This may seem odd to my friends who know that I work in government in the area of planning and even stranger to those who know a good part of that planning is performance measurement. Which means I know a lot about measuring inputs, outputs, outcomes, longer-term outcomes, etc. and the importance of targets, indicators, etc. Chief amongst those pieces for early tracking, more an extension of project management than corporate planning, is the concept of milestones.
Yet when it comes to personal goals, I almost never have milestones. I recognize their benefit, don’t get me wrong. They keep “projects” on track, they make sure you’re moving forward, they give you something smaller to focus on rather than just the big important goal/outcome at the end of the journey. And of course, people literally use them on trips — the various places en route that you’ll pass through or stop at en route to a larger destination.
But milestones are rarely important to me. I can see them, I know what they are, but I rarely document them nor do I “celebrate” when I reach them. I just keep chugging along and mentally note that I have reached them. Part of that is my knowledge that milestones are really false goals, ones that are generally irrelevant to the outcome. They’re a feint to keep people motivated and tracking their progress. Sometimes they are incredibly powerful milestones, like reaching 10,000 steps a day, such that people will often alter their normal behaviour at the end of the day to reach that milestone. Focusing on the day to day, today’s milestone, and its achievement, because “what gets measured is what gets done”.
Except since I already know how milestones work, and the philosophy behind them, the “trick” rarely works for me. It doesn’t motivate me at all.
There’s a second element that goes with that though. I do track things in retrospect. I take stock regularly, as per my last post on my progress. But not with set milestones usually. Put differently, I don’t use quantifiable goal setting which milestones require, but more qualitative check-ins with myself on how I feel I’m doing in my progress. Less rigorous, but the self-reflection is what keeps me on track, not an arbitrary 10%, 20%, 30% milestone.
Finally, there is an element that goes with lots of people who are high achievers, or goal-setters. Once we “achieve” the goal, we rarely stop to take time to mark the achievement. We almost always focus on “what’s next?” and skip past the event. We don’t dwell on our progress, we tick the box and move on.
When I graduated from Carleton, I almost skipped the ceremony. I have very little desire for pomp or circumstance of that sort unless it’s for others, but I took the time to intentionally mark the occasion given the time involved. But I still usually don’t worry about such things.
Which makes it so rare that I set a word count milestone for my blog. I wanted to reach 500K words last year, but when I cancelled my social media campaign, I modified that to take the whole blog to 500K.
And after averaging just over 1000 words a post and adding in entries dating all the way back to the earliest form of my website, plus adding eulogies for my mom and dad, stories about Jacob, and book reviews, I finally neared started to near my goal.
So, with this sentence, I have finally reached the overall goal of 500K.