Tips for Successful Goal Setting
Create a clear road map to your goals by identifying and carefully planning the measurable steps you need to take to achieve them.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Like death and taxes, you can be certain you’ll be asked this question more than once in your lifetime. For such an important question, we’ll answer it for employers much more often than we will for ourselves. Think about what your response was the last time you answered this question. How much progress have you made since then? If your progress has stalled, it may be time to change how you set your goals and how you track them.
Why set goals at all? Life and business strategist Tony Robbins believes goals lead to progress, which leads to feeling fulfilled. He goes on to say that goal setting is also the fundamental key to success, as it lets you measure progress, visualize your dreams, and stay accountable. Chances are your goals from five or 10 years ago don’t look the same as those you’ve set recently. As you grow and learn, your ambitions evolve, and you need to modify those goals to align with your current objective. Without the proper tools to aid you in setting and reaching your goals, you risk missing out on opportunities, wasting time and effort, and experiencing dissatisfaction with your stalled progress.
Time-based goals fall under two broad categories: long term and short term. Long-term (LT) goals allow you to target something you want to achieve in the future, typically several years. Short-term (ST) goals can be achieved in a shorter time frame, usually less than three years. Whether a goal should be LT or ST is subjective, depending on the complexity of the goal and the person setting them.
LT and ST goals can be broken down even further into micro goals — goals that break down your macro LT and ST goals into manageable tasks. Micro goals make macro goals less daunting and more easily attainable. This allows you to build momentum and be encouraged to work toward the next phase of your goal. For each LT goal, you should set at least one ST goal and at least one micro goal that contribute to your success in meeting your overall objective.
Long-term goal: I want to read 12 books in the next year.
Short-term goal: I want to read one book this month.
Micro goal: I will read three chapters today.
Planning for Success
Identifying what you want to achieve is NOT the same as making a plan. “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” (— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry). Planning is crucial for any stage you are at in your professional career. Whether you are just starting out, in the middle of your career, or changing your career altogether, your goals require strategized planning.
If an opportunity you’re interested in were to become available to you in the next 12 months, would you be ready for it? Are you adequately preparing yourself now for your next step? Not working to continuously improve yourself, and instead staying inside of your comfort zone, will result in missed opportunities. Even if you intend on staying in your current role or with your current company, continue to set goals for personal and professional development. Improving your current skills will increase your value as an employee in the eyes of your employer.
Creating a clear road map to your goals is best achieved when you identify, research, and carefully plan the steps you need to take.
Goal-Setting the SMART Way
A tried-and-true method of goal setting is using a framework called SMART goals. The mnemonic SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. These are the elements you’ll use to create better goals and begin to put your plan into motion. Use these steps to identify your LT and ST goals:
- Specific – Specificity is paramount. You must be clear and specific in what your goal is and the steps you plan to take to accomplish it.
- Measurable – Pinpoint a way you can measure your progress in meeting this goal. This doesn’t have to be measured by percentages or other numerical data; this could be done by meeting milestones.
- Achievable – Ensure the goals you are setting are reasonably achievable. If you set a goal with unfair expectations, you’ll likely get discouraged and give up. Make sure you have the resources available to meet your goal, as well.
- Relevant – How does this goal relate to your master plan? If it doesn’t provide any contributions, then you should reevaluate and re-strategize. Don’t invest time and energy in a side quest that has no or little benefit to your overall objective.
- Time-bound – Establish a time frame that realistically allows you to meet the goals you set. An end date will help you prioritize micro goals, motivate you to start, and aid you in gauging your progress.
If your goal is to read more books, you can turn that into a SMART goal by using the following elements:
I am going to read one book (measurable) per month (relevant and achievable) for 12 months (time-bound) for a total of 12 books per year (specific and measurable).
Armitage Communications designed a SMART objective generator tool that is free to use and can be found on their parent company’s, Napier, website at www.napierb2b.com/resources/smart-objective-generator. The tool makes it incredibly easy to generate your SMART goals by simply filling out five fields.
