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The ultimate SMART goals worksheet (with step-by-step examples)

Goals are contagious. Once you achieve one, you can’t wait to get to the next one.
After a while, you gain extra momentum and confidence, and you start feeling like you have some sort of superpower.

Goal setting is like having a Sat Nav for the future: it helps you get closer and closer to the destination you chose, and it tells you when it’s time to turn right or left on the way.
If you’re not specific or descriptive, you will end up at the wrong destination, with the wrong passengers, driving someone else’s car, at the wrong time.

smart goals workbook

That’s why I put together a free smart goals worksheet for you to finally set clear goals for your lifestyle and your business following a clear and proven template.

When to set smart goals

Whenever you set out to accomplish something new, from doubling your sales to upgrading your fitness, you should take the time to write down a clear goal.
Whether it’s a business or a lifestyle goal, not being specific or descriptive enough will lead you astray, or set you up for disappointment once you get there: this is like a marksman getting the best technique and equipment, but forgetting to decide which target to aim at.

The right goals allow you to:

  • Have a clear direction and keep it top of mind (and avoid procrastination)
  • Have different people working together on a shared mission
  • Know what to say no to, so you can use resources towards what really matters
  • Measure and see progress so you can adjust, celebrate, and learn

Here’s where SMART principles come in handy. They provide a framework to make sure you give your goals the right structure to allow you to be successful.

The SMART principles

Here’s the definition of what the letters SMART stand for:

Specific: your goals should tell you exactly what you want to accomplish, instead of being based on general statements that can be open to interpretation (like, “feel happy”).

Measurable: you can measure progress (and adjust your plan) as you get closer to your goal, instead of having to wait for the final outcome to get feedback eventually.

Assignable: who is the person responsible for the success or failure of the goal?
This is very empowering, as it makes you focus on the variables you can influence.

Realistic: depending on your current situation, your available resources (including time), and how important this is for you, you’ll be able to gauge whether this is a realistic goal.

Time-bound: How much time are you giving yourself? Be precise, as this will allow you to measure whether you are moving in the right direction (if at all).

how to set smart goals

 

You can download your free goal planner to create solid life and business objectives here.
The included goal setting worksheet and audio guide will lead you through the process, so you can start to plan and work on great goals that support you.

Now let’s have a look at how to put these 5 principles into practice.


⚠ the example section goes beyond the 500 words guarantee


Examples of smart goals

Let’s use an example. I’m going to pick something from a list of the most common New Year’s Resolutions (I’m mean like that). To better understand how to apply the 5 principles and set great goals you can accomplish, let’s go through a few examples.

Example #1: Lose weight.

(specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-bound)

This goal doesn’t tell you what kind of weight you want to lose, how much, how quickly, and it doesn’t even make it clear who should take action. This is a very disempowering goal, as you won’t be able to measure progress, do better, and know whether things are working or not. Would a haircut be enough to lose weight? What about 10 kilos (20lb) over 10 years?

I have lost 2 kilos (of body fat) by 30th July.

Notice how much more empowering this goal is.

Specific: it gives clarity on how much body fat you should lose.
Measurable: you must lose 2kg to succeed, so you can measure your progress and success objectively (and adjust).
Assignable: it’s clear that you must take action.
Realistic: it’s realistic (unless you’re reading this in late July).
Time-bound: the timeline is clear, allowing you to know whether you’re progressing fast enough and…whether you got there in the end.

smart goals template

Example #2: More me time.

(specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-bound)

How much is more? Would one minute a day be enough? One hour?
This goal leaves you chasing your own tail, and feeling frustrated even when you accomplish it, because it’s not measurable and it’s based on a feeling (that will likely change and adapt).
Secondly, what will you do with that me time? If you had 2 hours a day and used them to play with your phone or stare at the ceiling, would you feel satisfied?
This lack of purpose and specificity is also why it’s so difficult to measure it.

I spend half an hour a day sketching (and I have kept it up for a whole week) by the end of September.

This phrasing gives you much more clarity and direction.

Specific: it tells you exactly what “me time” is to you, and how much time is needed.
Measurable: you must keep up a weekly streak of one hour a day of sketching.
This way, you’ll know whether you got there, but also it will allow you to carve out that time gradually, starting from 10 minutes a day and increasing as the momentum picks up.
Assignable: guess who’s going to sketch?
Realistic: half an hour is totally realistic if you give yourself enough time to build it gradually.
Time-bound: the working make it clear this is an ongoing lifestyle goal, but by specifying when the ritual needs to be created by (the end of September) it makes it time-bound.

smart goals example 2

 

Example #3: 5x the company’s sales this year.

(specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-bound)

This goal is specific, telling you to focus on sales (not profit, launches or any other metric), and by how much to increase them by, which also makes it measurable.
It’s also time-bound, specifying when it needs to be accomplished by.

This goal could be even more specific by choosing one or more product categories.
It’s also not assignable since no one is really responsible for making it happen. Is this on one person? On the whole team? The sales department? Should each have a separate goal that contributes towards the larger company goal?
Lastly, depending on the current situation and timeline, increasing sales by five times may not be realistic. Especially if you’re in November.

(As a team) we have 5x’d sales of recurring services within 12 months from [today].

This wording is much more specific and assignable, and ideally, it would be paired with team or individual goals that specify which target and action will contribute to the company’s overarching goal.

Specific: it tells you exactly what needs to happen, even which kind of services to focus on.
Measurable: it is clearly measurable, and the company can see whether they’re getting closer or not. They could also track individual actions to see the effect on the goal way before the timeline is approaching.
Assignable: it specifies it’s a company goal, so each person and department can choose a different set of actions that will get the company closer to the objective.
Realistic: the goal is realistic compared to today’s situation.
Time-bound: it needs to happen 12 months from the starting date.

smart goals example 3

Achieve your own smart goals

The way you phrase your goals determines your chances of success, but also whether it will be fun or frustrating to get there: smart goals will give you a clear direction to work towards, a way to measure your actions, and a timeline to keep you on your toes.
Badly worded goals could even lead you astray towards something you did not want or keep you and your business stuck in a loop of frustration.

