One of the most important steps in goal setting is to establish a realistic deadline, but this important step is often what thwarts the process whenGoal Line it is done incorrectly. A few helpful ideas about deadlines will help:

Are You in Control? One of the most common goal-setting mistakes is to set a deadline for something that is not under your control. Most complex projects require the involvement of other people, but you should know beforehand how much of your project will be out of your control. The less control you have, the more time you should allow for communication and follow-up.

If You Are a Procrastinator. If you tend to put things off to the last minute, there are ways to make your deadlines more meaningful. First, make sure all projects are broken down into smaller tasks with relatively aggressive deadlines. Second, if at all possible, attack the least pleasant tasks first. Third, schedule some “busy work” tasks to be done in the beginning of the project, rather than spending all of your initial time in analysis.

If You Are Not a Procrastinator. If you are the rare person who does not procrastinate, include a substantial amount of analysis up front to explore all options before setting deadlines. Unless you do this, setting a deadline might produce rigid thinking that could actually extend your project time frames.

Put It In Writing. It may sound obvious, but make sure your deadline is written down, as well as your goal. Both should be written in a place that will be seen on a regular basis.

Your deadline is the “goal line” against which you measure all progress. Think of your goal-setting strategy like a football field. Unless there is an identified goal line, it makes no sense to mark yardage. When a clear goal-line is in sight, all intermediate efforts become meaningful.

Chuck Chamberlain, ELP Editor-in-Chief