If you don't know specifically where you're going, then you'll never get there. And if you don't set the bar high enough, you'll never live up to your potential.

This is accepted common sense in the business world and it's reinforced by research. Like that study done on the Harvard Business School class you may have heard of, in which only 3% of the graduating students wrote down clear goals. Twenty years later, those 3% were worth 10 times the worth of the rest of the class combined. Compelling, right?

It would be if it were true. But it isn't. That study doesn't exist. It's pure urban myth.We might debate which goals to set, or how to set them, but who would debate whether to set goals at all?

I'd like to.

When we set goals, we're taught to make them specific and measurable. But it turns out that those characteristics are precisely the reasons goals can backfire. A specific, measurable goal drives behavior that's narrowly focused and often leads to either cheating or myopia.

So what can you do in the absence of goals? I want to propose one: Instead of identifying goals, consider identifying areas of focus.

A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.

How do you do it? It's simple: identify the things you want to spend your time doing — or the things that you and your manager decide are the most valuable use of your time — and spend your time doing those things. The rest takes care of itself.

And in my experience, not only will you achieve at least as much as you would have if you had set goals, but you'll enjoy the process far more, avoiding unnecessary stress and temptation.