To help you set huge goals you can crush, I create a free template and worksheet you can download and use every time you want to set new personal and team goals. Click here to receive in your inbox and start smashing your goals from today.

– Matt


Other articles you’ll enjoy:
When to stop trying
How to plan your week and track time by creating your Week Map



 

When to stop trying

I try to meditate every morning.
I try to go to the gym three times a week.
I try to launch a successful online business.

The words we use to describe reality determine the set of choices we have.

Whenever you tell yourself that you try, you let yourself off the hook.
You have done your best, but somehow, external circumstances don’t seem to agree.
There is nothing else you can do.

We celebrate trying, and we say things like “oh well, at least I tried”.
By masking a defeat as a victory, you give up all the precious feedback and the ability to do better next time, and finally get close to your goal (so you can stop trying).

Trying is playing not to lose.

Here are three things you can do next time you use the word trying:

Claim back what’s within your control

What’s really holding you back?
Too often, we get hung up on variables outside of our control and forget about those that actually are within our control.

You may not be able to decide when you need to be in the office by, but you can decide what happens on the way, at what time you wake up, at what time to go to bed.

Check your present values

We technically all have time to go to the gym twice a day, but it may not be a priority (let alone sensible): there are other things you value more than that, and they should get more time resources.
Yet, we rarely manage this tradeoff intentionally.

Next time you find yourself trying to do something (without success), look at what you are giving priority instead. What other activities are taking up your day?

You can’t fabricate more time, but you can allocate it better if you know what matters to you.

Look at the bigger picture

We often ignore the larger impact of a single action, thinking it happens in isolation, at the expense of everything else. So we have to choose between “me” and “them”, between “work” and “life”.
When you focus on the larger impact, you’ll find ways to align your activities, so they support each other instead of competing.

Meditation will impact your thinking at work; feeling great in your body will impact your confidence; investing in yourself will make you more interesting to others. The opposite is true

Adjust your actions

Now that you know what’s within your control, what you truly value most right now, and what the larger impact of your goals is, it’s time to change your actions.
After all, repeating what didn’t work so far will only keep you stuck trying.

So look at the previous steps, and change your approach.

how to stop trying

To stop trying, focus on what’s under your control and be clear on what’s really important to you.
Then adjust your actions to go all in on what matters.

– Matt


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How to stop waiting on your next big decision

Why is there always a lag between deciding to do something and…actually doing it?

Sometimes, we know what to do and yet, we wait.
It’s like if an invisible force is pulling us back, telling us to stick to what we know, even when it doesn’t feel right.

I asked Time Zillionaire readers for personal examples of difficult decisions in their lives.
Many stories included getting in or out or a relationship, starting a business, changing jobs, even moving your life to a new city. All these have a shared theme: getting in or out of a present situation and striving for something (even) better.

Here are three of my favourite stories.

Starting to freelance was a difficult decision. Launching into an unknown space and hoping the income will come from somewhere is scary stuff. What made it worse for me was that I had my uni to worry about, renting and all the various expenses when living away from home with little to no external support.

 

I am considering leaving a well-paying job that I have built up over nearly 14 years. A terrifying prospect for a woman in a male-dominated industry, with two small(ish) kids, a large mortgage and a big case of imposter syndrome!

 

When I started working as a videographer to get exposure, I lied when my parents told me to get a real job until I could turn my passion into profit.
I told them that I worked as a waiter for nearly 6 months, having to pretend on the phone that I was at work, going to work, oh I had a great time at work!

What do all these stories have in common?

Notice that three forces are at play:

  1. The fear of leaving the comfort of your current situation
  2. The fear of the unknown future and challenges ahead
  3. The fear of being judged or letting others down

The natural instinct is to escape or avoid fear. When you listen to it instead, it will show you the real cause of your discomfort: it’s like a radar to save you from future trouble, so you can prepare for your change ahead.

How can you manage fear, and turn a paralysing emotion into actionable steps?

Ask questions to stop fear

Here are 6 questions I use in my own life whenever I am faced with a difficult, scary life decision that matters. From leaving my safe corporate job to launching my first business, to starting to write when the publish button terrified me, all the way to my recent extended travelling, these questions have guided me to be prepared and calm in the face of fear of the unknown.

You can apply them to any new adventure, whether you’re thinking of changing jobs, launching a business, hiring your first person on your team, changing cities, ending a relationship or…any other major life change that scares you.

Let’s jump right in.

What’s the worst that can happen?

This question forces you to define the invisible beast behind your fear.
Instead of trying to manage an airy emotion, you can go straight to the source and take action before things go badly. Or maybe find out your fear is totally unfounded.

When I wanted to leave my corporate job, the worst was…ending in a different corporate job a few months after leaving. Likely, this was going to be in a better location, too. Essentially, the worst case was the same situation I was currently in, only slightly better. Suddenly, everything felt much easier.

How likely is it? What can I do now to prevent it?

Now you know your worst case outcome. Great. How likely is it to happen?
If you put in the work, how likely is the bad scenario to manifest? Look at all the possible causes and triggers that would be needed for it to happen.

What can you do right now to prevent it from happening?
Now that you know the weak points in your plan, it’s time to put in the work and stop them from manifesting. I am a big fan of running a pre-mortem to prevent failure (and keep the learning) whenever I embark on a new project or commitment.

If the worst happens, will it be forever?

Let’s take our bomb disposal one step forward. Time to cut the red wire.

If the worst were to happen, how long could it last for?
We often get hung up on bad scenarios, thinking that if they do happen, they’ll be a life sentence. Behind the scenes, the negativity bias is taking over our thoughts to focus on the problem. Take a step back, and think about solutions and actions you could take to get out of that worst case.
You’ll see it wouldn’t last very long at all.

When I wanted to leave my flat and travel while working for a few months, my mind kept coming up with the most creative problems. “What if all my clients leave me because of bad internet connectivity”, was one of the most dumbfounded, but also the most persistent. Once I realised it wasn’t at all likely, I looked at what I could do in that situation: moving to a cheaper country with great connectivity for two months and finding new online clients from there…that almost sounded fun!

