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How to Set Realistic Time Frames for Goals

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Whether it's goals in a strategic plan or personal career goals, the more you understand about what it takes to reach your goal, the more likely you are to succeed. Understanding how long it will take to bring your plans to fruition is part of setting measurable, achievable goals.

How Realistic Is the Goal?

Make sure your goal is achievable before you start eyeing the calendar for possible dates for completion. Sometimes the most seemingly simple goals are, in fact, not possible at all. For instance: You're moving to a new office in three months, and you'd like to have a paperless office when you get there. Sounds like a great idea, until you realize that although you have no need for physical copies of invoices, correspondence or other documents, your clients do. Going completely paperless, then, might be impossible. However, you could re-evaluate your goal to state that you will eliminate in-house paper files.

What's It Going to Take?

Know what you need to make your goal happen before you start thinking in terms of time to completion, and you've got a good idea of how long your goal might take. So you've decided not to keep any paper files for in-house use after your office relocates. That seems like a reasonable goal, until you realize that not everyone in the office has the equipment they need, and there's no way to get it all up and going in time for the move. Identifying how long it will take to get all employees the equipment they need becomes a benchmark for your goal; all that's left is to fill in the time frame on either side.

A Chain Reaction?

Identifying smaller goals that must be met before the larger goal can be accomplished often makes the time frame for completion fall into place naturally. Once you have determined, for instance, that you'd like to have the new equipment installed in the new office, you know that your goal is at least three months away. You'd like to give your employees a month on the job to familiarize themselves with the new equipment, so you're now up to four months. During that month, you'd like to schedule a few training sessions. At this point, you have identified at least three time lines in the completion of your goal -- and it only gets easier from here.

Success In Steps

Determining the scope of your goal also can help a time frame develop naturally as part of the goal-setting process. Often, people make goals too broad, or simply fail to take into account that they become more achievable if approached in small steps. Setting a calendar date to stop generating and filing in-house paper documents, for instance, can be overwhelming. Creating a time line that slowly brings the goal to completion, however, can make it more likely to succeed. Setting aside March, for instance, to stop creating accounts receivable paper documents, April for accounts payable, May for monthly reports and so on not only makes for a smoother transition, but also develops an organic time frame that allows you to make adjustments as needed as you go along.


A writer and information professional, J.E. Cornett has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Lincoln Memorial University and a Master of Science in library and information science from the University of Kentucky. A former newspaper reporter with two Kentucky Press Association awards to her credit, she has over 10 years experience writing professionally.

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