I’m back after a longer than expected break. I have a lot of additional responsibilities added to my plate this semester and so I’m only going to be able to post once a month and will shoot for the last Tuesday of each month.  

Well, it’s a new year. I love this time of year as we all have a clean slate and a chance to start afresh. Many make New Year’s resolutions and maybe you did as well. Goals can be powerful in that they give important objectives such as publishing research a real sense of focus and urgency, which is powerful. Unfortunately, as we have all probably experienced firsthand, many of our resolutions don’t make it past January. In fact, many of us can identify with this cartoon, breaking our resolutions right off the bat. What can we do to make things different this year? How can we pave our 2014 runway for our best year yet? Here are four ideas:

#1 Have Vision and Then Break It Down Into Manageable Chunks

Great goals begin with a great vision. As Steven Covey put it, you must begin with the end in mind. What is your long-term vision of success for yourself? Where would you like to be in 5 to 10 years? Envision your ideal future and make the experience as real as possible. Then, make these goals. Once you have the long-term goals established, ask yourself what do you need to do this year to be able to achieve those long-term goals, and then it becomes easier to figure out what you need to do this month, this week, and today to turn those goals into a reality.

#2 Make SMART goals.

I’m not taking credit for this cool acronym that stands for making your goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-specific. Sometimes we get really vague with our goals and that gets us nowhere, you’ve got to make them incredibly concrete and things that you can actually measure—preferably with numbers. We may be feeling especially motivated and set pie-in-the-sky kind of goals that are simply unrealistic. When we don’t achieve them or even come close, we just give up. Also, your goals need to be things that you have control over. For instance, I don’t make goals of how many articles I want to publish, rather, I make goals of how many articles I want to submit for publication. Make your goals relevant to what is most important to you, the areas in which you have some drive. Finally, make sure that your goals have a specific time deadline.

#3 Accountability: Research Goals Groups

I think that lacking real accountability is the reason why most people’s goals don’t make it past January. Boice (1989) conducted a study in which he compared three groups: one which wrote in large blocks of time, another that kept daily records of their writing, and a third that kept daily records and reported this to others. You’ll be surprised by the results! The group that wrote in large chunks of time had only written or revised 17 pages at the end of the year, the group who kept records wrote 64 pages, and the group that kept records and reported to others wrote 157 pages!!! Quite a contrast, eh? What a difference some accountability can make. So here are my specific recommendations as outlined in Publish and Prosper (pp.21-22):

During the first week, I recommend having everyone begin by writing their long-term, five-year goals. Knowing the big picture of where you want to end up will get you motivated to make the smaller goals along the way. I would then list out some of the one-year goals and challenge the group to make the goals quantifiable so you can clearly discern whether or not the goal has been achieved.

After that, you can all make goals for the week (with the end purpose of taking the steps necessary to reach your longer-term goals). Again, the key for these weekly goals is to make them very concrete and quantifiable so it will be very clear whether the goal has been achieved. The deadline for achieving the goals will be by the next meeting (preferably the following week at the same set time, though meeting every other week could also work).

During the meeting, one person should write down (or type out) all of the weekly goals as set by each group member. This is important as it provides a public record of the goals so individuals can’t modify their goals midweek to fit their achievement. During subsequent meetings, each person reports how they did in achieving their goals and then describes his goals for the upcoming week. (For more suggestions on making this work well, see Publish and Prosper.)

 Group Goals

To capitalize even more fully on accountability, you may consider forming some group goals with your research goals group. If your group all gets together and decides on what each member wants to accomplish in a semester or a year, you can add them up to make a group goal. Perhaps you could get an advisor or department chair to offer some kind of reward for reaching your group goal as I did as a post-doc. My team had a group goal that we exceeded as we submitted 16 new manuscripts by the end of May. It was rewarding to go out to dinner on my advisor’s dime as a nice reward for our effort. It was incredibly motivating and unifying to work together as a group toward this exciting goal!

Adhering to these four ideas will not only give you focus, but will add a sense of urgency to your research. This will motivate you to reach new heights of achievement that you have never experienced previously. For some helpful exercises to help you implement these strategies, visit www.pepstrategies.com. Until next time, happy writing!

About the Author

Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D.

Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D., is a psychology professor at the University of Utah.

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