When you start coming up with an action plan, you feel empowered and your confidence raises (making the worst case even less likely).

What if it does work out?

Hey, let’s not only think about worst case scenarios.
When you force yourself to explore the best case, you go from looking for trouble to understanding the potential. By peeking into what the future could look like, you can understand whether you like it or not. If you do, you’ll be motivated to make it happen, knowing what you value and what you’re really leaving on the table.

Ask yourself this question whenever negativity starts to set it. Prepare for the worst, but prepare for the best, too.

How will I feel a year from today?

If you choose not to take action, how will you feel a year from now?
Just imagine, 12 months from now, the weight of another 365 days of knowing what to do but…not pulling the trigger. Same problems, same decision, just older. How will it make you feel?

Will the opportunity even still be there in the future? And if not, how will that make you feel?
We take for granted what we have, but things could change overnight. International laws might change, there could be a major economic meltdown, a family emergency, a personal injury.
How will you feel if your current golden opportunities went away, and you didn’t take them?
I’m all about minimising the regrets of my 97-year-old self, and this question is a great motivator to take action today.

What lesson do I want to teach?

This last question addresses external judgement and the idea of letting others down.
We tend to use other people’s expectations as an excuse to stay stuck. But actually, we don’t even know how they will react.

I was terrified to tell my manager I wanted to quit. I did it while we waited for the lift. Awkward timing. She said, “whatever makes you happy, I will support that” and smiled. I wasn’t expecting that but, after all, who wants to work with a colleague who dislikes their job?
It was win-win, I was just too much in my own head to see that.

To balance the fear of external judgement, ask: what lesson do I want to teach?
Think about your family, your friends, your colleagues. Do you want to be an example of just getting by every day, or do you want to show them what’s possible in the adventure of life?

This shift in thinking leverages your peer group as motivation to take responsibility, not as an excuse to wait.

How to make your tough decision

When you want a major change, don’t escape your emotions: listen to fear to understand where the problem lies, then ask questions to go to the core and come up with concrete actions you can take today.
Here are the 6 questions:

  • What’s the worst that can happen?
  • How likely is it? What can I do now to prevent it?
  • If the worst happens, will it be forever?
  • What if it does work out?
  • How will I feel a year from today?
  • What lesson do I want to teach?

Change will happen anyway. Just look in the mirror. Or think about your life 5 years ago. You can either be the agent of change and dance, or you can be the victim of change and fight.

Go through your big decision, and write answers to the questions above on a piece of paper.
The temptation is to do it in your head while skimming this article (I know you). That won’t get you any closer to your decision. Write them down, and take the time to internalise your answers.

Do it today, then send me an email: what’s the worst that can happen?

– Matt


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Join my FREE 10-day email course
and get the daily structure to be intentional.

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6 ways to prevent regret and crush fear

“Do not regret what you have done.” — Musashi

Regret is that powerless, angry, and melancholic feeling that you could have taken a different shot. That possibility was there for you, and you didn’t take it. Now it’s gone.

How can regret be minimised or prevented altogether?

The last time I saw my uncle, he held my hand and smiled at me, for a moment shedding the emotional armour of a man born about a century ago.
He got me that much closer to many of my own aspirations.

Uncle built and sold a business decades before it was cool. He travelled way before cheap airlines made flying a modern expectation. He looked after his sister and created a great personal connection with me and my mum. No expectations, just be who you are.
Until he turned 85, he cycled 50 miles every weekend. He then bought a sports car, to the bafflement of a cautious car salesman. He was active well into his 90s, and when he had to get a wheelchair he looked at me with a childish grin and said “look, I bought a new whip”. Lol.

That last time I saw him though, he was dealing with regret.
The realisation that, had he taken different and more intentional choices, he’d still be living the same worst-case scenario: running out runway.

That was an immense gift.
The realisation that we’re all running out of runway, and that the choices we have today may be gone tomorrow.

Fear of regret can be such a powerful antidote against fear of taking action.

Regret is a (daily) choice

“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” — Jerzy Gregorek

Regret is never about the outcome, never about how things turn out. It’s not a disappointment in the present.
It’s a lack of clear conscience. The sharp realisation that a different set of actions would have impacted the outcome you find yourself dealing with. It’s the guilty awareness that, really, it is your doing.

Your actions were not aligned with your objectives, values, and thoughts: deep inside you know, you didn’t do your part.

Regret really is a daily choice, not a result.

When your daily actions are aligned with your priorities, with your goals, with your values, then you won’t have any regrets, regardless of how things turn out.
When you choose easy action aligned with comfort and avoiding-fear, that’s when regret kicks in.
You didn’t give yourself a fair shot.

Like a radar for what matters to your, fear is giving you a clear message: you give a shit. Ignore the warnings at your own peril.

Choosing not to chose

The biggest trap is the belief that our present choices will be there forever. So we procrastinate until we no longer can.

Choosing not to choose is a clear choice.
Sometimes, we prefer procrastination. We lie to ourselves, pretending things will stay the same until we finally will get the nerves to pull the trigger.
In the meantime, your choices expire. Deep inside, you knew it all along.

Choosing not to choose is sticking to the familiar.
Choosing a clear choice often brings change.

Positive or negative, we always resist change.
Understanding that there is no way not to choose (it’s a choice!) takes a lot of pressure off and allows you to actually decide based on your personal values and goals.

Regret of the dying: the most common regrets (to sort out)

What are the most common regrets people have at the end of their life?
Thanks to Bronnie Ware, you don’t have to wait until you run out of runway to find out. Bronnie has worked as a palliative care worker, looking after countless patients through the last days of their lives. When she asked them about any regrets they had, she started seeing a few patterns: there were a few regrets that would surface over and over again.

The top 5 regrets of the dying are
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard (particularly common in men).
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

What’s missing?

Notice how no one wished they had taken more conservative choices: actually, most of them wished they’d had the courage to express their true self through their emotional choices and actions.

Also, no one wished they’d had the latest iPhone, or spent more time at their mahogany table. I’m a big fan of upgrading your life following big goals, but it’s also important to appreciate what we already have through daily gratitude.

