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?
Get My New, 3-Part Video Series—FREE! Ready to accomplish more of what matters? 2015 can be your best year ever. In my new video series, I show you exactly how to set goals that work. Click here to get started. It’s free—but only until Monday, December 8th.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • http://joshuabryant.com Joshua

    Thanks for your post Michael. I actually found your other blog first and was sad to hear you were shutting it down but was elated to find out about this one.

    I agree about writing things down and just how powerful it can be, even if it’s just a slim amount of accountability between you and a piece of paper, it’s something your brain can’t just erase on a whim.

    Keep posting, we’re reading!

  • http://bonniescalhoun.blogspot.com Bonnie Calhoun

    Egads…E Tu Brute….Terry Whalin just convinced me to get back on the treadmill…and not just sitting on it to read! Long story…short outcome!

    And he also confirmed a though about a request that I try screen writing.

    And you’ve added to both confirmations…Alas, maybe it’s just that time of year! :-)

  • Heather Adams

    Mike,

    How do you separate your personal goals from your professional ones? I would like to develop two lists, but would be interested in knowing more about how you divide and conquer on each and how they are different (other than the obvious).

    Thanks for the help,
    Heather

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Heather,

    I simply have two different lists. Each one is 5-7 goals each. I print them on the front and back of a 3 x 5 index card. Some of my personal goals for this quarter are:

    – Run 20 miles per week.
    – Lose 15 pounds.
    – Hire a new financial planner.
    – Update life insurance policies.

    You get the idea. I hope to write an article soon on “Life Planning.” Hopefully, that will bring a little more clarity.

    Thanks,

    Mike

    • http://www.therampart.us JB

      I hope your financial planner isn’t reading your blog.

  • JD

    Here are my goals. Thanks for the inspiration to put pen to paper and the encouragement to break the year down into 90 day periods.

    Business:
    By March 31, 2007 with God’s help I will …
    1. Sell 24 XXXXXXXX contracts
    2. Earn in excess of $33,000 in commissions
    3. Complete the sale of XXXX and XXXX to XXXXXX Books
    4. Finish writing 3 sections of The Lost Art of Customer Service

    Personal:
    By March 31, 2007 with God’s help I will …
    1. Read 90 chapters in the bible.
    2. Journal at least twice per week.
    3. Take XXXX and XXXX snowboarding 6 times.
    4. Lose 15 lbs. to reach the target weight of 185 lbs.
    5. Fast for 3 days.

    Thanks,
    JD

  • http://www.jondale.com/rants_of_an_entrepreneur/2007/01/goalsetting_the.html Chasing the Wild Goose

    Goal-Setting: The 90-Day Challenge

    I read this on Michael Hyatt’s Blog Today…I found it really helpful: I planned to write a new post on goal-setting today. This is the perfect day for thinking about the year ahead. However, I re-read an article I had

  • Jim

    Would never correct a master and I must say I consider you the best! I came from “Working Smart blog” and a new Mac convert because of that blog.

    What helps me is to state my goals to be affirmative statements of the past.
    IE:
    With God’s help:
    I have become the department head (happened 2 days later and 2 years earlier than planned)
    I have lost 23 lbs in 2007
    I had my first book published in 2007
    I secured the funds for my daughter’s college education
    Etc.

    Thanks Michael, we have emailed before and you have always been a great source of information.
    To your Success in 2007,
    Jim

  • http://worksmarter.splinder.com/post/10438459/Buoni+propositi Work smarter not harder

    Buoni propositi

    Inizia lanno nuovo ed è IL periodo perfetto per mettere su un paio di buoni propositi per il nuovo anno. Inseguire un obiettivo è un ottimo rimedio per evitare di perderci nellaffanno quotidiano dellultima mail urgent

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Jim,

    This is actually a very good way to do goal-setting. If greatly helps to visualize having already accomplished the objective. I have used this myself in the past. Great technique!

    Thanks,

    Mike

  • http://www.jondale.com Jon Dale

    Mike,

    I just finished reading Me, Myself and Bob (Nelson). In light of this post I’d be fascinated to get your take on Phil’s conclusions regarding vision (goals) vs. revelation (?goals?).

  • http://www.michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

    Jon,

    I do think as a Christian, you have to seek God about His goals for your life. All of “my goals” have to be held up with an open hand. Ultimately, I don’t pursue anything for it’s own sake. I simply want the will of God for my life.

