Goal-Setting: The 90-Day Challenge

It’s that time of year again. New Year’s resolutions, diets, exercise—and goal-setting. I continue to be surprised at how few people take time to write down their goals. Despite the fact that numerous studies have shown that there is a direct correlation between goal-setting and success, few people seem to ever get around to it.

a man staring up at the moon

I have been setting goals in one form or another for years. Every now and then, I stumble across an old list of goals. I am always fascinated by how many of the things I write down come to pass. And, I must confess, it often happens despite the fact that I do nothing more than write it down. The magic of this is all explained in a very compelling book by Henriette Klauser called Write It Down, Make It Happen [affiliate link] .

Even if you don’t create an action plan for each goal and work your plan, there is tremendous power in simply identifying what you want and focusing some thought on the outcome.

For example, at the beginning of 1997, I wrote down this goal: “Write a a New York Times bestselling book.” Now understand: at that time I had never written a book. I had a book idea, but that’s all I had. Though I had worked in the publishing industry my whole career, I was scared to death at the thought of actually trying to write an entire book. Nevertheless, I wrote it down and took a deep breath.

To my surprise, I signed a book contract in September of that year. I turned in my manuscript to the publisher by the end of the calendar year. No, I didn’t hit the New York Times list by the end of the year. But I did write a book that would hit the Times list the following spring.

Surprisingly, my manuscript almost didn’t get published. Six weeks before the book was to be printed, the publisher called to tell me he was afraid he was going to have to cancel its publication. He simply couldn’t sell it. (Books are pre-sold to retailers before they are ever published.) The major retailers just weren’t interested. I did my best to convince him it would work. Sure enough, he decided to take a gamble and went ahead with a small print run.

The publicist they assigned to me started booking me on radio talk shows. Two months after it’s publication—and about 150 interviews later—The Millennium Bug, my first book, hit the New York Times Business Bestseller List where it stayed for over seven months. And it all began by writing down a goal to make it happen.

In our company, we have adopted 90–Day Objectives as a way of life. All of our divisional leaders are required to submit their goals. We require a formal progress report each month. It’s not complex or very sophisticated. But I believe it has gone a long way toward creating a focused and disciplined organization that produces consistent results.

In case you never received any instruction on this simple but important skill, I’d like to offer some pointers. First, why prepare 90-Day Objectives? Four reasons:

  1. To identify what you want to accomplish.
  2. To help you focus on what matters most.
  3. To make sure that you and your supervisor are in agreement regarding your priorities.
  4. To provide you with accountability.

As an example, here are my work objectives for the current quarter. (I also maintain a list of personal objectives.)

By March 31, with God’s help, I will …

  1. Achieve quarterly revenues of $XX.X million.
  2. Earn $XX.X million in profit for the quarter.
  3. Complete the FY 07 Annual Plan and secure Board approval.
  4. Sign XXXX XXXXXX to a three-book contract.
  5. Meet face-to-face with our top 10 authors.
  6. Meet face-to-face with our top 10 customers.
  7. Finish writing The Thomas Nelson Way.

(Note: Items with XXXs are specific numbers and names on my actual list.)

Let me point out several important things about these objectives that you should emulate in yours.

  • They are few in number. Productivity studies show that you really can’t focus on more than 5-7 items at any one time. Don’t try to impress your supervisor or yourself with a long list of objectives. Also, please don’t include sections with several objectives under each section. This is a recipe for losing focus and accomplishing very little. Instead, focus on a handful of objectives that you can almost repeat from memory. Mine fit on one 3“ x 5” card. I put my work objectives on one side and my personal objectives on the other.
  • They are action-oriented. In order for you to act on your objective, it must be actionable. Notice that each objective begins with a verb (e.g., “Achieve,” “Finalize,” “Complete,” etc.).
  • They are measurable. You should be able to sit down with your supervisor in 90 days and determine whether or not you accomplished the objective. Remember: you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
  • They are attainable. Don’t attempt to do more than you can realistically accomplish in 90 days. This may be debatable, but, hopefully, over time, you will become more and more realistic while still pushing yourself to stretch.
  • They are time-bound. Since these are 90-day objectives, you should began by asking yourself the question, What do I want to accomplish by March 31? or whatever the time horizon is.
  • They are prioritized. Your most important objective should go at the top of the list. Your second most important objective should go next and so on.

