Setting goals for 2014? Here’s some help

A new year already? For job seekers and anyone frustrated on their career path, it might be a welcome relief to turn the page on 2013 and start fresh. Symbolically, if not literally, the new year signals new beginnings.

In our achievement-driven culture, Jan. 1 also reminds us to set goals and resolutions for the year to come. I’m not wild about resolutions, but I’m all over the goal-setting part.

Over the years, I’ve discovered some things about goal-setting that might be helpful to others. Here are a few thoughts to consider as you welcome the new year with a new goal list.

Last year's unmet goals. If you've been setting New Year's goals for a while, you know that it's natural to start by looking over last year's list. It might be a product of reaching middle age and realizing that time is finite, but I've made a shift lately when I conduct this step. Now I peruse the list and ask myself, "Which of these can I just do? Right now, this minute."

It’s crazy, but my list is frequently populated with things that I could have done almost immediately after writing them down. Reconnecting with an old friend, throwing out the boxes labeled “Toss after 2005” — you get the idea.

Now I set aside part of Dec. 31 to powerhouse through the tidbits on the previous list, allowing me to face a Jan. 1 goal-setting process feeling less encumbered.

But of course, some goals are too big or too sloppy for that treatment. And some probably should be dropped. Every year, I find that my list contains goals that I thought I should meet, but which I apparently had no interest in reaching.

So part of the goal-setting process for me is about pruning. I pare away the shoulds to find the real commitments I’m willing to make.

Thematic goals. For a while, I tried to set my goals by using personal growth categories. This was during a period when I felt I was not pushing myself enough outside my work life. I was also concerned that I wasn't focused enough on making lasting changes. So I chose only four categories, with one item in each. The categories were: learn, save, balance, connect. My extra credit category was "risk," as in: try something a little scary.

This worked pretty well for a while, but the process wasn’t foolproof.

Work and personal goals. These days, my life doesn't sort into categories as neatly as it used to, and I'm also feeling the tug of time. There are things that I want to do that need to be planned and strategized if they're going to happen. So I've been using two lists — one for my business and work life, and one for my personal life.

That’s been working well enough, although I discovered that a year is a long time. As I wrote in a column last fall, it’s too easy to put things off this week when there are 51 more weeks coming.

So I moved to quarterly goals, to keep the action steps closer to my weekly and monthly schedules. I have mixed thoughts about this. On the one hand, it’s not quite as fun to review and refresh the goal-setting process on a quarterly basis. It feels a little less festive and more like the proscribed dental cleanings that we grudgingly slot onto our schedules.

On the other hand, I can’t argue with the results. I’ve already checked off several major goals that had been limping from one annual list to the next.

Goal-setting as a lifestyle. I'm starting to realize that for me, goals are a little like woodworking projects are for my husband: As long as there's always something ready to be started, life is good. But if the garage were to suddenly be emptied of wood scraps, the future would lose some of its luster.

Whether goal-setting is an exciting process for you or simply a tool to ensure progress in key areas, I wish you well on your dreaming, planning and action in 2014. I always say this, but only because I believe it: This has all the makings of a very good year.