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Start Page: Goal setting and habit development for the new year

December 16, 2015

WilsonIt’s almost resolution time. With the best of intentions, we sit down and draft out what our ideal year will look like. If you are like me, I often create lengthy lists for establishing consistent morning routines, exercise, and practice development. Then, life happens and good intentions remain just that.

This year, join me in a different approach: setting goals and developing habits. Neither concept is new and both take effort to be effective. Here are some pointers and tech tools you can use to help support achieving your goals and developing good habits in the new year.

Habit development tool

Recently, I downloaded an app to my iPhone called Streaks (http://streaksapp.com). Currently, the app is iPhone only, but the developer is gauging interest for an Android version.

Streaks helps you form good habits. The app allows you to “[t]rack up to six tasks you want to complete every day.” As you complete the task, you build a streak of completed tasks. The idea is that the longer the streak, the less likely you are to break the streak and therefore will do the task. (For more, Web search: “Jerry Seinfeld don’t break the chain”).

Streaks connects with the iPhone and Apple Watch to automatically track certain health data. If you enter a step count goal, the app can track that data automatically and allow you to build streaks without manually tracking that data. The beauty of Streaks is its simplicity. Choose up to six things to focus on and track. The app displays the streaks in three different views to help keep you motivated (calendar, bar graph and percentage, or simple number count). The longer the streak, the less likely you are to stop doing the activity.

Goal setting principles

There is a lot of advice available on how to set and achieve goals. Generally, goals need to be set across the different areas of your life. For my areas of focus, I use words that start with the same letter (e.g., family, firm, finances, etc). Within each of those areas, I use Dave Ramsey’s SMART goal framework. The goal should first be Specific. That is, how will you go about achieving the goal? For example, I will hire a personal trainer to get into shape to run a mini-marathon. The goal should then be Measurable. As an example, I will train to run 13.1 miles in x amount of time. Next, the goal should be Attainable. That is, you can identify when you have reached the goal. There is a balance between stretching yourself and setting a goal that can be completed. Next, the goal should be Realistic. The idea is that you can reach the goal within this year. This helps set a boundary on completing the goal and can help keep the goal within reach. Finally, the goal should be Timely.

As lawyers, we know the importance of a deadline. Deadlines help motivate us. They help reprioritize our day to make sure we are spending time moving toward a desired outcome. Get your goals on the calendar. Once you have defined your goals, the next step is to break them into smaller pieces that can be accomplished one by one until the goal is met. Simple, right?

Goal setting tips

Keeping my goal list in front of me helps reduce distraction and helps avoid getting behind on achieving my goal. If I get behind, it is easy to get discouraged and abandon the goal. Here are some things I do to keep my goals top of mind.

First, define where your list of goals will live. I’ve used software like Evernote, Notebook (Mac), and Microsoft Word to track my goals. I’ve written them in fancy notebooks. The location of the list is not as important as removing the tendency to write the list and leave it buried on your desk. Simply keep the list in a place that is easily accessible to limit the resistance to review your goals regularly.

Next, I add a goal review appointment on my calendar at least once per month. I also add a task in my task manager to “Review my goals.” These two prompts are generally enough to cause me to pull out my goals and review them.

Finally, find someone to help keep you accountable for reaching your goals. This person should be someone you trust to tell you the truth even if it is difficult. This person can help you when you get discouraged or don’t have the motivation to finish the task.

Achieving your goals and developing good habits are essential parts of a good life plan. Be intentional this year about your practice and career.•

Seth Wilson is a partner at Hume Smith Geddes Green & Simmons LLP in Indianapolis. In addition to practicing law, he helps manage technology operations of the firm and frequently speaks and advises on legal technology issues. For more legal technology tips delivered right to your inbox, visit sethrwilson.com to sign up for Seth’s e-newsletter. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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