Editor's note: "The First 90 Days" is a series about how to make 2016 a year of breakout growth for your business. Let us know how you're making the first 90 days count by joining the conversation on social media with the hashtag #Inc90Days.​

Can you believe it's April already? With spring breaking out, you may be thinking about making summer vacation plans, or hurrying to file your taxes. But here's another thing to think about: We are one quarter of the way through 2016. There are nine months left this year.

If you're like most of us, you started the year with both professional and personal goals. So it's time to ask: How are you progressing toward those goals? And how will you make some or all of them a reality by December 31?

Here's a strategy that can help: Divide by 9. That advice comes from best-selling author and executive coach Wendy Capland, who has used it successfully for her clients, as well as herself. A while back, I wrote a column from an interview with Capland, and as a follow-up we decided she would coach me and that I would write about it.

Here's her advice for making this approach work for you.

Start from your overall goal. 

For example, Capland has a client who was until recently a highly paid executive but has just set out as a solopreneur. That client's goal is to earn $200,000 in 2016 and she believes the products and services she has to offer can get her there. 

An obvious conclusion might be that she needs to earn about $22,000 a month to make that happen. Since she's starting out, another way to look at it might be that she needs to set herself up to start earning and have those earnings increase month by month to arrive at a total $200k by year's end. Either way, the immediate challenge is the same--she needs to get on the phone, reconnect with old contacts, head to networking events, perhaps begin publishing a blog or raising her social media profile--all the things that will help her market her services and reach her goals. The point is to break down that challenge into individual actions that she can take today, or in the next week, or in the next month, to get to that  overall goal.

This works with personal and wellness goals as well. Capland says most of her clients seem to have wellness goals this year. (I certainly do!) She herself had a wellness goal for 2015, to strengthen her upper body well enough to do one unassisted pull-up by the end of the year. She broke down that goal and began using an assisted pull-up machine at the gym, beginning by lifting 30 percent of her body weight, and then increasing that proportion every month.

Make appointments with yourself.

Using your calendar is key to this strategy. Before the beginning of the month, Capland says, sit down with your calendar and create appointments for yourself to take the steps you'll need to reach your goals. "Put those items on your calendar like meetings," Capland advises.

For instance, if you have a fitness goal and plan to achieve that goal by going to the gym three times a week, write those three gym visits into every week of your calendar. If something happens to prevent you from keeping one of those appointments with yourself, then you have to reschedule it to a different time--you can't just cancel it. This works for phone calls, or for taking a half hour to sit down and write a blog post. Whatever you need to do, put it in your calendar. This is a powerful message to your unconscious mind that you intend to keep that commitment.

Review and adjust as needed.

At the end of each month, sit down with your calendar and fill in your appointments for the next month. But before you do, review the tasks and appointments from the previous month. This is when you make tweaks as necessary, Capland says.

For example, do you find that late in the afternoon you can't free yourself from work to go exercise? Try making early-morning appointments with yourself instead. Or did you find that posting on  social media didn't bring in much business, but  networking at industry events landed you several new customers? Adjust your calendar accordingly.

This is also the time to review your results and see if the steps you're taking look like they'll lead you to achieving your goals in the next three quarters of 2016. If not, can you change your plans to accelerate your progress?

Celebrate your accomplishments along the way.

Don't forget to congratulate yourself every time you reach a milestone toward one of your goals. This can help energize you and reinforce your commitment, and it's an important thing to do in case something unexpected interrupts your forward motion.

Take Capland's unassisted pull-up goal. Working at it and increasing the weight on the assisted machine month by month, she got to where she could lift 90 percent of her body weight three times in a row. Then she and her husband moved to a new location, which meant she had to switch gyms--and the new gym didn't have an assisted pull-up machine. And so she had to adjust her fitness program to her new environment.

Even so, she says, "I am proud of my progress. I never did reach my goal but damn!--You should see my back, shoulder, and bicep muscles!"

What about you? What goals do you have for 2016? If you sit down with your March calendar right now, you can lay out a program that will help you reach those goals by year's end.

Why not give it a try?

Published on: Apr 4, 2016
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