? Is it still what I need to be doing today?”… Having that to start with, as a starting point, it makes me feels so much more control. It makes me feel like I’ve got this little boss sitting there, telling me what to do, which takes away anxiety, takes a way a lot of the stress. It just makes me achieve a lot more in a day, I think.
John Jantsch: There’s two things that I think trip a lot of people up, even people that do what you’ve done. They’ve planned it down to the minute. Then something takes three times longer than you thought it would.
Colin Gray: (laughs) Yes.
John Jantsch: But you’ve got to finish it because it’s do that day or something. That, number one. Number two: I’m curious how you deal with things that, maybe, support the yearly plan, but they’re kind of moving targets.
An example of that would be your speaking. That’s something you want to do. You get booked for a gig. Then, at some point, you look up and go “Oh. I better make my slides for that.” That became a whole project that just got slotted into that month or that week or whatever.
I’m curious how you deal with those two fluctuation.
Colin Gray: The bigger picture in the speaking, for example: I think this really helps with that stuff a lot. It makes me prioritize a lot more effectively. Suddenly, I see the themes. I see the goals within those themes.
If somebody offers me an opportunity that I know is going to take up time, like speaking… I know that’s going to take up preparation time, slides time, all that kind of stuff. I know I’m going to have to fit this in.
I work on my weekly schedule every week. I work on my board pack every month. I can see what I’ve got to do. It makes me much more cognizant of whether I can fit something in. It also makes me think much more about how aligned an activity is with those goals.
If that speaking opportunity comes up, and it is really aligned, I’ll fit it in and I’ll plan it at least a month or two ahead. It’ll fit into the board pack in that way.
But, because I can see that board pack ahead of time, because I can see those tasks ahead of time, those goals ahead of time, I know that it’s got to put something else back. It makes me prioritize things much more effectively. It makes me value my time a lot more because I can see those activities that I’ve got to move.
I think that applies to the weekly schedule as well, like if something takes twice as long. If I end a day and there’s a slot for… Again, take that example of creating an email sequence. I thought that was going to take four hours. I’m only halfway through after those four hours. I can look at the rest of the week and say “I need another four hours for this. Where am I going to put that?”
I can look at this calendar. I can look at my spreadsheet. I can say, “I’ve got this here, this here, this here.”
It makes me prioritize. I’ve got to get rid of something else to fit this in. Either move it to the next week or get rid of it altogether.
There’s something around that schedule that helps me prioritize, that helps me keep on track. There’s so the simple fact that, putting these together every week, it makes you a lot better at estimating time. You suddenly start doing a lot better at knowing how long something’s going to take you.
There’s a lot of power in that, actually. I think that that’s what leads to a lot of stress. A lot of anxiety for people. You’re not that good. I’m still not brilliant, but I’m a lot better than I used to be about guessing how long something’s going to take. That helps me out a lot. It just makes me a lot calmer when I can estimate quite well.
Having that week schedule in front of me, you can estimate a week’s worth of work really effectively. It just helps me progress much more quickly, I think.
John Jantsch: As your team has grown, it probably helps if everybody’s playing with the same sort of rules.
With small business owners this is probably not the right word, but I’m going to use it anyway: have you mandated that everybody on the team use a similar system?
Colin Gray: I have, yeah. Not mandated. Like you say, it’s not the right word. I show everyone how I do my work. I recommend that they do the same thing. And everyone does a variation of it.
I don’t think that the exact same thing works for every person. Some people are more organized naturally. Some people don’t enjoy working within that. So no, not everybody on my team does the exact same thing. But everybody has a structure within which they work.
They all at least have that regular slots approach that I talked about. Matthew, for example, has a certain date where he does client podcasts every single week, a certain day where he does a blog post every single week.
That’s important to me, that all of my staff at least have those regular slots in their calendar. I feel like that’s a definite massive bonus to having this weekly schedule, the fact that you get those regular things. It makes you prolific with your content.
That’s the minimum. But most of them at least do a little bit of the scheduling that I talk about.
John Jantsch: How do you, as the founder and leader, stop from blowing people’s schedules up?
Colin Gray: (laughs)
John Jantsch: A very, very typical thing is everybody’s working this way. They have their dependencies. Everybody has got their goals for the week. Then you come in and say, “I’ve got this great new idea. We’re going to do this and this and this.”
You throw a grenade in there.
Colin Gray: (laughs)
This stops me doing that so much. You know what it’s like. When you run a company, when you’re an entrepreneur in nature, you have these ideas, these shiny objects that you want to run towards. This stops me doing that so much.
If I have something, a great idea that pops into my head, the first thing I think is: is this great idea aligned with one of my themes?
If it is, that’s great. Keeping thinking about it. Is it aligned with one of my goals?
If it is, great.
If it’s not, then I need to think really, really seriously about whether… Well, no. I don’t. I was about to say [inaudible 00:19:20] your goal, but, actually, I don’t. It doesn’t align with this years goals. So I don’t do it.
If it does align with a goal, I don’t put it in in the next couple of weeks. I put it onto the next section of my board packs. When it comes to the start of the following month, I got through and I do my month board pack planning, and it’s sitting there in the next section. I’m then in that strategic frame of mind. I’m in that planning frame of mind, planning ahead the big picture, the strategic mind, whereby I can sit and think, dispassionately: “Is this really a good idea?”
I’m brought away from that overenthusiastic, “jump at every shiny thing” state of mind, so that I can really think logically about whether it’s a good idea to put it in there.
I find that this stops me doing that so much, ruining my schedule and ruining my whole teams schedule. It brings you out of it and makes you really think about whether it’s worth it.
John Jantsch: We have spent most of our time today talking about your process, but people are probably wondering what type of business do you apply of this to?
Colin Gray: (laughs)
I run a podcasting business. I get to be talking on a podcast.
We help people to start their own show through thepodcasthost.com. That’s the website I’ve run for the last six years now.
We do blogs. We do podcasts. We do a lot of video as well. We’ve got a coaching academy. We’re developing software on podcasting too. It’s exciting stuff. Really enjoy it. Creating our own shows as well as helping other people start their own.
John Jantsch: I think, when we were in London, you shared some documents or templates or starters for some of these tools. Is that something that you would share with our audience? Or could share with our audience?
Colin Gray: Yeah, absolutely. Happy to send them to that same starter page that I gave out at the conference. You can find it over at thepodcasthost.com/youp. For Youpreneur.
John Jantsch: We’ll have that in the show notes as well.
Colin, thanks for joining us and sharing your… I think these systems entrepreneurs share are so valuable because they typically have been wrestled with and tested and tweaked. Obviously, everybody’s going to make it their own, but this is the kind of stuff you really can’t find in an MBA book or class or something. So I appreciate you sharing.
Colin Gray: Happy to. Happy to. Like you say, it won’t all suit everyone.
I think the thing that really excited me at Youpreneur was the fact that people were picking out the bits that really caught their imagination. They were using either the weekly plan or the daily plan or the board pack. The themes.
It was one bit that would help people go a little bit faster. That’s great. That’s job done.
John Jantsch: Colin, thanks so much. If I don’t see you before that, maybe we’ll see you again in London.
Colin Gray: Indeed. Talk to you then.