We’ve all got lots of things we want to do in our lives, don’t we? Yet, why is it that so many of them seem so far out of reach even when we’ve been working on them for a long time? It’s because we’ve not set concrete goals or explored how we can move from our current reality to reach that goal. Our goals are ephemeral (e.g., they lack substance), and until we make them substantive—they’ll always be just out of reach.
We’d like to inspire you by introducing Sir Richard Branson’s 10-step plan for setting and achieving goals. Richard Branson is the founder of Virgin Group, an investment group which holds more than 200 companies worldwide in a wide array of industries, including music and space travel. He’s written a very straightforward step-by-step approach and process which he swears works for him. You can use Branson’s 10-step plan in the instance that you need first-aid help in figuring out what your major goals should be and defining and determining which first steps to take.
Richard Branson’s 10-Step Plan
“Write down every single idea you have. No idea is too small, and no idea is too big either.
Always carry a notebook. You need somewhere to write your ideas down, and while using a folder on your phone is better than nothing, a piece of paper is far more memorable.
Find a list method that works for you. Doodles, bullet-points, charts—what suits you best? I find a combination of short phrases and scribbled pictures works best for me.
Make a list of small, manageable tasks to complete every day. Cut your day up into chunks, and you’ll get lots more done.
Mark off every completed task. There are few more satisfying things than ticking off a job well done.
Make your goals measurable so you know if your plans are working. There’s no point setting targets if you don’t know if you are hitting them. [We advise you to use SMART goals, i.e., Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound goals.]
Set far off, outlandish goals. Resolutions shouldn’t just have short-term endpoints. What do you want to have achieved in five years’ time? How about 50 years?
Include personal goals in your lists, not just business. There’s no real separation between work and life; it’s all just living. The same goes for lists.
Share your goals with others [for instance your coach]. You can help motivate each other further and hold each other to account. But remember that, in the end, you are doing this for yourself.
Celebrate your successes then make new lists of new goals. The cycle should continue as you make more and more progress. I have boxes and boxes of old notes, filled with old lists, and I’m busy making more.” – Richard Branson, 2016
Author/Copyright holder: Adam Mayer. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0
Ideas—too often they happen and we’re nowhere near a pen and paper. Sir Richard Branson recommends carrying a notebook around. His other gems of advice include thinking up outlandish, far-off dreams and dividing your day into actionable chunks. Well, he didn’t get where he got to by ignoring the future or not ticking off his tasks, one by one.
There’s nothing which will come as much of a surprise to you. Several high-profile CEOs advise us to break our time into chunks and create SMART goals. Others advise us to keep “done lists” rather than to-do lists.
What makes Branson's advice special is that it sums up common sense, pulls all the great ideas together and puts them into one single step-by-step plan, which he personally endorses. When someone as incredibly successful and an expert in setting new goals for himself and reaching them advocates for this approach, we think it’s at least worth a consideration when your client needs input on setting both small and major goals and reaching them.
Once you’ve started creating lists of small and major goals, you can combine the above method with SMART Goals:
Write down your SMART goals and prioritize them. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound goals.
SMART goals enable you to ensure that your goal is fully defined, that it will be possible to determine when you’ve reached the goal, to ensure that you can tackle the goal with the resources and capabilities open to you, and that you’ve set a timescale for reaching the goal.
Example of a SMART goal being tested against each criteria:
Initial Goal: To be the first Englishman on the moon.
To be the first Englishman on the moon. (This is specific because it’s clear what it is that will be achieved. There’s no room for misinterpretation.)
To be the first Englishman on the moon. (It can easily be measured the moment that the first Englishman sets foot on the moon.)
To be the first Englishman on the moon. (This is clearly achievable as several people have been to the moon.)
To be the first Englishman on the moon. (Maybe this is not very realistic – there are strict criteria for becoming an astronaut – can the client fulfil these criteria? If not, they might need several billion dollars to avoid them…)
To be the first Englishman on the moon within the next decade. (Now, this is time bound. Without a time limit, a goal can go on forever without being met.)
SMART Goal: To be the first Englishman on the moon within the next decade.
Always make sure to reflect about the value of your SMART goals and prioritize them accordingly by asking this simple question: Which goals are the most important to you? Focus on only one or very few goals at the time. Otherwise, you’ll end up confused and overworked… and you probably won’t reach any of your goals.
Author/Copyright holder: jean-louis Zimmermann. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0
Life can throw up a lot of webbing to trip our movements and mists to blind us. You may want to do something, but when are you going to get round to it? Also, are you sure it’s something you truly can do, given the realities and possibilities around you? Are you sure—even if you stretch to push yourself at full tilt? Effective targeting: that’s why most people have trouble setting targets, let alone hitting them. Finding SMART goals isn’t that hard—it involves taking a fresh eye and some analytical thought to dreams you may have been keeping unactioned for years.
It’s not enough to have a goal. You need to work out a path so as to achieve that goal. For example, you might want to be the first Englishman to walk on the moon, and you might want to do that within the next decade. That’s a SMART goal, but it doesn’t tell you anything about how you will end up on the moon, does it?
An action plan provides the specific steps that someone will take to reach his or her objective. For your moon walk, that might be:
Achieve optimum physical fitness (they don’t want to take you if you’re overweight – the fuel is expensive).
Get a Master’s degree in a relevant science (astronomy or biology or whatever).
Apply to the Indian space program (NASA has stopped flying to the moon).
Successfully complete the training program to be an astronaut.
Your action plan needs to take into account SMART objectives, too. Each action item is a goal in its own right.
Example action plan using SMART objectives
Achieve optimum physical fitness by attending fitness training at the local gym.—
To begin program immediately, and achieve this objective within 24 months.
Sign up for a Master’s degree in a relevant scientific discipline by September of this year when courses start.—To complete this degree within 2 years (the typical length of a Master’s program).
Apply to the Indian space program the day that my Master’s degree is complete.
Keep applying to the Indian space program, seeking objective feedback until I am accepted within 8 years of today.
Undertake the 2-year training program with the Indian space program as soon as I am accepted.—To complete this successfully.
The Take Away
Goal setting is important because it enables us to define what we want—and it enables us to define how we will achieve these things. Putting a goal and all it entails into such a perspective and with a high degree of clarity in this way is essential.
You can use Richard Branson’s 10-step model for identifying goals and then apply SMART objectives to help you attain them. You will find that you can cut through the mists surrounding many a dream you want to attain and work out a clear road towards each one.
“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing and then falling over.”
– Richard Branson
References & Where to Learn More
Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: VirginMoney. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-ND 2.0
Richard Branson, New Year’s Resolutions and making lists, 1 January 2016,
Find some example SMART goals here.