Why You Should Write Down Your Goals

I felt uneasy when I first recommended that you write down your life goals, master plans, and yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily task lists. Since I disagree with much popular wisdom about success, it wasn’t easy to suggest something that virtually all success gurus support. But since I had done this myself for so many years, and since it seemed to work so well for me, I felt I had to jump on the bandwagon this time.

How we set, organize, and execute our goals is unique in ETR, but the idea of putting them down on paper is hardly new. So I was happy to bump into the following study in a book I read last night (“Look Within or Do Without,” by Tom Bay – completely mediocre except for this one little gem).

According to Mr. Bay, Harvard Business School did a study on the financial status of its students 10 years after graduation and found that:

* As many as 27% of them needed financial assistance.

* A whopping 60% of them were living paycheck to paycheck.

* A mere 10% of them were living comfortably.

* And only 3% of them were financially independent.

The study also looked at goal setting and found these interesting correlations:

* The 27% that needed financial assistance had absolutely no goal-setting processes in their lives.

* The 60% that were living paycheck to paycheck had basic survival goals (such as managing to live paycheck to paycheck).

* The 10% that were living comfortably had general goals. They thought they knew where they were going to be in the next five years.

* The 3% that were financially independent had written out their goals and the steps required to reach those goals.

Yes, the results seem a little too perfect, but I’m not surprised at the overall implication. I work with many bright, ambitious people who have everything they need to get what they want – and who work nonstop – but fail to make the progress they desire. Yet when I suggest they could do better by setting goals and writing them down, as well as planning their days, getting in early, and doing all those other things we talk about each morning, much more often than not my suggestions are met with amused derision. I understand why you’d want NOT to write down your goals. It seems so contrived. So banal. You think that it may work fine for someone much less intelligent – much less individualistic – but that it’s not for you. Yeah, that’s the way I used to feel.

For years, I felt that way about, and made fun of, anything that smelled of positive thinking, personal power, or self-help. Then, almost by accident, I stumbled onto Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People program – and that changed the way I thought about self-help. During my career as a skeptic, I never made more than an average salary and never finished a single important personal project. Since the humbling experience of admitting I could do better by structuring my life according to the banalities of good advice, I’ve never made less than 20 times that amount and have finished virtually all of my pet projects. If goal setting can work for Harvard Business School graduates, shouldn’t it work for you too?

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]