Goals v/s Systems: a Hypocrisy

A Case Against Goals

There is growing anti-sentiment for using goals. Professors are debunking the Harvard study on goals as a myth. I have myself been proponent of not having target mindset while we miss out the journey. Unfortunately, most of the people misunderstand this to be an excuse to have lack of clarity or purpose driven.

Productivity gurus suggest going with the flow. Great men are asking us to quit the goals.

You know what. It’s hypocrisy.

People who say they are against goals are the ones used to achieve theirs. I am presuming they say this to create an aura around their success. They cherish the mysticism around their guru status.

Scott Adams of Dilbert comics fame also suggests setting up routines and habits to work. But do you know he practices ‘goal writing‘ as a way to focus. James Clear suggests to forget goals and to set systems. But this is after he had gained clarity about his goals. So does all those from Leo BabautaStephen Shapiro, Peter Bergman, etc. Even Oliver Burkeman seems to recommend this idea.

I would argue that these guys are building these systems upon gaining a strong clarity of their goals.

I also liked the interesting Scott Adams point of view of actually Goal writing and Systems versus Goals. Scott Adams has admittedly using an auto-suggestive technique called ‘goal writing’. He had and has variety of goals during his life that he commits to work on. He built this commitment by writing this goal at least 15 times a day.

Be Careful!

There is strong argument of not having goals. But these guys are talking about not having goals when they have garnered clarity of their goals. In fact, I am still working on my next goal and it changes every other time. My fear is not about me failing to attain the goal, but succeeding in attaining a wrong goal. This is where gaining strong clarity of one’s goal comes in.

Also find setting goals by Brian Tracy, others like Oliver Burkeman, mind it if you ever were to take their advice. Be warned. To have goals and ambitions are now considered being greedy and power hungry.

I like how Steve Pavlina puts. You and I, the mortals, still need directions, clarity and sense of purpose to move forward.

No one is saying we sacrifice execution systems for the sake of setting goals. It is simply called different by different people. It is worthwhile to study and know the difference.

  • Lag measure vs Lead measure. The book, ‘The 4 Disciplines of Executions’ offers a comprehensive definition of our a personal/ organisational lag measure (goal) and its lead measure (set of activities that leads to the lag measure)
  • Enabling Goals vs End Goals. Kevin Kurse mentions about devising one’s daily priorities by defining one’s end goals (BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and enabling goals (system to get to the end goals)
  • Means Goals vs End Goals. On a similar line, Steve Pavlina distinguishes between them as mean and end goals.
  • Process vs Outcomes. In project management practice, you call this as ‘process’ and ‘outcomes’ are used to plan and execute a project.

I must say, this is what happens when a cartoonist or an athlete, without an MBA, proposed half-baked management theories.

A More Practical Suggestion

Like what James clear says “Goals are for planning; Systems are for execution” – “None of this is to say that goals are useless. However, I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress.”

Success of GTD, because of its systems focus. But David Allen has been sensible to include 0 feet view to 59,000 feet view

Have Goals and Systems

Problem with Goals also be mindful of.

Scott Adams major argument is always in the sense of non fulfilment. I like how Oliver B puts it, it is about moving from one dissatisfaction to another.

That’s simply what life is. Indian wisdom says do the work and let go off the fruits thrre.

Synergy of Principles:

There are two ways of thinking to take things forward – bottom-up thinking and top-down thinking. Both of them have its place and limit.

BUT – like GTD, Action Method

TDT – like Covey’s Mission Statement, Goals & Roles

I assume that the popularity of BUT method is because of its easiness in adopting and its immediate success rates. However TDT takes a lot of mental and time investment. For me you arrive at your mission rather than drafting it. It is after all a guideline and it could progressively change as one’s level of maturity, environment and other factors influence the decision.

I believe that both the principles in this way are more complementing rather than competing with each other. It is in the confluence of having goals and setting systems that one can truly be accomplished.

Convert you goal into task: Fed by half-baked management science and anxious will to change, I made big goals but failed to draft call-to-action steps. In fact, I started feeling guilty of not doing anything about it. My biggest realization came when I understood the difference between goal (lag measure) and a process (lead measure). Once realized, I made it as part of my habit list and routinized the process in achieving my goal. The newest habit that I trying with this method is spending at least 10-30 minutes for writing – goal being publishing a book (well it is at least big enough!).

Make a separate Rituals/ Habits Lists: For quite some time, I have been trying to put habits that I need to do that on my to-do list. It unnecessarily clogged my to-do list. Now I have removed it and put it as my overall habits list like Exercising, Meditating, Drinking a glass of fruit juice, etc. I also have to consciously tell myself habit is quite different from my task list, because I got to elated of doing my habit as mastering my daily task list. It was not so.

What You Can Expect

Now I use both. It’s OK if goals change frequently, as it provides me sense of direction and a pull mode. I’m happy.

Goals are pull mode and Systems are push mode (Brain Johnson’s Philosophers Notes). I can then argue that one needs both Goal and System. But once the clarity on the goal is achieved or the goal is set, the focus is on the system. It is the system that takes things forward. It also seems to be similar to Don’t break the chain.

My Strategy

I started working backwards. I started noting what are the types of feelings that i would want eventually when i attain a goal, any goal? Feeling of freedom, independence to do anything in my life – to conduct my everyday affair in the manner I wanted to be – to work from home at my home office – ability to home school my pappa – live in a natural farm setting – ability to impact people around the world – ability to have the luxury to talk about spirituality through my writing. If this is what i want in life – what is the goal i need to achieve in having this lifestyle. This is a better way of achieving a goal and gaining more clarity on one’s goal. That is exactly how I reached my goal – by being a rich and famous author/ writer/ blogger for life. It is similar case of building a habit that I learnt from this one lady on the net (she is also a good example of running an email course).

I personally am someone deeply driven by a strong ‘why’. Unless there is a strong why for me, I may not feel motivated to embark on the task. I would always want to ensure that whatever I am doing that it is in some way related to the larger purpose of my life vision and purpose. This is not to say that I get to only what I like. Like you, I also end up doing some stupid things – the things I may have to necessarily have to do – for the greater cause. Even eating and sleeping for me has become a distraction when I am in my flow state to work on an idea for my project, to develop a nascent concept to a full-grown project and the like.

However, I would suggest you not to be misinformed by the current trend to not focus on goals. If the ‘goal’ seems to artificially create a sense of pressure around you – use the world ‘vision’ or ‘focus areas’ (as suggested by Peter Bergman).

But here I am going to argue against the likes of Mr.Scott Adams and James Clear whose suggestions may not be completely formed.

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