Take out a pen and paper right now. Write down at least five, but preferably 10, goals for 2017. This may seem like a lot, but once you run through the following categories—family, career, practice/business, fitness, faith, social and charity—you’ll already be well on your way.   

Next, make certain that your goals include specific, yet realistic, timelines. You may want to write the goals in the present tense, as if you’ve already achieved them: “Our practice’s gross income is up more than 20%, and income from medical eye care services exceeds 30% as of December 31st, 2017.” 

Finally, place your list of goals where you’ll see it frequently. During my residency, I stuck my list on my bathroom mirror. I was amazed that, within a year, I had achieved all 10 goals. Seeing them every morning helped me focus my efforts for the day. And this continues to serve me well even today.

Does goal-setting work? Yes! In 1979, Harvard Business School researchers asked the graduating class, “Have you set written goals and created a plan for their attainment?” The results: 84% had no set goals, 13% had goals but hadn’t written them down and 3% had written goals as well as a concrete plan to attain them. You can probably infer the final outcome. By 1989, the 13% with goals were earning twice as much as the 84% who had none. However, the 3% with written goals were actually making more than 10 times as much as the rest of the class. 

Six Steps to Success

Here are some other helpful tips to help you achieve your goals:

1. Think big, but keep it manageable. Small goals tempt us because they’re easier to achieve. But “think big goals and win big success,” as David Joseph Schwartz said, challenges us to aim higher. However, if an idea seems too big, and is not broken into manageable steps, most people will never begin. Strike a balance: push, but don’t paralyze, yourself.

2. Believe in a higher purpose. In my life, this has had many meanings and includes my faith. But the concept of a higher purpose could mean that we see our role in society as saving vision, preventing blindness and enhancing lives, not simply having a 9-to-5 job. I assure you the former will make for a far more enjoyable life and rewarding professional career. 

3. Prioritize. We are all so much busier in recent years, and smartphones and social media make it difficult to separate our professional and personal lives. Just remember that there truly is a limit to the number of productive hours in a day. Know your strengths and limitations, and prioritize your time to avoid burnout. Otherwise, both your family and career will suffer. 

4. Give back. In lecturing, writing and research, I’ve had people ask, “Why do you freely share so much of the knowledge you’ve worked an entire career to obtain?” Those who think like that miss out on the greatest experiences in life. Many people have shared their insights with me throughout my career. Donald Korb is a great example. He knows more about ocular surface disease than I can ever hope to learn. By generously sharing his knowledge and experience, he saved me years if not decades of mistakes. Without him and so many others, there is no chance that I could provide the level of clinical care I do today.

5. Be humble. It’s easy think we already have all the answers and experience we need; I can assure you that’s never the case. People who go far ride on the shoulders of the giants who came before them. Family, friends, colleagues, staff, professors, mentors and religious leaders all likely contributed to where you are today—to who you are today. 

6. Create your future. It’s said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. Each of us has the ability to tailor our future through the choices we make, the passion in our heart and the vision we have of what can be. Sometimes we can get so lost in our work that we lose sight of the experience gleaned from moment to moment. Eckhart Tolle noted that “the power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.”

In fact, real achievement may not be reaching a certain goal but appreciating and enjoying all the experiences along the way.