Well I did it! Last year on my birthday, I promised myself I'd get certified for scuba diving before my next birthday rolled around, and I just did it. I've wanted to get certified for years, but I've never managed to find the time. How did I do it now and what does it mean for my business?

If you're like me, you have a long list of things you'd like to accomplish, both for your business and for your life. This list is a mix of big things (make more money, find new customers) and small things (install the new software, return those phone calls). You probably write many of these down, especially the small, pressing tasks you have to accomplish before the end of the day or the week.

What happens, though, is that the big things -- our overall goals or highly desired but not pressing desires (like scuba certification) -- get pushed aside for the necessary, deadline-oriented tasks. As a result, we often feel unsatisfied even if we've managed to check off everything from our "to do" list.

How can you break out of this cycle and achieve more of your overall ambitions?

  • Set your goals. One of Rhonda's Rules is, "You can't reach a goal you haven't set." You have to be clear about what you want if you are to have any chance of achieving it. This sounds easier than it is. It was a tough question when I asked myself, "Which one thing do I want to do before my next birthday?"
  • Make your goal specific. Sit down and think about all the many things you want in life and business. Our big goals are usually fuzzy feelings, along the lines of "I want to be rich," "I want to be happy," "I want to be loved." Those aren't really goals; they're states of being. Instead be very clear, "I want to make $100,000," "I want to spend at least one day a week with people I care about and who care about me."
  • Make it positive. It's usually easier to add something good to your life than to remove something bad. For instance, if I need to improve my employee relationships, it's easier for me to set a goal of taking an employee to lunch once a week than to stop losing my temper at employees who make mistakes. Often, of course, it's equally or more important to cut out the bad habits. Even then, try to state your goal in positive terms. Instead of "quitting smoking," state your goal as "I'm going to take care of my health by getting free of my smoking addiction."
  • Set a time frame. Your small tasks have deadlines; why not your important goals? I would never have got certified if I didn't have a deadine: my next birthday.
  • Make it achievable. You want to actually do this, don't you? So choose a goal that you have a realistic change of being able to reach. Don't set a goal you've continually failed at; start fresh and give yourself a chance to succeed. Examining whether a goal is achievable also helps you start planning how to get it done.
  • Remind yourself. Something that helps me remember my goals is to give myself visual reminders. I kept pictures of underwater and tropical scenes around. I reset my Microsoft Windows program to the use the Display scheme called "Underwater," which meant I had a little diver go searching for my files. You can even turn your screensaver into a reminder. In Windows, go to "Control Panel," "Display," "Screen Saver," select "Scrolling Marquee," and under "Settings," type your message in the "Text" box.
Ask yourself which one to three things would you like most to achieve by one year from your birthday (or Labor Day or my birthday, August 2). Don't choose more than three because you'll never get them done. Make at least one goal just for you, not for business. Then write those down and put the list where you can be reminded of your goals. Good luck! Now, what do I want to achieve by my next birthday? Hmmm.....

Copyright © Rhonda Abrams, 2001

Rhonda Abrams writes the nation's most read small business column and is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies. Her newest book, The Successful Business Organizer has just been published. For free business tips, register at www.RhondaWorks.com or write Rhonda at 555 Bryant St, number 180, Palo Alto, CA 94301.