How to prevent regret

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions.” — Epictetus

Being aware of your future regrets can be very liberating.
Fear of regret in the future can help you embrace what you value and bust fear of taking action in the present.

Use your emotions to build self-awareness

Listen to yourself, and use your emotion and fear to build self-awareness: they are telling you what you value, and what brings you the most joy. We often conform to a general idea of what will bring you fulfilment, but only being self-aware will tell you what actually matters to you.

Happy vs less unhappy

Watching Netflix isn’t probably something you will remember 10 years from now. It’s not bringing you joy, but just helping you escape the negative.
Yet, most of us confuse happy and less unhappy, constantly chasing the same short-term fixes and escaping those emotions and fears that are telling us what actually matters to each one of us.

Shift your focus from the past to the future

There are a few things we can influence, and there are a few things we can’t influence. The past is one of the latter.

It’s easy to say “I should have bought some Bitcoin in 2011”. Now we know how that would have likely worked out. In the meantime, you are missing out on current opportunities.
So instead of looking back and using your energy on what you wish or could have been, learn from the past and move forward with more self-awareness and focus on what is under your control.

Focus on what you can influence

Just like the past, other people’s actions and reactions are not under your control. Neither are external circumstances.
Instead of waiting for things to happen and outsourcing responsibility to something or someone else, take control of the variables that you can influence and making the most of what you have. Intentional action is always better than desperate wait (i.e. choosing not to chose).

Embrace trade-offs (and the paradox of choice)

The number of choices we have today can be paralysing.
Too many things to buy. Too many skills to learn. Too many books to read. Too many matches to message. Too many possible choices.
Whatever you choose, you will always wonder what it would have been like in every other case.

Embrace this trade-off. It’s inevitable because we all have 24 hours a day. Learn to say no a strong, so you can give only passionate, decisive yeses that really impact your life.

Ask your future self

A great way to prevent regret is to ask your future self.
Use your imagination to time travel to the future, and put yourself in the moccasins of your 2022 self: what would you like to look back and thank yourself for?

Regret isn’t just a negative, powerless experience.
It’s actually a very powerful driver to take scary action now that you can. It’s also a very accurate radar telling you what matters to you and what you should focus on.

Some regret is inevitable. But when you focus on what matters to you and your future self, your conscience will be clear.

– Matt


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The Pre-Mortem: how to learn from failure (before it happens)

Learning is connected to making mistakes.

A confidently uttered sentence in a foreign language is built on countless clumsy attempts to say something remotely understandable.
A smooth blog post (and not worrying about feedback) takes a lot of mediocre writing and fearful publishing.
Approaching an attractive woman (or man!) in a public place and maintaining some sort of composure requires a lot of embarrassing attempts during which your right knee keeps trembling out of control.

Trust me, I’ve been through all of the above.

Think back on things you consider yourself confident at, and you’ll find your own examples: learning is built upon layers of mistakes.

how to learn from failure

The challenge is, some mistakes can take a lot of time, drain resources and…be pretty painful.
What if you could get the learning without going through failure?

Enter the pre-mortem.

Knowing challenges in advance

In medicine, a post-mortem (literally, after death) is the examination of a corpse to determine the cause of death.
In project management, a post-mortem is a similar autopsy performed on your last finished project, in order to examine the outcome and help the team improve next time.
If you’ve ever asked yourself “how could I have done (even) better?”, you were performing an unaware post-mortem on your own actions.

Post-mortems are a great way to intentionally analyse your recent actions and learn from the outcome. But here’s the main limitation: it’s too late. The opportunity is gone. The project has closed. Time has passed. Resources have been spent. The client has left. Team (and personal) relationships have worn out.

Whenever you’re about to start a new project, (ad)venture, or major life change, all you have to do is…change the prefix.

How to do your own Pre-Mortem

The first step to starting your pre-mortem, is getting clarity about your desired outcome: what do you want to achieve?
Be very specific, and make sure you can measure the outcome (or it will be difficult to learn from it). Check out how this guide on setting SMART goals to make sure you don’t deceive yourself.

Let’s say, for example, that your goal is to “find 3 new clients by 31st March”.

The second step is to take that ideal outcome, and completely reverse it: make it as negative as possible. Not only your goal hasn’t happened: things got worse than when you started.
In our example, imagine it’s now the 31st of March and…not only you haven’t found 3 new clients, you also have lost 3 of your existing ones.
Make sure to keep the outcome relevant, but feel free to add as much negativity as you wish.

How did things get to this point?

Now, here comes the fun bit.
On a piece of paper (or a Google sheet), create 2 lists: internal obstacles and external obstacles.
What factors and challenges will bring your future self to such a gloomy outcome?

Internal obstacles are in your control, and often self-generated. These include motivation, poor priorities, not taking care of yourself, waiting until the last minute…you name it.

External obstacles depend on other people or events. These could include an existing client sending over extra work, a team member getting ill, a life event taking your energy and focus…anything external that might impact your outcome.

Go ahead and list a minimum of 10 of each. I’ll wait.

Anticipate the learning to be prepared

Ok, at this point we know:

  1. our ideal outcome and SMART goal
  2. how things might go wrong
  3. why things might go wrong

The last step is to prepare strategies and solutions to either prevent or minimise the impact of challenges. We take ownership of what’s within our control to maximise our chances of achieving our goal and smooth out the road ahead.

how to do a pre-mortem

Next to your obstacle lists, create a new solutions column.
For each internal and external obstacle, write down at least one action you can take to either prevent it now or deal with it once it manifests.
Make sure you don’t rush this part: a few extra minutes could save you months of setbacks and trouble.

In our example, obstacles that may bring you to losing clients instead of gaining 3 new ones by 31st March, could be:
Internal obstacle: I procrastinated every morning.
Solution: leave the flat right after breakfast, and find a coffee shop to work from and use it to make progress on your goal exclusively; get enough rest and go to bed by 11 pm; ask a friend to check in with you via text every day at 10 am; break down big goals into daily tasks to reduce complexity and make it easy to take some action; do not have lunch until you have completed a specific daily action.
External obstacle: too many social activities took a lot of my time and distracted me from my goal.
Solution: cap socials to 3 times a week and calendar them; choose only activities I feel passionate about; explain why this goal is important to me to get friends’ approval and support.

