Author Bill Burnett’s goal setting method that actually works

4 min read
Eli Woolery
  •  Nov 25, 2020
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The year 2020 will be one that goes down in history, with a global pandemic and economic catastrophe upending the whole world. Many in product have been fortunate to keep their jobs designing for a new normal, but others haven’t been so lucky.

We thought it would be timely to bring in an expert who has been using a designer’s mindset to help people reframe their approach to their careers for the latest episode of the Design Better Podcast: Bill Burnett, co-author of the bestselling book Designing Your Life. He has a new workplace-specific book out, too, Designing Your Work Life.

As we round out the last month of 2020, our upcoming New Year’s resolutions bear significant weight in this unprecedented time. Bill, a Stanford University educator, has a goal setting formula to help you achieve positive change at work. Bill is a believer in setting “micro-goals.” The psychology of behavior backs up this approach because humans change behaviors in small increments.

“The research here is really clear that when people set big goals, they fail,” Burnett says.

When you’re setting goals for yourself, make them bite-sized. That way, you can see progress within two weeks and harness that momentum to keep pushing you forward, Burnett says. To borrow an example from the fitness world, your goal out the gate shouldn’t be, “I’m going to run a marathon.” Instead, your micro-goal is something that’s more achievable, such as increasing your daily steps from 5,000 to 10,000 and building on that until you’re running 5Ks and then a half-marathon and so on.

“You can make big changes in your life. You can end up running marathons, you can lose a hundred pounds. You can change your job, change your life,” Bill says. “Change is possible, but it rarely happens where you have the big epiphany and then suddenly it all flips. It happens through grit.”

So, he suggests, if you want to make a change or form a new habit, start by finding something you can do to rack up a small win this week.

Want to hear more of Bill’s ideas, like what the idea of “generative quitting” is?

Listen to the full episode here

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