It seems like just yesterday we were popping champagne and wishing people a Happy New Year, and here we are, filing our tax returns and watching spring flowers bloom. More than a quarter of 2017 has already gone by.

If you've been following Inc.'s First 90 Days series, you've already gotten some great tips on how to be a better leader, how to make plans that will carry your company through the year, and how to get more done. But let's take a look at the goals you laid out for yourself for 2017. (If you haven't done goal-setting yet for this year, it's not too late. Here's a simple goal-setting exercise that will help you focus in on what you truly want to accomplish this year.)

The vast majority of people start the year with resolutions, goals, or aspirations for the coming 12 months. And the vast majority have abandoned or forgotten them by the time April rolls around. But that doesn't have to describe you. There is a simple and effective technique for staying on top of all the urgent day-to-day business you have to handle in both your work and home lives--and staying on top of your yearlong goals as well. That technique takes advantage of a tool we all have and use every day: our calendars.

For the past couple of years, I've been working with executive coach (and best-selling author) Wendy Capland and writing about what I've learned in the process. Here's her advice for keeping to your goals throughout the year so that when December 31 rolls around, you'll be popping champagne and looking back on 2017 with a big feeling of accomplishment:

1. For each of your goals, find the next step.

If you're like most of us, you've set both professional goals (clear $1 million in sales; launch a new product; expand your business or department) and personal goals (complete a marathon; take a cruise in Europe with your partner or spouse). In my case, one of my professional goals is to write a book this year, and one of my personal goals is to complete a 15-mile hike. I know I can write the book, I'm not so sure about the hike, but I intend to work my way toward both.

For each of your goals, there's a next step, or a first step if you're just getting started. If you want to increase sales to a certain amount, you know you either need more or bigger customers, so your next step might be to pitch a big client or to start a social media campaign that will get your product in front of more potential customers. If you want to run a marathon, there are specific training runs you must do to prepare. If I really want to hike 15 miles, I need to work my way up from the longest hike I've done recently, which was just over half that distance. So my next step might be a nine-mile hike. Whatever your next step or first step is, it should be specific and concrete: "Create a Twitter or Instagram promotion and schedule a series of tweets or posts to get the word out," not "Increase customers" or "Raise social media profile."

2. Set a deadline for that step.

Once you've decided what your first step or next step is for a particular goal, it should be fairly simple to figure out how much time you need to accomplish that step. Don't forget to factor in the time you regularly spend on your job, plus some extra because of unexpected tasks and crises that inevitably come up every month. Pick a day that's the soonest you can be confident you can get the next step done. Then write that deadline in your calendar.

Now pick the next step or first step for another of your goals. Figure out the soonest date you can accomplish this step, taking into account your regular work, unexpected tasks that may arise--and the time you'll spend fulfilling the step for your first goal that you just wrote in your calendar. Once you've figured out when you can finish this second step, write it on your calendar as well. Keep going until you have a specific action you'll take toward each of your goals, and a date on the calendar by which that action will be completed.

3. Set a weekly date to check in.

Pick a time you will review your goals every week. Put this on your calendar as well, as a recurring appointment. Pick a time when you know you can set aside the concerns and tasks of your day-to-day work for just a few minutes, take a step back, and consider your long-term objectives.

Review each of the steps you set yourself for each of your goals. Did you accomplish them on schedule? For those that you have done, review how it went, what you learned, and what the next step should be. Then set yourself a deadline for that next step. For any that you haven't done, decide whether you want to give yourself a little more time, or set yourself a different, more manageable task.

Don't forget to review your overall goals as well. Because you're working on steps toward your big objective every week, you're likely learning more than you knew before about the goals you're trying to reach. Make adjustments as appropriate. Maybe now that you've read a bit more about Europe, you'd like to go trekking instead of cruising. Maybe you've determined that, rather than $1 million in sales, you want to aim for a lower number, but of regularly recurring sales that will generate revenue every month. Whatever adjustments you want to make to your overall goals, now is the time to make them.

4. Do it all over again.

Make this review and deadline-setting into a weekly habit. Pick a time that will work for you most every week. For me, that turns out to be 5 p.m. on Mondays, and it took some experimenting to figure that out. Keep your date with yourself every week and write down which steps you've accomplished, which you haven't, and which you might need to change. Keep at it every week. When you look back on 2017, you'll be glad you did.

Published on: Apr 5, 2017
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