Working Backward Helps
If you struggle with narrowing down specifics or determining the order you should tackle your goals, there’s another approach you can take that will compliment your SMART goals. This method of goal setting is called “backward planning.”
“The idea is to start with your ultimate objective, your end goal, and then work backward from there to develop your plan,” explains an article by MindTools. “By starting at the end and looking back, you can mentally prepare yourself for success, map out the specific milestones you need to reach, and identify where in your plan you have to be particularly energetic or creative to achieve the desired results.”
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Write down your end goal and deadline.
Step 2: List the step you have to meet just before you reach your goal.
Step 3: Repeat the process in Step 2, identifying each milestone you need to meet before meeting the previous step, until you have reached the very first step you need to take to attain your end goal.
When you take this pathway, you will, of course, work through it chronologically from beginning to end; analyzing it from end to beginning, however, will force you to process your plan from a different angle and think about it more critically. If the path created from the traditional, forward-thinking process is different from the path designed through backward planning, you may have identified a potential problem in your plan and can correct it before you begin.
Put Your Goals in Writing
A study done by Dominican University of California psychology professor Gail Matthews found that we are 42 percent more likely to achieve goals just by writing them down. Your goals are ongoing markers for tracking your development. Monitoring your progress will help keep you motivated and stay on schedule. Make a habit of reviewing your goals weekly to evaluate your progression. Examine your plan of action occasionally to confirm that it still fits your needs. You may find that, after a while, modifications are needed. In the digital age, tracking and recording progress couldn’t get any easier. From habit tracking apps, social media posting for accountability, or just a good old-fashioned planner, you have the resources available to you to oversee your performance.
Don’t Let Detours Deter You
Think about where you are today and the path you took to get there. Does it look like a straight line? Were there detours, setbacks, or lateral moves you had to make along the way?
According to The Atlantic, “The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that nonlinear job-hopping was no longer something reserved for entry-level working teenagers. Rather, across various fields and various shades of collar, career flux has become an acceptable norm.” Many factors can attribute to why this is, but for the purpose of career development, this information can be a positive. For the career-minded person who is doubting their potential because they’re not progressing as fast as they’d like, let this trend validate your winding journey. Accept that the plan you make may be linear, but the journey may not be. Life throws us the occasional curveball from time to time, and we must adapt quickly when it does. Personal issues or unforeseen events tend to crop up when things are going just right, stalling our progress or completely deviating us from the path we were on. Getting back on track can be difficult depending on the hurdles you face, but you will be undefeated if you can adapt and continue despite those challenges. Even if it may not feel like much, progress is progress.
I challenge you to create a new SMART goal today. Identify your main goal, be specific in what you want to achieve and when. List the steps you need to take and break those steps down even further. Use the backward planning process for larger, more complex goals, and plan the sequence of those steps in a straight path, but also accept that there could be detours along the way. If you don’t know where to begin, start by answering this question: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Robbins, Tony. How to get what you want in life by setting goals. 2021.
Drosdick, D. What Are Micro-Goals? Why They Result In Macro-Change. Peaceful Dumpling. 2021. www.peacefuldumpling.com/micro-goals
Mindtools.com. Leap Forward With Backward Goal-Setting! Using Backward Planning to Set Goals. 2021. www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_84.htm
The Atlantic. The Next Episode. 2020. www.theatlantic.com/sponsored/jpmc-2017/the-next-episode/1742
Indeed.com. SMART Goals: Definition and Examples. 2021. www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/smart-goals
Citation Gardner, Sarah and Albee, Dave, Study focuses on strategies for achieving goals, resolutions (2015). Press Releases. 266. https://scholar.dominican.edu/news-releases/266
Lynch, M. 8 Reasons Why Goal Setting Is Important to a Fulfilling Life. Lifehack. 2021. www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/goal-setting-the-why-behind-the-what.html