The Blog.

Bored of your goals? How about injecting some play?

23 Jan 2012 | Business Life, Personal Productivity

A goal is only as good as the action it inspires. However well formed, well planned and well-intentioned a goal is, the proof of the pudding is in the doing.

But as my potty-training toddler is reminding me right now, people only ever do what they want to do.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the serious business goals of x number of customers and £s of turnover just don’t grab me.

And in my experience, if a goal doesn’t grab you by the heart, or the guts (or anywhere else for that matter!) and inspire you to take action, it’s just going to weigh you down and wear you out.

So here’s an idea. What if your goals were more like play? What would that look like?

Let’s see.

Play is personal

Whenever I run goal-setting sessions, I always start with dreams. The kind of crazy dreams you have as a child rather than realistic goals. The usual suspects of big house and holidays tend to come out first. But when we dig down deeper, we find the ones that are personal hold a lot more power.

The thing about play is, it is entirely personal.

What one person finds playful, someone else could find dull.

What one person finds powerful, someone else could find trivial.

If someone looked at your goal, would they see your fingerprints all over them? For example with my dream, I don’t see facts, figures, targets, numbers. I see people, faces, conversations, laughter. That’s what gets me fired up.

Play is an expression

Play is essentially an expression, rather than an expectation (as much as I sometimes order my kids to “go play!”).

Goals that are formed around expectation “I should…” or even “I need to…” often feel more like a chore, something you have to push yourself to do.

On the other hand, when a goal really expresses you and your desires, you naturally become drawn to it, you can’t help but get working on it, and you can’t wait to achieve it.

A couple of years ago I made the decision that my blog would be more of an expression of me and my thoughts, than an expectation of a set number of posts on a weekly basis on a particular topic. I was amazed at the difference this made to my creativity and how much more I wrote as a result!

How about the way you express your goal?

Some people like vision boards. I like creating word boards – a collage of positive words rather than pictures that represent my goal.

I love Chris Brogan’s idea of picking three words at the beginning of a year to define the goals, direction and experiences of that year.

Then there’s the letter to yourself, or even better a video letter, where you imagine yourself there, the future you, telling yourself what an amazing journey it’s been.

Play is a process

It’s more about what happens during, than the result at the end.

A common mistake people make with goals is to focus entirely on the end result.

Yes we need a destination to aim for, a direction to head towards, but the meaning of any story lies in the journey.

That’s why skipping to the end of the book is rarely satisfying. And why people can keep remaking TV dramas involving the Titanic even though we know exactly how it ends.

It’s like William Shakespeare said: “Things won are done; the joy lies in the doing”.

In fact, when you think about it, when we talk about reaching our goals, the word reaching suggests a process or an action. It means to extend, to stretch, to put effort in and move forwards or upwards:

Play is about discovery

And that involves ambiguity, uncertainty, incompleteness and imprecision.

Problem is, we think setting specific goals means to set things in stone.

Therefore, we either put so much pressure on ourselves to ‘get it right’ before we start, that it takes us forever to get started. Sometimes never. Gulp.

Or we get it all worked out, make a start then the minute things change, we despair that the plan has failed. We think we’ve failed because what we’re looking at now is different from what we set out to do.

Neither of those are particularly helpful. And definitely not fun. Been there. Done that.

A new perspective I am thoroughly embracing in one of the comments on Michael Hyatt’s blog, is the idea of plans unfolding rather than unravelling.

That means, the journey is one we discover as we take it.

Which means the key is to start. To make something happen. Then experiment as it evolves.

What about you? What would it mean for you to inject play, fun or inspiration into your goals? How would you do it? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!


  1. Naomi

    Grace you always have something to offer businesses and that’s why I love your blogs so much. Business can be fun and by having fun you can drive your business forward and enjoy the journey.

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks so much Naomi, I’m thrilled you get so much from my blogs 🙂 Fun is powerful ingredient for sure, and one that is underused in my opinion. Have fun with your business and book launch!

  2. judithwelltree

    Grace, this is great!  I have been working on a blog about play being the child’s ‘work’ and how early experiences have a lasting impact on how adults perceive work and react to challenges of the workplace!  Can I link to this? Judith

    • Grace Marshall

      Absolutely Judith, please do. I look forward to reading it 🙂

  3. Andrew Rea

    I really love the power of play – thanks for sharing.

    • Grace Marshall

      My pleasure Andrew, glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for your comment.

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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