I look at this list every morning and try to populate my Daily Task List with actions that will move me closer to attaining my objectives. Every day, I try to identify at least one “next action” and do it. If you have never done this before, you won’t believe the focus that this will bring to your life. I also pray over each objective. I know my limitations and am very much aware that I can’t accomplish what I believe I am supposed to do without God’s help. (If you can accomplish an objective without God’s help, you’re not thinking big enough.)

If you have never tried this before, I want to challenge you to give it a shot. In fact, I double-dog dare you. Call it “The 90-Day Challenge.” Write your goals down, and make them happen. Please let me know how it goes. If you want a little accountability, post your goals in the comments section below.

Question: What has been your experience with goal-setting? What are some of your current goals?
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  • Ibrohim

    Thanks for the post, I do practice writing my early objectives and seeng accomplishing at least one of them and I like this part:

     I also pray over each objective. I know my limitations and am very much aware that I can’t accomplish what I believe I am supposed to do without God’s help. (If you can accomplish an objective without God’s help, you’re not thinking big enough.)

  • http://twitter.com/TechSavvyLender Chris Sanderson

    What a joy to see that you posted this reply to a comment SIX YEARS AGO!

    Mike, you are an inspiration – for perseverance, for servant leadership, and indeed, for goal setting!  I just read your Life Plan book.  I love it that in this reply you say “I hope to write an article soon on “Life Planning.”  A wee bit more than an article you’ve written, Mike!  

    Well done, sir.  I am thankful for you, really and truly!


  • Mark3000

    I have a question, but first off, I wanted to say that this site has some really wonderful content. Big thanks to Michael and everyone who plays a part in putting it all together. My question:

    Could anyone point me to where Michael may have clarified the difference between goals discussed here and “specific commitments” in Life Plan? For example, “Run (or cross-train) four days a week.” is a personal “specific commitment” in the Health role of the Life Plan and “Run 20 miles per week.” is one of 5-7 “personal” goals given here.

    I imagine that when all personal specific commitments in the Life Plan are tallied, they might number in the neighborhood of 20-30 (for each role that could be categorized as “personal”) which would be more than the 5-7 personal goals recommended here. Does this question make sense? Thanks for the help!


    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Mark— did you go through Michael’s “creating your personal life plan” material? If not—this might be a good place to start!


      • Mark3000

        Hey Barry, thanks for the reply. I have; it’s great stuff. That’s actually what prompted the question.

  • http://www.whiteboardbusiness.com/ Dallon Christensen

    Nice timing for this, Michael! I’ve been working through some planning right now and have four goals for the upcoming 90 days (I use Seth Godin’s Pick Four workbook curated from the late, great Zig Ziglar).

    1) Lose 15 pounds (Really 20 pounds before my brother’s wedding in mid-August)

    2) Complete the manuscript and video assignments for the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) series I’m co-authoring.

    3) Launch my new website and post content three times a week (website launched by May 1).

    4) Build my marketing plan for my side business.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      This is great, Dallon. Just one small recommendation. You might want to dial in #4 just a little tighter. What is the deliverable? For example, is it a written marketing plan? Thanks.

  • BradyBeshear

    Great content Michael! I am always learning better ways to set and achieve goals. Your blog post and experience certainly challenge me in this area. I find that defining daily process goals, or habits, help me think through the over-arching goal and establish the concrete steps that will lead me to the end goal.

    I just wrote about measuring progress toward goals on my newly launched blog at BradyBeshear.com

    Your blog, book, the Platform Conference, and Platform University have greatly helped me reach my goal of starting to build my platform through a blog.

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

    Brady Beshear

  • Jenn

    Thanks, Mike! This 90 days challenge helps to break down my year action plan!

  • Jon Harper

    Thank you for the advice. I follow you on Twitter and enjoy our posts and your sincerity. My goals for the next 90 days are as follows:
    1. Earn 3 credits towards Doctorate
    2. Exercise 5 days a week
    3. Go on 5 childless dates with my wife
    4. Complete 5 teacher observations
    5. Complete two works of fiction
    6. Continue to strengthen organizational skills via Frank Buck’s systems

  • Melvyn TAN (PoEM™)

    Hi Michael. Thank you for this ‘encore’ post. I’ve always been fascinated with goals setting and has experienced it positively myself.

    I seem to be a little confused here about what is a goal and what is a task. For years, I’ve been trained to see items like “Earn $XX.X million in profit for the quarter” as a goal and “Meet face-to-face with our top 10 authors” as a task.

    Would you be able share with me your thoughts on this? Thanks Michael and I look forward to be learning from you.

    By the way, I have written a piece on the four winning strategies of achieving your goals. Will appreciate your comments, if any. http://ow.ly/20HMVv