Planning Your Goals: Practical Tips From Brian Tracy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Goals!" by Brian Tracy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is it important to plan your goals? How do you come up with a plan that is realistic and achievable?

Once you’ve clarified what you want, identified the challenges, and determined the resources you need, you are ready to move on to the planning phase. Even though circumstances are bound to change and not everything will go according to plan, the act of planning your goals can better prepare you for the challenges that will come your way.

Here’s how to plan your goals, according to Brian Tracy.

How to Come Up With a Plan

Tracy writes that you shouldn’t aim to come up with a perfect plan from the beginning. Instead, just aim to get started on working toward your goals—you can make adjustments to your plan along the way. Even if you don’t consider yourself a planner, he says it’s a skill you can learn. Here’s his process for planning your goals:

1) Create a Project-Planning Sheet 

Tracy recommends that you put your plans down on paper with tasks arranged by priority then sub-tasks arranged in the order you need to do them and when. Note that you may be able to do some tasks at the same time. (Shortform note: Tracy recommends thinking about your tasks chronologically, but research suggests that planning in reverse is more effective for long-term goals than chronological planning because it forces you to think of each step in terms of having successfully completed the previous step. Put simply, planning in reverse means working your way backward from your goal until you reach the first step.)

2) Consult Other People

Once you have your project-planning sheet, Tracy says to identify which tasks require other people’s action. Then, ask those people to give you a realistic projection of the time and resources they need for them to do their part—it’s possible that they’ll need more or less time and resources than you anticipated. Make adjustments to your plan based on their input. (Shortform note: You won’t always work with people who are on the same planning wavelength as you. If you have to collaborate with a non-planner, make them more open to the idea of planning by mentioning how having a plan can benefit them and promise to keep planning sessions short.) 

3) Decide Whether to Move Forward

After breaking your goals down into mini-projects and consulting other people who are essential to your plan, you now have a better understanding of exactly what’s involved in achieving your goals. If, after careful planning and discussions with the people involved, you find that your initial goals aren’t feasible, Tracy says it’s best to put them aside rather than waste your time, money, and energy pursuing a lost cause. (Shortform note: This advice may feel at odds with Tracy’s earlier statement that the only real failure is giving up. However, experts agree you should let go of a goal when it has a negative effect on you, gets in the way of other goals, or no longer aligns with who you are and what you want. Choosing not to pursue a goal in any of these circumstances arguably isn’t a “failure”—more, a sensible decision to step back.)

How to Execute Your Plan

Achieving your goals isn’t just about having a well-detailed plan. It’s also about executing that plan according to schedule. Tracy stresses that time management—learning how to prioritize tasks that help you reach your goals—is a crucial skill to keep you on track. (Shortform note: People often confuse time management with multitasking, or doing several tasks at once. While time management is meant to help you prioritize your tasks and do them efficiently, multitasking reduces your efficiency and even damages your brain.)

Just as planning is a skill you can develop, so is time management. Tracy has three tips to help you stay on track:

1) Come Up With Weekly and Daily Plans

Tracy advises that before each workweek begins, write down your tasks for the week ahead. Then, each morning, write down your tasks for the day. (Shortform note: If your to-do list looks unmanageable, try this trick: Have another list where you write only one thing from your long list, then focus on doing your chosen task until you’re done. Cross it out, then choose your next task. Being intentional about each task minimizes the chances that you’ll get distracted.)

2) Determine Which Tasks to Prioritize 

Here’s a simple gauge to determine how high a task should be on your priority list: Ask, “What are the consequences if I don’t complete this task?” Tracy says that the task with the biggest repercussions for non-completion should be the highest on your list. (Shortform note: Author John C. Maxwell recommends another way to determine your priority tasks. In The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, he writes that you can evaluate each task according to the three Rs: requirement, or whether you need to do it yourself; return, or the results that the task yields; and reward, or whether it’s something you love—Maxwell says that it’s worth spending time on the things you enjoy.) 

3) Focus on High-Value Tasks 

Tracy recommends using the 80/20 Rule to determine your high-value tasks: Determine the 20 percent of your tasks that give you the most value, and channel most of your efforts toward accomplishing those first. (Shortform note: The 80/20 Rule that Tracy mentions is also known as the Pareto Principle, which states that 80 percent of consequences come from 20 percent of causes. Some warn against using the 80/20 Rule across the board, because doing so may leave little room for exploration and growth. While you should evaluate which activities give you the most value, you should also be flexible and make adjustments as needed.)    

Stay on Track

Once you start executing your plan, the next step is to monitor your progress. Tracy says you can do this by setting daily, weekly, and monthly benchmarks and metrics for each of your goals. Numbers make it plain to see whether you’re moving closer to your goal, allow you to make corrections as soon as you see that something is off, and help you stay on schedule. For example, your daily metric for your weight-loss goal can be the number of calories you consume. Your weekly metric can be how many minutes you spend exercising. Your monthly metrics can be how many pounds you lose.

(Shortform note: To have a clear picture of how you’re doing, author Cal Newport suggests keeping a physical display of your metrics in a visible place. Seeing your progress can help keep you motivated and encourage you to celebrate small milestones.)

Planning Your Goals: Practical Tips From Brian Tracy

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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