Agile Life Planning: Defining Goals

Agile Life Planning: Defining Goals

This article goes into details of the first stage of Agile Life Planning – making a list of high-level life goals. We shall, step by step, consider how to define and put your aspirations, dreams and ideas on paper and then transform them into a set of clear goals which you can work with.
21 Aug 2017 6924
This article goes into details of the first stage of Agile Life Planning – making a list of high-level life goals. We shall, step by step, consider how to define and put your aspirations, dreams and ideas on paper and then transform them into a set of clear goals which you can work with.

What goals do we have?

The simplest definition of a goal is: it is something we aspire to. But the word “aspiration” is too broad, so I suggest adding a few parameters to make it more specific: how precise it is defined and how important it is. As a result, by using a Boston matrix, we get 4 groups into which various types of aspirations / objectives can be included:

  • Dreams are our global, large-scale aspirations, we rarely think of them but they are of the highest importance for us. Often dreams are not precisely defined, there is no clear desire behind them, and no plan to achieve them.
  • Desires are less essential aspirations than dreams but they too have no precise definitions. Desires are something that we want but do not do, or, simply speaking, they are “just wishes.”
  • Goals are our recognized, well-defined, strategic aspirations. A well-defined and elaborated goal always leads to a clear set of concrete actions. In contrast to dreams which are often synonymous with something unattainable, you can always say that a goal is either achieved or not.
  • Tasks are specific actions taken to achieve certain goals. The definition of a task implies that you have an action plan, tools, resources, and clear acceptance criteria.

agile-life-planning-boston-matrix.PNGIf we want to get real results, we must work only in quadrants 3 (Goals) and 4 (Tasks). Of course, dreams and desires are also important: you should not just reject them, but analyze, transform, and move to groups 3 and 4. While elaborating a list of goals we have to move from an unstructured set of aspirations to clearly defined goals and tasks, i.e. quadrants 3 and 4 only.

Let’s see how we start making a list of goals. We’ll do that in two stages:

Stage 1. First make a list, as complete as possible, of all your needs, “just wishes”, values, and aspirations. This preliminary list may and should include aspirations from all quadrants.

Stage 2. The next step is to process the list, combine and correct some items there. In this process, we identify and define goals and tasks which we can work with in the future. This list will become a backlog of goals.

agile-life-planning-Goal-definition-methods.pngGoal definition methods

So, let’s review Stage 1 in detail and see how to make a preliminary list of goals/aspirations. At this stage, you don’t need very clear definitions or a structured list; we may use items from all the quadrants. The main objective here is to collect all goals, desires and wishes and put them on paper. Why is this so important? There are two reasons:

When you have your goal written down, you free your mind free. From time to time, you remember something important that you planned to do but did not, or remember something that you dreamed of but failed to focus on. Such plans and half-conscious goals are like thorns in your mind; you may ignore them for a while but they will remind you of their existence at the most inappropriate moments. It overloads your brain, just like a computer continuously working in background mode. As a result, you may be stressed, anxious, or have a feeling of incompleteness. Having written down all the tasks, we move them to an external medium where they can be easily managed and controlled, without lingering in your mind all the time.

Such a list will help you remember every important thing, and embrace all spheres and issues. You can simultaneously keep several goals in your mind, perhaps even up to ten. But actually we have dozens or hundreds of larger and smaller tasks, goals, and aspirations at a time. It is absolutely impossible to keep them all in our head or just remember them when needed. But by extending the list point-by-point, you will be able to look through all your memory, all spheres of life, weigh up your values and visualize all truly relevant things.
Now we will review various methods that can help us make a preliminary list of goals.


Method 1. Life Balance Wheel.

This is one of the most popular methods for identifying goals, or rather areas of development. Essentially, it is the following: you select the main spheres of your life and show them as axes on a circular diagram.

Then you asses your satisfaction in each sphere of life on a scale of 0 to 10, and draw a line connecting all the points you got. You also calculate the average score for all the spheres, as shown by the dotted line.

Then you see which point(s) is (are) much lower than the average. And for those spheres of life, you ask yourself some simple questions: Why is the score here so low? What should I do to make it higher? Answering these questions, will help you see what could increase your satisfaction in a specific sphere of life and restore the overall balance. These will be the most important goals and tasks.

agile-life-planning-SWOT-Analysis.pngMethod 2. SWOT Analysis.
SWOT is a powerful tool for strategic planning in business, but it also is suitable for managing your personal objectives.

Using this method, you populate the SWOT matrix for yourself as opposed to an organization: identify your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Then you look at the list and ask yourself: How can I further develop my strengths and realize opportunities? The answer to this question will be a set of goals and objectives for further development. You don’t look at weaknesses and threats.

Method 3. Social roles.

This method is based on The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. You write down the role you play in your life: Husband/wife, father/mother, child, manager, subordinate, etc.

Then analyze how you see yourself in each role, describe your values for those roles and define ways to achieve the desired results, what you should do for that, and in what direction you should move. So you identify the direction of development and goals you want to achieve.

Method 4. A letter to the future.
  • It is a very simple technique: you just try to look into the future:) That is really quite easy. Try to imagine yourself in, say, 10 years. Imagine it in as much detail as possible: What things and people are around you, what you think about, what you do, what your daily routine is, etc., as if you are looking through a keyhole into the future. Another comparison: imagine you are in the dark and point a search light from one detail in your future to another. Then you just need to write down everything you see, as if writing a letter.
  • Once such a picture is complete, you should determine how your current state is different from the future. This difference will make a preliminary list of goals and reference points.

Method 5. Coaching questions.
  • You could use some coaching techniques: ask yourself a series of questions “what for”, “why”, “what should be done” until you find the true motives of your aspirations.
  • For example, you ask yourself: “Why do I want it?”, answer the question and at once ask the same question, falling down to the next level. Thus, step-by-step, question after question, you would go to a deeper level of understanding your problem or aspiration, and therefore identify and write down your true goals.

Method 6. Wish list.
  • It is also a simple method of elaborating a wish list. It’s similar to making a list of presents for some holiday: Christmas, birthday, wedding, etc. Just imagine what you would like to get if you knew that you would surely get it.
  • Later you can transform it into a list of specific goals and actions to achieve them.

I have given just a few examples of various techniques for goal setting. On the Internet, you can read about them in more detail or find something else suitable for you. One of the Agile Life Planning principles (Principle 10) is about the usefulness of alternating or combining different tools, so the more options, methods and approaches you use the better. More on this aspect in a future article.

Pavel Novikov
Program Manager

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