4 Goal Planning Hacks That You Might Not Have Heard Before

Goal planning and goal setting aren’t the same thing.

Find out how you can achieve your goals by understanding the difference.

Goal Planning

Goals are a common feature of many self-improvement theories. Goal setting is a popular topic. It’s so popular that people are lining up for and against the very idea of setting goals.

But setting goals is not the problem (nor is it the answer). It’s what you do once you set the goal that matters.

That’s where goal planning comes in.

Goal Setting vs. Goal Planning

What’s the difference?

Goal setting is the act of identifying an outcome that you want and trying to realize it. Goal planning is actually thinking through the steps of how you get from your present situation to your desired outcome.

Any guess which activity I think is more effective?

The fact is, millions of people each year go through a goal setting phase. It’s called New Year’s resolutions.

It’s almost exactly halfway through the year right now. How many New Year’s resolutions have you actually kept?

Be honest. One? Two?


Goal setting is easy. Following through, taking action, and executing are hard. Goal planning is the bridge that gets you from pie-in-the-sky daydreaming to actual concrete results.

4 Unconventional Hacks for Planning Your Goals

1. Deconstruct & Sequence

Tim Ferriss, the 4-Hour productivity guru behind The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body, took to deconstructing the meta-skill of learning and acquiring new skills. The results of Ferriss’s findings are presented in the form of cooking in his latest tome, The 4-Hour Chef.

Ferriss gave a talk in 2013 at The Next Web on mastering any skill. It’s worth watching in its entirety:


The crux of Ferriss’s technique is to deconstruct a skill to its fundamental elements, select the most crucial factors to learn, sequence them in an unconventional order, and set stakes to motivate you.

The sequencing piece is critical. By doing something out of order, like learning chess backwards from endgame to openings, you can take an ambitious goal like writing a novel and rethink how it works e.g. Can I write the ending first and work back to the beginning?

2. Force Accountability

Ferriss also mentions stickK, a webapp that he is an investor in. Here’s Forbes on what Ferriss has to say about internal motivation and goals:

For the setting of stakes, Ferriss recommended an online service called StickK that helps users punish themselves for quitting by holding money in escrow and donating it to a pre-selected “anti-charity” when they fail.

There’s one anti-charity that’s particularly popular with StickK users who are loathe to be seen as donating to it, he said.

“The George W. Bush Congressional Library gets a lot of people to quit smoking and lose weight.” (I’m assuming he meant the George W. Bush Presidential Library but misspoke.)

Intrinsic motivation, but with an external twist. What’s really driving you to complete your goal is an identity. For example, if you’re liberal, you probably can’t support George W. Bush. But by making it public, you add the weight of peer pressure too.

3. Build a Daily Practice

There are few things more powerful than steady, deliberate, and habitual practice. Waiting for inspiration to strike is what amateurs do. Professionals put their heads down and create. As prolific author Dean Wesley Smith points out, there’s power in writing even a measly 250 words a day:

If you type 250 words in 15 minutes, and considered your writing important enough to type for 15 minutes every day, you will finish 91,250 words in one year. Or about one longish novel. (Sorry, but it’s true. 250 words x 365 days = 91,250 words …)

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Smith regularly lambastes authors who can’t seem to write more than 1 book every 2-3 years. By working just a little bit harder (like a few hours a day instead of 15 minutes), Smith has been known to write a complete novel in 10 days. Steadily chipping away at your goal instead of trying to do it all at once is often the better strategy.

4. Conduct an Annual Retrospective

Talk about goal planning: Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup, is the youngest person to visit every single country on the face of the earth. One goal planning technique that Chris uses is the Annual Review.

In Scrum lingo, we might call this an Annual Retrospective instead of a “Review.” Here’s what Chris has to say about Annual Retrospectives:

Every year since 2005, I’ve spent the better part of a week in late December planning my life for the next year. Overall, this is probably the best decision I’ve made in terms of working towards multiple goals simultaneously.

The goal is to look at your previous year in terms of outcomes–what went well, what didn’t go so well–as a way to look forward. By making the Annual Retrospective a consistent habit, Chris produces accountability for himself.

The aim isn’t to create a rigid long-term plan that won’t survive anyway. Instead, the Annual Retrospective is a time to celebrate your accomplishments over the course of the previous year, and set a (correctable) course for the next.

Image by me from my recent Machu Picchu trip. Getting to the top of this thing was a Bucket List goal of mine–one down, a bajillion more to go!

Opt In Image
How Much Time Would You Save With the Right Tools?
Get the 'App Guide' for Download NOW

In this free guide, I reveal the top 7 apps that make my career and personal life run smoothly. Hint: 5 of the apps I use every day are totally free! Sign up to receive blog updates, exclusive content, and the resource guide FREE!