Duke's Dorie Clark has some good advice in her HBR blog post regarding goal setting strategies. Clark first cites some interesting research on the ineffectiveness of to-do lists:
Indeed, one indication of this is the pervasive use of to-do lists, which attempt to keep a handle on one’s responsibilities and are, according to one LinkedIn study, used by 63% of professionals. That would be great if we reliably accomplished what we set out to do. But the startup iDoneThis analyzed their users’ data and discovered that 41% of the to-do list tasks users inputted were never accomplished — little wonder in a world where the average professional has 150 tasks to be done at any given time, according to research by psychologist Ray Baumeister and John Tierney.
Clark then argues that individuals should make the same type of shift in planning and goal setting that corporations should make. She makes the point that corporations need to move away from annual strategic planning rituals toward a shorter planning cycle that allows for nimble adaptation to changing competitive circumstances. Similarly, Clark advocates moving away from the New Year's Resolutions technique toward a strategy of setting goals and revisiting them several times during the year. Moreover, she argues for limiting the number of objectives that you establish at any given point in time. Focus on the bigger goals rather than the lengthy to-do list. Surely, you do have some routine tasks that you must accomplish. However, Clark argues that we need to separate the mundane tasks from the bigger goals. If not, we will always keep pushing aside the big meaningful task and focusing instead on trying to cross of the minor items on the to-do list... so that we can at least feel some sense of progress on a daunting task list. Clark summarizes her argument as follows:
The point of goals, of course, isn’t to successfully complete tasks we blindly set ourselves to years ago. Nor is it to maximize our accomplishment of small bore trivialities. Instead, what counts is our ability to master the right kind of big goals — the ones that can change your life, like positioning yourself for a promotion to the C-suite or writing a book or launching an entrepreneurial venture. You can only accomplish those kinds of goals when you’re willing to question assumptions regularly and re-evaluate as necessary, and when you give up the temporary dopamine hit of crossing easy tasks off your to-do list, in favor of making a dent in the handful of major projects that really matter.