Lately I have been thinking not so much about the ways in which we set our goals, and our daily tasks, but the ways in which we can organise them to achieve the highest possible impact with the lowest possible effort. Goal setting is usually about changing things, about moving in a desired direction.

If you have set your goals already now is the time to look at them again. How long is your list? How many goals have you set? Are your goals organised in a particular way?

If you are anything like me, it is likely that you ended up with a long list of goals, in no specific order or priority. My lists of goals, as well as my daily tasks lists, used be almost as long as the river Nile; and just as slow to achieve.

In this post I am not going to bother you with the obvious technicalities like ‘keep your goals few and targeted’; too much has already been written about that. Instead, I am going to tell you about three ways to organise and approach your goals (formations).

Goal setting formation 1: scattered fan

Graphically, the formation looks like this.

In this case there the goals are discrete (each goals stands on its own) and we scatter our energy to achieve them. Because our time and energy are limited it is very likely that we won’t have enough to achieve any of the goals to a high standard. This formation and approach make you ‘work hard’, flutter from tasks to task and end up exhausted, stressed and frustrated.

Often in previous years, I’ll set goals to: write three academic papers, to write a non-academic book, to do consultancy to the value of…, etc. All SMART goals! Then I will have three papers on the go and they won’t get finished; well they will but it took so much energy of all kinds. Until last summer I switched to Formation 2.

Goal setting formation 2: focused fan

This one looks like this.

Here, the goal organisation is the same but the approach is very different. Energy is focused on one goals (task) at the time; once this has been achieved the focus shift to the next.

To continue with my example, my goals were still the same but I focused on one piece of writing at the time. As a result, since the beginning of September 2011, I have finished and submitted to journals three academic papers.

Goal setting formation 3: focused clusters

Visually this one looks like this.

In this case goal setting needs a lot of thinking so that the separate goals are clustered around a more fundamental goal that links them.

To get back to my example, writing academic papers, non-academic books and earning certain amount from ‘side hustle’ all depend on writing. So if ‘becoming a better and faster writer’ becomes the ‘mother goal’ focusing my energy to achieve this is likely to result in achieving the other goals as well: with less effort and in less time. This is where I want to be.

My observation is that most people are in Formation 1 when there is so much to be gained by moving to Formation 2 and, ultimately, Formation 3.

Which of these goal setting formations is the closest to the one you use?