Setting Your Business Goals: The Art of Reverse Engineering, Part 1

by Annie

in ruthless productivity

Three gears Let’s recap briefly:

What’s next, buttercup?

Crafting your goals.

The Art & Science of Setting Great Goals

If values are the dirt on which you’re building your ideal biz+life, and vision is the foundation, then your goals constitute the framework and walls and roof.

I’m not talking about measly little goals, like “I wanna lose 10 pounds.” (Though I totally do.) I’m not talking about weak-assed goals like “I need more clients.” (Though who doesn’t?)

I’m talking about serious, gut-punching, mind-blowing, smart (and SMART) goals.

And there’s both a science and an art to setting great goals that you can actually do something with.

The Science of Goal-Setting

Great goals are the stepping-stones. They’re the benchmarks. The mile markers.

If you want to create that inspiring vision you came up with earlier, you need to make sure your goals are SMART ones.

You’ve undoubtedly heard this acronym before. It stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable (or Attainable)
  • Relevant (or Realistic)
  • Time-limited

Specific goals are well-defined. “I want to lose ten pounds” is specific; “I want to be thinner” is not.

Measurable goals have a metric attached to them. “I want a 20% increase in consulting clients” can be measured; “I want more work” cannot. (What kind of work? Work can be administrative, for which you don’t get paid, or of the client variety, for which you do.)

Actionable goals are just that: goals you can take action on. “I want to win the lottery” is, to a certain extent, actionable – you can go buy a ticket – but after that point, there’s nothing you can really do to attain this goal.

Relevant goals relate back to your vision. They’re meaningful to you. This is crucial, ‘cause if your heart ain’t in it, you won’t attain it. [/JohnnyCochran]

Time-limited goals are those for which you’ve set a deadline.

A Special Note on Setting Deadlines for Goals

Now, this one’s a wee bit controversial.

Some experts say you shouldn’t set a deadline. That deadlines are soul-killers, and if you don’t meet the deadline, even due to factors beyond your control, you’ll damage your self-esteem.

Um. How can I put this delicately?


You’re a grown-up. You know by now that your self-esteem is a function of what you achieve and produce in your business and your life.

Put a reasonable deadline on your goals. A little pressure is a good thing.

The Art of Goal-Setting

There’s also an art to setting great goals.

To set great goals for yourself and your business, you need to chart out the course between where-you-are and your vision. What you’re looking for: the stepping stones. If you’re on one side of the vast winding river and you wanna get to the other side, you look for the path across. In this scenario, there are many paths — many, many stepping stones. Some will be easy to reach. Others, you gotta jump for.

And, just like Indiana Jones, you gotta watch out for the booby trapped stones. The ones that will collapse under your weight, or send you spiraling out of this dimension and plopping you down in the middle of some other damned river altogether.

You’re looking for the right stones.

And there’s an art to that. Curiously enough, it’s built on a science: the science of reverse engineering.

Reverse Engineering Your Vision

Reverse engineering is basically the process of figuring out how something works or is made by taking it apart.

Applied to your vision, reverse engineering can help you break apart the various elements of your future success and identify the specific steps you need to take to get there. Then you turn those steps into goals.

Easy-peasy, right?

Yeah, as it turns out, not so much. It’s not a simple task, and it takes some time and major brain effort.

But don’t fret, sweetpea. I’ve got a little trick up my sleeve that might make this process a bit easier and a whole lot more fun.

It’s all right here in this worksheet I use in my coaching practice.

The purpose of the exercise is to get you thinking backwards – from the point of completion in the vision-creating process back through time to where you are now.

It’s usually easier, I find, to think on the macro level first: figure out the broad strokes of what it takes to achieve your vision. Then, once you’ve got the top-level goals down (which could be likened to your “long-term goals”), you can apply the same process of reverse engineering to come up with the mid-term goals and then narrow those down to short-term, immediate actions you need to take.

I’ve been told by clients that the exercise in that worksheet is particularly helpful in sussing out all this complex, interwoven tangle of short-, mid-, and long-term goals. Of course, you don’t have to use the worksheet to figure it all out.

(Though the exercise is really kind of fun. One word: OPRAH.)



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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole Fende October 31, 2011 at 4:44 am

You had me with “grokked”! I love Stranger in a Strange Land, and that word has such a depth of meaning.

I completely agree you need deadlines. Or at least I need deadlines. Otherwise stuff without a date gets constantly shuffled to the back. If it doesn’t warrant a due by date, take it off your list.
Nicole Fende recently posted..Cage Match: Sales vs. Finance


Annie October 31, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Doesn’t it?? I try to avoid it usually so as not to help it reach social communal overload too soon. And excellent point about the whole “if it doesn’t need a deadline perhaps it doesn’t deserve a spot in your consciousness” thing. Never thought about it in those terms …


Dave July 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm

There’s a problem with those three gears at the top of the page. They can’t possibly rotate in that configuration. If two are rotating (one clockwise and the other counterclockwise), the third one can be connected to one, but not both of them. It would cause all three to lock up.


Annie July 12, 2012 at 12:25 am

It’s just a visual metaphor, dude. 😀 (But thanks for pointing that out.)


Dave July 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm

You’re welcome. It is my goal in life to annoy people by posting irrelevant comments on their websites!


Annie July 12, 2012 at 6:53 pm

LOL! Come annoy me any time. 😀


Glen Dhineros August 22, 2017 at 11:02 am

thank you for sharing this information it was really helpful to achieve my goals as business person


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