How Many Goals Should You Have?

In my first year of consulting, I was asked to coach an executive director of a local non-profit organization. In meeting with him for the first time, I asked the predictable executive coaching question, “What goals would you like us to work on?”

He told me that he didn’t believe in goals. That set me back a bit because, at that time, goal-setting and accountability around steps of action was the main tool in my executive coaching toolbox.

I mumbled some incredibly inane response like, “If you did believe in goals what would your goals be?” and stumbled my way through the rest of the meeting. To my surprise, however, at our next meeting this client brought me his goals: nine pages, single-spaced. I was thrilled. “Now we had something to work on,” I thought. Six months later our time together ended with no significant progress on anything in the nine pages. No wonder this person didn’t believe in goals!

Two years later, again to my surprise, this client re-hired me to be his executive coach. Much wiser, I insisted that we focus our time together on three things and all three, with their steps of action, had to fit on one page. In five months we got everything done on that page.

How Many Goals Should You Have?

How many goals should you have at any one time? Two, or at the very most, three. Here’s why. The productivity specialists, FranklinCovey, surveyed thousands of teams and discovered the following facts:

  • If a team has 2-3 three primary goals, they are likely to achieve 2-3 of them.
  • If a team has 3-10 primary goals, they are likely to achieve 1 or 2 of them.
  • If a team has 11 or more goals, they are like to achieve none of them.

In other words, when it comes to setting goals, less is more. Remember, goals make great servants but terrible masters. Let them serve you and not the other way around. Unless, of course, you really don’t want to get them done. Then why bother?

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