When should you run a Pre-Mortem?

Running a pre-mortem is a great way to prevent challenges and smooth out the road ahead.
This isn’t exclusive to business and team goals: it extends to personal objectives and life changes too. If these involve other people, a shared pre-mortem will allow you to better understand personal frictions without having to go through them: you’ll be able to align everyone’s vision and accommodate differences…before they become apparent (or it’s too late).

It’s also great to bust excuses before they happen.

Here are some great examples of when to run your own pre-mortem.

  • Business and team goals
  • Starting a side hustle or launching a new product
  • Moving to a new city or neighbourhood
  • Relationships and couple goals
  • Fitness, health, and other personal goals
  • Buying a house
  • Moving in with your partner (or a new housemate)
  • Starting a new job
  • Learning a new skill or a new language
  • Going on a first long holiday with friends

There’s never a wrong time to run your own pre-mortem, prevent roadblocks ahead, and learn from mistakes you will never make. Make it part of your toolkit, and share with the people around you: you’ll accelerate your growth, deepen your closest relationships, and make great decisions easy.

With a few minutes of planning, you will save yourself weeks of pain and months setbacks.

— Matt


PS: learn how to make big goals easy and take action every day.

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Levels of learning: when reading more means knowing less

If you’re a serial learner, you know how difficult it is to choose.

First, choose what you what to learn.
Another book on launching a business? Or maybe you want to learn UX design.
What about a course on optimal nutrition? Mmmh, maybe I should learn about stoicism, since everyone talks about it so much.

Often, the default is not to choose.
Just say yes to all of them, leave the books on a shelf, open your Facebook timeline, and click on “27 Pairs Of Leggings You Can Wear As Pants, Dammit”.

Dammit indeed.

But let’s say you do choose. Let’s say you want to focus on marketing for two months and really understand what is it that your missing. Decisions, great!

You read one book about how to find your first 100 customers. It blows your mind. You want to know more!
So you pick up another book. You want to be an expert!
By the end of your third book, you’re confused. Though the three books have a lot in common, they’re also pretty discordant.
Should you start from Facebook ads? Should you create a landing page first? Are Messenger bots a fad or the future? What about social media? You’ve got to be on social media.

You know more, but you feel like you know less.

Now you need to know more.
So you get another book, or binge-watch youtube, looking for the perfect answer. It must be somewhere.

The same story goes for nutrition and fitness. Or building an app. Or going on amazing dates.

The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know.

The learning cycle

How many books did you read before learning how to walk? Or to ride a bicycle?

I’m going to have a wild guess: zero.

Learning how to walk is usually pretty messy.
Here’s the step by step:

Rock on your back for months.
Then learn to sit up.
Crawl on the floor while random adults make the ‘ooohh’ sounds of a house haunted by ghosts.
Finally, stand up and fall on the floor like a sack of potatoes. Usually with a loud thud.
After a while, you will find yourself walking.

Keep at it, and then you’ll be able to run.

Except, I left one step out: observe people that already walk, then copy them.
You could summarise the whole process in three steps: observe, practice, master.

learning levels

When it comes to learning a specialised skill, the same three steps apply.
This time though, you’ll have to look for guidance outside your comfort zone. The more specific your learning subject, the harder you’ll have to look for information and find people that have done it before you through books, blog posts, video, podcasts, mentors, coaches…

Observe, practice, master. Repeat.

Levels of learning vs Chasing certainty

Of the three steps, practice is where most people get stuck. Practice is messy. That’s where babies fall flat on their faces, and adults get discouraged, hurt, embarrassed.
So most people stay stuck in the first step. They keep observing. They read another book. Google another blog post. Send another question. All to avoid taking action.

Reading another book might make you feel like you are decreasing uncertainty and mitigating risk. But actually, it’s adding more information that needs to be actioned, increasing complexity. Eventually, you have so much to action it’s overwhelming.

So you’re stuck swimming in theory.

The more you travel, the less you know. - Tao The Ching Click To Tweet

Levels of learning

To make sure you progress in your learning, take action. Learn something new, then take action without adding more information.

This takes commitment. Commitment to one school of thought, to one tactic, to one way.
You have to trust, and take action to figure out how it fits in your own situation. It can be messy, but only that way you’ll turn knowledge into experience.

Once you get comfortable, it’s time to move on. Use your new level of mastery to move up and try something new. A new school of thought, a new tactic, a new way.

Except, this time you will be able to count on your new level of mastery.

Observe, practice, master.

Just don’t get stuck.

— Matt

PS: know how to recognise procrastination from busyness

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When life is a mess, help your future self

Where were you three years ago?

Whenever I ask this question, the answer usually includes a long ermmm sound, followed by the person looking up and trying to recollect what things were like 3 years before.
Usually, things looked very different.

Even if you were in the same job, lived in the same place, and hung out with the same people, some things looked very different.
Maybe it was your mood. Maybe your friends’ interests (or your friends altogether). Maybe it’s how you felt in your body. Maybe you had the best holiday of your life. Or maybe you had a lot less credit card debt.

Whatever it was, a small difference multiplied by 36 months makes a big difference.

Three years ago, things looked very different for me.
2014 Matt didn’t have a blog (in fact, he was terrified of writing online).
He lived in a different part of town, next door to a world-class snoring flatmate.
2014 Matt didn’t sport a glorious beard (in fact, he decided to clean shave 300 times in a year – no weekends – and succeeded).
He was in a great relationship (but felt he just got lucky and didn’t know how to meet women).
He wasn’t even in great shape (unless you’re a lizard).
2014 Matt needed to give himself a good kick in the bottom.
(Thanks for eventually doing it dude!)

thinking long term

Take a minute, and write down 5 things that were different for you in 2014.
From your haircut to your income, everything’s game.

Now you see: tons can happen in 3 years.
How much positive change could you create by being intentional for the next 3 years?

(Hint: tons).

And yet, we want it all right now.
Research actually shows that, the worse our situation seems and the more stressed we feel, the more we are biologically wired to think short-term.

So. Can you cultivate long-term thinking?

