How to Crush Your Semester: Define and Pursue Strategic Goals
Every semester at seminary, you take another step into the person and pastor you are becoming. You will reap what you sow. The beginning of the semester is the time to plan your growth, by doing two things: (1) establish growth goals for the semester, and (2) identify key actions that will achieve them. Then, all semester long, focus on daily and weekly execution of those key actions.
What do you want to pursue or accomplish this semester? What will you do that will make you a more effective minister, or a better human being? (Need a theological frame for this? Consider Paul’s example, 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Eph 5:15-16, Phil 3:13-15, or the cultural commission, Genesis 1:28).
Defining Strategic Goals
Following Luke 2:52, try thinking in these categories:
Physical: diet, exercise, and sleep. Need to get your weight under control? Any PRs you want to achieve in the gym? Sports leagues you want to join? Are you chronically sleep-deprived, like most Americans are?
Intellectual: Apart from taking and passing your classes, what areas of this semester’s curriculum are most important to you? Where do you want to give your best focus in reading, study and writing?
Social/emotional: With your spouse and family, beyond prioritizing time together, what do you want to do? Create teachable moments with your son? Practice listening more carefully to your wife? Find a ministry mentor to connect with? What Any desires for your dating relationship or friendships?
Spiritual: How do you want to grow in your walk with God? This category can include Bible reading or memory goals, prayer strategies, evangelism and disciplemaking, mindful attention to the fruit of the spirit, or practicing repentance from besetting sins (lust, anger, thoughtlessness, etc.).
Brainstorm two or three goals in each area, then review your list and pick three or four as your top priorities for the semester. Too many goals will dilute your efforts—best to focus on the few that are most important.
For each goal, identify one or two actions that will produce the most result with the least effort.
Here are some examples.
Goal 1: Lose 15 pounds.
This is a reasonable goal, because one pound per week is achievable, healthy weight loss. To figure out how best to achieve this goal, ask the “one thing” question.
What one thing can I do that will produce the maximum results with the least effort?
A potential answer: Use a meal replacement shake for seven meals per week, mostly lunch.
Are there any obstacles that could pop up?
Yes. I could forget to bring it to school or work.
Solution: Keep the MR powder in the car so I always have it with me.
Goal 2: Be more attentive to my wife’s needs.
What one thing can I do that will produce maximum results with least effort?
(Best strategy: ask her.)
A potential answer: spend 30 minutes listening to her every night after dinner.
What obstacles could arise?
Schedules could get mixed up and we could start skipping it.
Solution: Have an accountability partner ask me weekly about my time with my wife.
Goal 3: Make an A in Systematic Theology
What one thing can I do that will produce maximum results with the least effort?
A potential answer: teach what I’m learning in class to others. Specifically, teach it on video, which I post to a closed Facebook group.
Then, each week, track your key actions. In our examples above:
- Did I replace one meal with MR powder each day this week?
- Did I spend 30 minutes each day listening to my wife?
- Did I record a video on systematic theology this week?
Aim for 85% or higher execution on your key actions. Track it on a page you set up for each week.
In your scheduling, set apart priority time early in the day to execute on these key actions. Do these first, and then attend to other matters afterward.
Some will regard this as an overly complicated and programmed way of living. Believe me, I get it. The highest achievers across a range of disciplines, however, use processes just like these to achieve the results that make them so effective.
As with many of my suggestions: take, experiment, modify as appropriate–but try it.
Mark Warnock is the author of The Complete Seminary Survival Guide. For coaching in defining and achieving personal goals, reach out to him at mark @seminarysurvivalguide.com.