    Thanks for your input.

    Mike

  • http://www.jondale.com Jon Dale

    Mike,

    Thanks for your reply. I really enjoyed the book. I read lots of business biographies and I think this was one of the best I’ve ever read. Its not often that I’ll read a non-fiction book in one sitting (I didn’t finish it till 3 a.m. at which point I felt compelled to post about it on my blog). I hope there’s more to come in the future from Phil. I’d be really interested to get his take on what happened at Big Idea in a decade or so, when he is more removed from the obvious pain of it all.

  • Andrea

    Mike,
    just wanted to ask you how you manage these goals together with the GTD “Project List”.
    Do you choose some of the projects and decide that those are your goals for the next quarter? Or do you do something else?
    Thanks.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/donnabaierstein Donna Baier Stein

    My 90 day goals
    1. Finish my novel revision, send it to my agent at William Morris, and with God's grace, have it accepted by a publisher.
    2. Establish more regular communication with subscribers to TIFERET: A Journal of Spiritual Literature.
    3. Purchase list from NewPages.com to email Academic libraries to acquire at least 20 new library subscriptions to TIFERET.
    4. Get my daughter settled happily into her first year at Boston University.
    5. Recruit 6 new associates into Isagenix detox cleansing program.
    6. Lose another 25 pounds using Isagenix.
    7. Offer love to my 85 year old parents who live with me.
    8. Offer love to my two children, my friends, and the world. Learn how to live more constantly in love and aware of God's constant presence.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/lantzhoward Lantz Howard

    Thanks for this repost.

    Just reviewed by buket list /goal list and realized that I have completed the top 4. I also realized that I have completed some major things lately (ie triathlon), but here recently I have been feeling confused or lost to some degree.

    Refocusing and writing down a new list will allow me to regain my focus. Thanks for the reminder.

  • http://www.mclanerieger.com Jan Rieger

    I've set goals since I was a kid. That energizes me. And yes, it's a great feeling to come across an old list and see how many of the goals were met! One of my goals is to reach 400 LinkedIn connections by Christmas (I'm at 388). Another is to stick to my strict budget for holiday gifts this year. Another is to go out and take pictures in the early morning fog in the next 6 weeks. I like your advice about too long a list. I can't handle a long list. Good luck to everyone!

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  • http://wesbleed.com Wes Bleed

    I'm a big believer in quarterly goals. New Year's resolutions quickly fade. Monthly goals seem too narrow, but a 3-month perspective gives you room to dream and also make things happen.

  • http://healthy365days.com Lawrence

    I always love your post! Even though I’m just now noticing this post its perfect for this time of the year! We are now running a 90 day challenge as well at healthy365days.com

  • http://twitter.com/brothertona Andrew Brotherton

    I’ve definitely tried lately to try and make more goals, and be more directive with my passions and my future. My goals are to pass the LSAT, get accepted into law school, get the Woodruff Scholarship at Emory, buy my first house, and to write everyday.

  • http://www.embracepositivepassion.com Georgiana

    Goals play a very important role in one’s life as they ultimately determine our path. Just like a compass, they direct our choices and priorities. It’s vital to contemplate what a person can do and what a person wants to do in the future. The influences of each of our actions has an impact on others we encounter along each step of the way. By writing down our goals, they become more real, more tangible and more attainable. It also gives us a timeline, revealing to us how far we’ve traveled and how much we’ve achieved! :-)

  • Anonymous

    This is in keeping with the philosophy of the one-minute manager, but I believe the list is a more crisp approach. I will continue to practice this with my staff.

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  • http://twitter.com/ReflectionsByPj ReflectionsByPj

    I’m learning to do this in all aspects of my life. What could you gain, or even learn about yourself, if you tried this challenge?

  • http://twitter.com/ReflectionsByPj ReflectionsByPj

    Oops, I thought I was sending this to twitter.

  • http://byrdmouse.com Jonathan

    By 18 Oct I want to finish writing and start editing my current work in progress, The Trouble with Travel

    Is 1 goal too few? I am also about to relocate myself but not my family for work but that’s not a goal it’s an obstacle.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Jonathan, making even 1 goal is progress.