How to improve long-term thinking

Here are five exercises for you to start thinking long term, and make it a daily practice.

Accept the present, but take responsibility.

Whatever your present situation, accept it as your starting point.
Wishing things were different won’t make them any different.
Here are the choices you have: either go through your present situation and improve things over time; or ignore the present and stay where you are (i.e. let things get worse).

You want to be honest with yourself, but also take responsibility and recognise that your past choices got you where you are today.
The aim of this isn’t blame and regret, but rather empowerment.
Only by accepting that your choices got you here can you start believing that new choices will get you somewhere else.

By accepting that your choices got you here, you understand that new choices will get you there. Click To Tweet

Stop being so selfish.

Once you accept that your past self has given you the present opportunities and challenges, you can start to see how the same will happen three years from now. Or ten.

So, instead of wishing and wanting everything to be different right now, think longer term (and act short term). Make your next move thinking about your 2020 self. Imagine them, visualise them.
Having a longer-term direction, and being to support something outside of your present self, will give you direction and sense of purpose, making the present better too.

Work on the cause, not the symptoms.

We live in a culture that teaches us to focus on the symptom, rarely on the cause.
Do you have a headache? Take a painkiller and ignore the reason why that happened.

When it comes to creating better opportunities for your future self, you need to cultivate an obsession with finding the cause behind the symptom. Otherwise, you will be dealing with the same problems, just under a different guise.

For example. If you’re feeling lonely, binge-watching another TV show may make you feel better for the next two days. But will you be more or less lonely then? How about a year later?
Looking at the cause may not be pleasant. Maybe you don’t know a lot of people. Or maybe you tend to not put a lot of effort in relationships. But once you understand the cause, you can change things for good. You can start meeting more people and commit to following up more regularly.
2020 self will thank you.

Seek experiences, not entertainment.

What TV show were you watching in October 2013? What restaurants did you go to? Who knows.

If you did anything that pushed you to grow, however, you’ll remember.
Did you travel anywhere new? Gave your first public speech? Went to an event on your own and uncomfortably spoke to a person that became a great friend?

Sometimes, the line between entertainment and experience is thin. But the difference is huge.
Experiences stay with you after they’re complete. The boost in confidence, social life, self-awareness, or any skills gained perpetuate way beyond the boundaries of the experience.
Entertainment, on the other hand, it’s just a temporary distraction from everyday life. Sometimes, it has a therapeutic effect. But more often than not, it’s just an effort to conceal a deep-seated problem without dealing with the actual problem.
Entertainment is the equivalent of painting a toilet. It may look a bit nicer, but it’s still a toilet.

Guess which one will help your future self? Weeks on end of Netflix!

(Only kidding).

Measure the true cost of short-term choices.

Time to confess. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, but I love chocolate cakes. Especially when they’ve got multiple layers. And dark chocolate covering the top. Ehm. Can we add jam in the middle? Yes, please.

However, I rarely have chocolate cake.

One reason is that I like to keep it a special occasion: get the best slice of cake possible, and make it an experience.
But the main reason is that, although cake+chocolate may give instant pleasure, it comes at many invisible costs. The same sugar spike that triggers a massive release of dopamine in my brain (the pleasure neurotransmitter), also causes all sorts of havoc in the body, that translate into a groggy afternoon, the inevitable trough after the euphoric spike, and terrible health and performance issues down the line. It makes me less able to enjoy life and what I’m passionate about.
In other words, I am paying my short-term entertainment using my long-term credit card.

The same goes for video games, binging on tv, shopping, drinking a bit too much,…you know the rest. Make it a special occasion and it can be therapeutic, but when it becomes a way to shortcut instant gratification, it comes at a hidden (future) cost.

When you understand the true cost of short-term choices, that’s when you appreciate the hidden benefits of thinking longer-term. Really looking after yourself but also…beyond it, all the way to your future self.

Now you know. Looking back, has your past self be kind to you? Or have they left you a mess?
Think. Then choose how you want to feel when you look back in 2020. (Grateful).

Do it!

— Matt

PS: learn how negative thoughts start and how to break the short-term cycle.

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Not knowing enough: how to take action on limited information

Is information ever too much?

Imagine this: you have to change a lightbulb, and you have no idea how.

You type “how to change a lightbulb” into Google.
You read one (let me guess, wikihow?), then you do it.
You turn the light off, and as soon as you start unscrewing the bulb, you notice that…the replacement bulb doesn’t look the same. Back to Google. Ah. It’s a whatever-type-you-have-in-your-house bulb. Back to practice.
Eventually, you change your lightbulb, flip the switch and…voilà. Let there be light.

Now, there were two key parts to that story.
First, our imaginary you looked for information. How to.
Then, ‘you’ used that information and learnt that…there was more that‘you’ needed to know.
A case of not knowing what you don’t know.
So back to more information, this time more specific. What type.
Then, our imaginary you went back to applying that information.
Information + execution = light bulb moment. (Some times literally, other times figuratively.)

too-much-information

You can apply this formula to anything.

Simple?
Maybe, but when things get more difficult than changing a light bulb when tend to drift away.
Instead of matching information with action, we look for more information. We try to prevent any future challenges, without really knowing what those challenges could be.
It’s like painting a patchy wall in the dark.
Not only we fail to turn information into experience, this search for more information doesn’t let us fully engage with what’s already in front of us. Like a serial dater with commitment issues, our eyes stare at a page, but our mind is already thinking about what’s next.

There’s so much to be known, no time is left for execution.

A game you’ve lost from the start

Whether it’s music, articles, podcasts, books, audiobooks, films, social media updates and texts from friends, there is more information you’ll ever be able to consume.
Literally.
1.97 million blog posts written every day.
6,000 tweets a second.
95 million Instagram photos a day.
Over 100,000 music albums a year. And counting (that was a few years ago).
Around 1,000,000 books published each year.

The conclusion?
It’s impossible to keep up. If you’re looking to reach 100% knowledge, good luck.

You will alway feel like you’re missing a piece of information, and that’s part of the game.
Take action instead.

