Discrete Thinking and Execution Phases with Goals

I’m trying something different this year with regards to annual goals. Normally, I set New Year’s Resolutions. This year, I decided to try something different. Instead of setting goals in December/January that last the whole year, I’m setting goals that last on the order of days to weeks after I complete (or fail) my previous goal.

Marquet writes that we should split our work into cycles with two distinct phases: a thinking phase, and an execution phase. He writes that if every day feels the same, it’s likely that you’re stuck continuing in the same monotonous cycle rather than having discrete thinking and executing phases.

I think this may be a benefit of this new approach to goals I’m trying this year. I’m very familiar with every day feeling the same because I love my routines. By having these shorter goals, I’ve actually in a way split my work into two phases. First, I have the thinking phase when I’m between goals, reflecting on what I learned from my last goal, and reflecting on what I want to work on next. Second, I have the execution phase when I’m actively working on a goal.

Marquet also writes that we should come up with hypotheses–things we want to learn–during thinking phases. These hypotheses will be tested during our execution phases.

I have been using Crabtree’s goal format, which takes the form of “I will accomplish … by … and I will know I have done this because …”. So far, most of my goals this year have been in my Zettelkästen, and a lot of the learnings are set around “How long will it take me to do this much work” or “Can I produce content using this set-up”. I am planning on doing a cooking goal soon (currently unformulated) where I’m hoping to figure out how to make some better-tasting home-cooked food that won’t destroy my macro targets.

One of the benefits of splitting out these phases with my goals is it changes the influence of deadlines and scheduling. For example, I previously had a reading goal of reading 100 books over the course of the year. As I reached halfway through the year, I realized I was still far from being halfway through my goal. Marquet writes that stressors such as these may not negatively impact execution, but they do negatively impact thinking. Perhaps I would have paused to ask myself some questions if I didn’t feel those stressors, such as: Do I need to change my goal? What are the reasons that I’m behind schedule, and do I have influence over those? What changes should I implement to make up for lost ground?

With shorter goals, these stressors do not carry out throughout the whole year (and across multiple goals). The short durations mean I can focus on execution, and I know I’ll have a pause coming up where I can stop to think, unaffected by things such as deadlines (since it’s after the goal).

One possible issue with separating the thinking and execution phases is knowing when to quit. (Mind you, this problem isn’t particularly unique to having shorter goals.) Marquet suggests that if you have a high-degree of control over the results, it would be a good time to practice grit. If the results are largely outside of your control, it makes more sense to pivot on the decision. So that gives some guidance as to when to interrupt an execution phase, and in the worst case scenario, it shouldn’t be too long before the next thinking phase.

  • Crabtree, C. (2020, December 15). The 3 Steps You Must Take to Reach Any Goal. https://thelifecoachschool.com/webinarreplay/
  • Marquet, L. D. (2020). Leadership Is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say–and What You Don’t. Portfolio/Penguin.

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