      I noticed you mentioned relocating. Here’s some thoughts on goals that could be set around that(though you’ll want to make them specific)

      1. Get your family relocated within a specific amount of time?
      2. Make X amount of friends
      3. Find great outdoor areas
      4. Get back to family

      Just some ideas that might help you out.

      • http://byrdmouse.com Jonathan

        These are good ideas, Joe, but I’m moving back to where I grew up, there are still lots of family in the area, I know the great outdoor areas, and the rest of my family will be staying in the current home for at least the school year (not that they’ve started yet). They are still helpful thoughts though.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think one is probably too few.

      • http://byrdmouse.com Jonathan

        It also wouldn’t help much to put “find short term goals” on the list either. My upcoming move has preoccupied my mind of late. On the bright side, it will free up time for me to work on my writing.
        -In addition to the first goal, I will continue blogging and work toward increasing my platform by converting my novella to an ebook for a giveaway to new subscribers.
        -I will complete the National Novel Writing Month Camp in the month of August.
        -Also, several of my cousins and I have just started an online writing group. I will become the most prolific author and commenter on the site to grow both them and me as writers.
        -In addition to these tasks, I will increase my usage of Evernote so that I can end the scribbling of notes, snippets of emails, and other cluttered way of making notes for my writing.

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  • Danieljmacintyre

    I am working with a half a dozen clients on a goal commitment assignment and the method I’m using is one of the best I’ve ever worked with. I first learned about it from a book by author Steve Chandler. The human brain has the ability to commit to anything, but it will only do so if it believes there is great value in the commitment. We commit to all sorts of things on a daily basis! Did you brush your teeth yesterday? Did you where a shirt to work today? Of course you did! Why? Because on a subconscious level you are committed to these actions. 
     
    We never make excuses for these activities. You never hear someone say, “Well, I was really busy this morning so I forgot to put a shirt on.” However, you do hear people say, “I got really busy over the holidays so I stopped going to the gym.” We commit to the things that we value! We must attach our new commitments to something of value or we’ll never keep them. Here are a few examples of commitments I’ve made and a few I’ve helped my clients make.
     
    Stay on my workout plan for 30 days. If I don’t I’m dropping out of college. This client values her education more than anything and would be devastated if she had to quit school.    
     
    Quit drinking or I will present divorce papers to my wife. This client loves his wife and kids more than anything and knows it’s the only way he’ll stop drinking. Losing his family is the worst thing that could ever happen to him. He has signed separation papers that now sit in his work desk. He will present the papers to his wife if he takes one sip of alcohol.
     
    Sell 50,000 books by October 14, 2012. I wrote a check for $263,000 and it hangs on the wall in my office. I will cash the check next October, so I better start promoting my book.
     
    Author Napoleon Hill talked about burning all bridges in his legendary book Think and Grow Rich. I finally get it! Once we’ve decided what we want, we must burn all bridges to retreat. We must put it all on the line. Our minds/brains work very well when they’ve committed fully to something.
     
    I wrote a book about the achieving goals, and how to enjoy the process of reaching goals. It’s called Anything is Possible: 91 truths about what is possible for your life. Please check it out at: dreambigpublishing.com or Amazon.com. Best of luck!

  • http://darensirbough.com/ Daren Sirbough

    I just wrote out my goals for 2012!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ijustinjohnson Justin Johnson

    Mr. Hyatt,

    First and foremost thank you so much for sharing your life with anyone who is willing to operate a computer. I am very grateful. Second, I hope I am able to shake your hand next week at the Catalyst West Conference at Mariners Church in Irvine, CA. And lastly, without getting into much detail; as a person who feels lost and confused about both my personal and professional life, reading and now putting into action your words is probably the most encouraging thing I have done in quite some time. I am very much looking forward to seeing the results and will make sure to follow up to let you know how it goes. Thank you again.

    Justin Johnson

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Justin. I look forward to meeting you at the Catalyst Conference.

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  • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

    I do my 90-day goals within the overall context of my life plan. Thanks.

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  • Frostysac- Laura Pearman

    This happened to me yesterday. I found a goal list with an action plan and it goy filed away. I was organizing some files for the new year and I came across the paperwork. About 70% had come to pass. I was really amazed that even without continuing to follow up the action plan so much had happened both personally and professionally.

    • Frostysac

      meant to sat got not goy.

  • 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!

    Chris

  • 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!

    -mark

    • 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!

      http://michaelhyatt.com/life-plan

      • 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