The only alternative is to get lost in quantity over quality. To spread yourself thin over lots of theory without even engaging, knowing that you won’t take action anyway. To keep looking for the golden nugget but refuse to reach for it when you see it. Because that’s when the real work starts.

How to find your light bulb moment

A couple of times a year, I do an information purge.
I list the blogs that I follow. The podcasts I listen to. The people I look up to. The kind of books that I read. Even the people I hang out with or follow on social media.

Then I ask myself “is this relevant to my current focus? is it supporting the person I want to be?”

This is fundamental to differentiate between just in case information and just in time information: the former supports my actions and progress, the latter just throws a complicated spanner in the works.

This time, I took it a bit further.
I decided that for the next 3 month I will only read books I already read. This way, I’ll know I’ll be reading a great book, I’ll get fresh insights from a new point of view, and I’ll be able to apply the lessons that escaped me the first time around.
I’m giving myself more room to take action and get real insights.

It doesn’t just apply to books. Articles I saved, movies I enjoyed in the past but didn’t quite remember, courses that made a difference. That’s why they deserve more action.

Whatever your strategy, go ahead and do your information purge today.
Make sure you stop drowning in information, and give yourself enough time and headspace to take intentional action.

That’s how you turn information into transformation.

— Matt

PS: don’t know how to decide? Learn the dangers of saying ‘yes’ too lightly.

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Needy productivity: the cost of working on the wrong things

Productivity can be such a fuzzy word.
Most people associate it with doing more of what they already do, without ever questioning what that is in the first place.
No matter whether it’s an effective method, or even the right direction, just do more of it.
Cram your day with more work that has zero impact.

Instead of teaching how to run, traditional productivity advice just tells you to crawl faster.

I remember when I worked in a big corporate office. Productivity meant being the last to leave the office.
In the startup world, too often productivity means being the last to go to bed.
Other times, productivity is just saying yes and pleasing everyone.
In all these cases, productivity is just a fancy word to hide peacocky behaviour: spreading out drafts and showing off colourful spreadsheets to catch other’s approval.
It’s not productivity, it’s neediness.
It’s being seen as the hardest working.
It’s being accepted as a useful cog in the machine.

This kind of “productivity” focuses on perceived output, rather than…the actual output. Much to your health’s detriment, your perceived output is actually based on your input. So you’ll have to keep (appearing) doing more.

Needy productivity brings all sorts of dysfunctional behaviours.

Doing more vs doing the right thing

We all add a few extra todos to our list that have zero impact but take up all of our time.
Usually, it’s a fear response called procrastination.
Needy productivity goes one step further. It celebrates and rewards the very thing that procrastination is made of: useless work.

Doing more makes you feel good in the moment, like you matter.
Doing the right thing requires patience, like what you create matters.
Doing more is easy: all it takes is saying yes to anything.
Doing the right thing is hard: you must dance with your fears.

Crawling faster vs learning to run

The focus on doing more ignores an important tool in your arsenal: learning.
Taking time off to improve your processes and learn new skills is critical to doing better. It also allows you to be more efficient with your processes, and be enriched by external experiences.

Again, this requires long-term thinking. The trust that, if I invest time in myself, it will come back manyfold in the form of extra time and extra impact. It requires embracing your fears.

After all, would you rather be a slow runner or a faster crawler?

Quantity work vs quality work

Quantity work is the lovechild of the two points above.
When you don’t focus on doing what really matters but just doing more, and you don’t invest in your own skills, you are commoditising your output.

If you do what many others can do, the same way other do it, the only differentiation is the quantity of your output. Since we all have 24 hours a day, we all have the same, natural cap to how much we can produce per day. This means that, unless you have a time machine or a cloning lab, doing more is a losing strategy by definition.

Instead of creating something meaningful and learning unique skills, you max out your 24 hours, just like everyone else. Average strategy, average results.
Not only this translate in less meaningful work, it also has a monetary consequence: the more commoditised your output, the less you will be able to charge for it.

The paradox is that, by focusing on quantity, you’re actually putting a cap (24 hours) on your impact AND how much you can charge. It’s a losing strategy short and long term.

Productive productivity

The other day, I was having a chat with a friend.
Over the fizzy noise of sparkling water and the jazzy sound of music in the background, we ended up talking about…work that matters. (We are that cool).

Maybe it was all the bubbles in the water, but as soon as the word “productivity” was spoken, I had a sudden epiphany: the familiar bond with the word “product”, “to produce” echoed in my head like the sweet words of a nerdy angel.

Too often productivity is seen as “doing”, not producing.
As doing more, regardless of the output.
But the word is staring in our faces all along.
Produce. Make. Ship.

Real productivity is selfless: the focus shifts away from the maker and onto the creation.
We ask how much did I do?
How many hours did I work?
How long is my todo list?

Focus on the final product instead.

Not how much time you put in, but how much value you push out.
Not how long have you spent on it, but how much closer to completion your product is.
It’s not the quantity of your input, it’s the quality of your output.

Productivity is making, not doing.

– Matt

PS: stop sweating the small stuff by learning the ancient principle of sailing through life.

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Take action now: a simple way to stop over planning

Have you ever done so much planning that, instead of making things simpler and easier to action, you actually got lost?

(I know you have).

Don’t get me wrong. Planning is good.
Especially if you want to achieve something specific, mapping out how to get there is important.
But at some point, too much planning gets in the way. Instead of sticking to your goal, you start sticking to the plan.
Over-planning is a great way to sabotage your efforts and not have to deal with those scary unknown changes that…taking action would actually bring.

I’ve done it too.

When I first started this blog, I created a 4-tab spreadsheet that told me exactly how I was going to grow its traffic over the next year. It was really, really detailed. In fact, you could say it was nearly a piece of art.
It was definitely a Picasso though. The plan was way too complicated. I added tons of variables and different milestones, without actually knowing what I was talking about: I had never done it before!

Say it with me: “Planning is good. Over planning is bad.”

So let me introduce the other end of the spectrum: not planning at all.
This is the usual playbook: 1) set a goal, 2) take (random) action, 3) see no results, 4) give up. Repeat.

Again, this is a great way to sabotage your efforts and not having to deal with scary unknown changes. It’s also pretty frustrating.

