GOATs 101 (Goals, Objectives, Activities and Tasks)
In my day job as a physics college instructor, I work a lot with Goals, Objectives, Activities and Tasks (GOATs). Using a mixture of threats and rewards, the administration of the college encourages each department to start a new school year updating their strategic plan. The 2013/14 academic year was no different and I sat down with my colleagues to figure out what we wanted to accomplish. What was new this year was that funding for any new project or purchase has to be directly tied to an item in our strategic plan. The administration calls this “an incentive,” the faculty is still debating whether the new policy qualifies as a threat or a reward. Either way, the physical sciences department spent a little longer on our plan this year and we phrased our sentences a little more carefully.
Before my indoctrination into the world of academic strategic planning, I didn’t think of goals and objectives as different things. Activities and tasks were synonyms for “doing stuff.” Now that my eyes have been opened to this magical terminology, I’m a much better planner and also a much better executor.
As a writer, you may have been told that you shouldn’t set goals that you can’t control or measure. Don’t specify a goal of “Being Published” or “Getting an Agent,” because the factors necessary for that to happen are not within your control. After this handy “GOATs 101” lesson, you’ll see that you can make your goal as big and uncontrollable as you like. The objectives necessary to accomplish that goal however, you need phrase carefully. You also have to live with that you may never accomplish your goal, even if you complete your objectives.
Some short definitions:
Goal: The overall thing you want to achieve.
Objectives: Specific measurable things needed to accomplish the goal. These are often associated with a deadline.
Activities and Tasks: If you work with a team, activates would be the specific work needed in order to meet an objective and the tasks would be assigned to specific people. Activities and tasks do not have to happen sequentially, you can work on more than one at a time or skip from one to the other. Since I’m a one person team, I lump these two together. I usually associate them with a timetable that supports my objectives deadlines.
Technically, strategic planning in the corporate and academic worlds can be much more complicated. Especially if we bring in terms like Vision, Mission, and Strategy. For my writing planning, I’ve found that I really just need GOATs. If I add more animals, the barnyard (my brain) gets too noisy.
Still a little confused? Let’s see if a short example can make things clearer.
Let’s say your goal is to summit DeNali (Mount McKinley). Your objectives may then be: 1) Train. 2) Get to Alaska. 3) Reach Base Camp. 4) Attempt to Summit. You’d then break down each objective into manageable activities and tasks. For Objective 1, you may need to purchase equipment, book some time in the climbing gym, do shorter trips to high altitudes to acclimatize, etc. For Objective 2, you need to purchase plane tickets, find someone to watch the dog, etc.
Writing is not all that different to mountain climbing. Your goal is still to reach a summit of some sort, the objectives are the steps necessary to climb to the top, and the activities and tasks are the grunt work needed to get the objectives done. I use a simple chart to clarify my GOATs. One of my writing goals for 2014 is to have a new book ready to pitch at Romance Writers of America (RWA) national meeting in San Antonio at the end of July. Here’s a diagram of how I broke my goal into objectives and activities and tasks. (Click on image to open a larger version and then use back button to get back to the blog.)
Last year was hard for me. Because of a family crisis, I didn’t reach my writing goals. That’s why this year’s planning doesn’t start until February. I have some catching up to do. My goals and objectives are never set in stone. Good planning requires adjusting your objectives when necessary and changing or adding to your tasks as the project progresses. As much as we would like to predict the future, there are always going to be unforeseen circumstances.
In case my GOATs diagram will help you, I have PDF and Microsoft Word blank templates available. Feel free to edit them into what works best for you. The only thing I ask is that if you pass them along to someone else, please keep the credits in the footer.
Happy Planning! And good luck herding your GOATs. May you reach the summit of whatever mountain you are about to climb in 2014. If I don’t reach my peak by RWA14, I will buy each of the Jane’s a drink when I run into them at this year’s conferences. Keep an eye out for me at Nationals and Emerald City.