Classic examples are: dieting, language-learning, going back to the gym…you’ve seen before.

This approach ignores all obstacles ahead, while also giving you zero tools to be able to see any result. It confuses movement for action. Just like you won’t learn to swim by adding another column to your spreadsheet, you also won’t learn to swim by jumping in a pool blindfolded.

stop over planning

Enter Winning Actions.

How to start taking action

Whether you want to meet more people or how to speak a new language, big objectives are not going to happen overnight.
The challenge is that, even if your goal is super clear, it can feel pretty daunting to decide what to work on each day. Especially if this is the first time you work towards a particular something.

If goals and milestones are a metric for progress, Winning Actions are a metric for movement (in the right direction).

Whether you set monthly, yearly, or longer goals, the only way to measure your progress is by looking back at what you’ve accomplished so far. Are you any closer?
This is important to learn and adjust, but it doesn’t help on a daily basis.

For example. Say that I wanted to “run 100 miles in a month”.
I can check in mid-month to see whether I’m any closer.
I can even do it weekly (or wait until the end of the month).
In the meantime, a big slice of the month has gone: what to do if you’re behind on your progress?

Winning Actions are simple, specific, and repeatable actions you can take towards each of your goals. They are not results, they are actions.

To run 100 miles a month, for example, your Winning Action could be a weekly “run 12 miles every Thursday and Sunday” or “Run 3.5 miles a day”.
Just by sticking to your actions, you will accomplish the final goal…automatically.

External variables (and examples)

Let’s make things more complicated and introduce an external variable: other people.
Certain goals depend on others’ behaviour, like increasing traffic, meeting new friends, finding more clients, getting comfortable with talking to men/women, you name it.
Here Winning Actions become even more valuable, as they allow you to isolate what you can control, and do more of it instead of waiting for someone else’s results.
The key here is to decide on an action which is completely under your control and adjust for external behaviour.

Let’s take a few examples.

Meet 2 new interesting people next month.

This is dependent on…people meeting you.

Once you have determined the best avenues to meet likeminded people you enjoy hanging out with, spot a single action you can take.
For example, it could be “reaching out for an introduction” whether this is a cold or warm intro. Then, set some assumptions, how many people do you need to contact to actually meet someone interesting? Let’s say it’s one person met every 5 reach outs.
2 people in a month = send 3 introductions a week.

Increase traffic to your website 30%.

This is dependent on…people visiting your website.

What has worked in bringing visitors so far? What can you do to maximise it?
At the end of last year, I noticed that I was getting a good portion of blog visitors from Quora. So I decided to increase my answers on Quora to one a day for a whole month.
The Winning Action was simple: write one Quora answer (daily).
Halfway through the month, I had accumulated enough data and experience to be able to improve my answer selection and the position of links back to the blog.
The result? I saw a spike in traffic that continued well beyond my month experiment.

Go on three dates next month.

This is dependent on…people wanting to go on a date with you.

The Tinder route. Let’s assume you’ve already optimised your profile and pictures. How many swipes does it usually take you to get a match? How many matches do you turn into a conversation? How many conversations into dates?
Let’s assume it’s 40 swipes (left or right), half turn into conversations, and a quarter of those turn into dates.
That will require 320 swipes for each date, or 32 a day to get your three dates.
I’m not a fan of Tinder: you can apply the same principles “offline”.

winning actions: take action now

So how to create your own Winning Actions?

Create your own

Here’s the step-by-step guide to setting your own Winning Actions, and make progress towards your goals every day (or every week).
You can also download the template to create your own actions here.

Step #1: Set a measurable goal

If you set a generic goal like “lose weight” or make more money, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Winning Actions won’t work because there is nothing to get you closer to.
Check out my guide to SMART goals here, and make sure you set objectives that are measurable.

Step #2: Brainstorm actions that would get you closer

Ok, now that you have your goal clear, jot down a list of actions that would take you closer to it.
No rules here, just write down as many as you can.

Step #3: Select an action that is 100% under your control

Take the list from the previous step, and cross off everything that requires external input.
For example “meet 2 new people for coffee every week” isn’t totally under your control. “Email 2 people a week to grab coffee together” is.

Step #4: Create assumptions and calculate frequency

How often do you need to take your Winning Action to get the result you want?
Multiply your action by that factor, then spread it over time. Make sure you make your Winning Action daily or weekly, otherwise it won’t work (you’ll procrastinate).

Step #5: Keep track of your actions

Keeping track of your actions has many benefits:
– Have a special ritual for your actions
– Create a visual chain of actions taken, which will be difficult to break: you’ll keep the streak going.
– Share your actions and results with someone else for extra accountability.
– Give you data to look back and learn how to improve your tactics.
(You can grab the free template here.)

Once you have enough data, you can then compare your actions with the results you got: that way, you’ll be combining your metrics for movement (Winning Actions) with your metrics for progress (milestones and goals), so that you can adjust the effectiveness of your actions.
It’s important you don’t tweak your actions too regularly: wait until you have some actual data to base your decision upon and learn.

Winning Actions for teams

You can use Winning Actions to learn a language, cook at home regularly, find new clients, …you name it.

It’s also a great tool for team goals and team communication.

In fact, if you already have yearly goals or quarterly goals for the whole team and sub teams, it’s time to set some shared Winning Actions. When I say shared, I mean they should be individual but visible to the whole team, and working towards a common aim.
Remember rule #3: they need to be 100% under one person’s control. So what is one action each team member should take every week, that would inevitably get you closer to your shared goals?

Go through the step above and start setting some. Make sure you don’t overdo it: start from one action per team member.

Take action with your team

Next, use the template (it also has a team tab for you to use) and create a shared spreadsheet. Create a regular follow up every week to check in on the team’s Winning Actions, and help each other keep the streak alive.

What next

Whether you want to use Winning Actions for yourself or your team, it’s your turn.
Make sure you follow the 5 steps, and create your own. Remember: start small, keep the streak alive, and use data to learn every month or so. Take action now.

👋

– Matt

PS: enjoyed this post?
Check out this simple strategy to get unstuck when you really don’t know where to start.