What goals have you set and achieved?
Set and achieve goals: More than you wanted to know
"If you don't know where you are going, you will likely end up elsewhere". - Lawrence J. Peter
You can be bursting with creative and constructive energy. Perhaps you've also understood all the intricacies of time management. Maybe you have optimized your productivity to the max. Even so, you still have to focus your energy - or it is very likely to get misdirected. Setting goals is the method of doing just that.
This article shows everything you need to know about setting and achieving goals. And a lot more. It explains why it is important to set goals, covers the different types of goals, what timeframe you should think in, what makes a good goal, how to choose goals and how to achieve them, what are factors in long-term success and what helpful tools there are.
Why is it important to set goals?
Setting goals is important for two main reasons: To control your life yourself and to achieve more.
If you don't set goals, you drift aimlessly through life, which can even be relaxing in the short term - you don't have to make tough decisions about personal direction and you can just take things as they come. Unfortunately, it's also pretty risky in the long run. If you later notice that you would rather be somewhere else, a change of direction can be much more difficult than if you had steered in this direction from the start. For example, when you realize that the comfortable job will no longer satisfy you until you retire, a career change can no longer be so easy.
"If you don't make your own life plan, the chances are you will fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much." - Jim Rohn
Having a goal in mind motivates you to do more for it. Research has shown that people who set goals are more likely to achieve them. When you have defined goals, you can focus on them. You can balance your everyday obligations better, recognize what brings you further and generally live less impulse-controlled.
That doesn't mean you have to become a workaholic. The point of setting goals is to actively shape your life and make the most of it. It's perfectly fine to set goals that come with a leisurely lifestyle. The only important thing is to make a strategic decision about it. Otherwise the circumstances will decide for you - which will rarely be in your own interest.
So what kind of goals can you set? There is no generally accepted classification. There are a few common categories, however.
Temporal: Short-term, long-term and life goals
A very common categorization uses the time horizon for which goals are set.
Short-term goals are those that you want to achieve within a few months or up to two years. But be careful: don't confuse very short-term goals with tasks. Short-term goals (like all goals) should define a desired outcome or state, not a task. More on that later.
Long term goals are more ambitious. They usually take at least a year to be achieved, but are usually more likely to last for 5 years. Sometimes they can even span decades. Use these to help make your dreams come true, like starting a business or buying a house.
If the perspective is even longer than long-term, one speaks of life goals. So things that you want to achieve in life. It can be a great legacy or a special personal achievement. E.g. giving the children everything they need for a fulfilling life, winning a world championship or financial independence.
Alternative terminology for these categories are short term, medium term (above long term) and long term goals (above life goals).
Contextual: personal, business, professional, career
Our life is typically divided into personal and work-related areas.
Personal goal setting is about what you want to achieve in addition to professional success. For example, achievements in hobbies or sports. Family, personal development, finances and health are other areas for which one often sets personal goals.
Career, professional, and business goals are a little difficult to distinguish as they are all job related. Career goals, as the name suggests, focus on advancing one's own career. They are the bridge between personal goals and work-related goals because they focus on your personal career, not the company you work for. Examples of this would be a promotion, a raise, or taking on more responsibility.
Professional goals are very similar. The main difference is that these don't necessarily involve personal career advancement. Professional goals can be assigned by supervisors to achieve a business goal, e.g. improving customer satisfaction by 20% or introducing a quality assurance process. Ideally, there is some correspondence between professional goals and career goals.
Business goals are not a person's goals, but a company's goals. When you are self-employed, business goals are also your goals. In larger organizations, business goals are broken down into sub-goals that are then assigned to teams or individuals.
Subject-related: health, learning, fitness, etc.
Another very common target categorization is that by topic. Compared to the other target types, this goal is divided into many subgroups. The exact categories vary depending on who you ask, and many people make up their own. These are the most common:
- Personal growth
Result goals, process goals and performance goals
Formulating goals in terms of result, process and performance is especially common in sport.
Result goals describe the desired end state that one would like to achieve. For example, winning a tournament, finishing in the top 10, reaching a sales milestone.
Performance goals define quantitative measures for your efforts. For example, run 5 km in 20 minutes or a conversion rate of 3%.
Process goals define how you want to get there. e.g. hold 60 sales calls a day or go for a run every morning.
Less common target species
While most people think of goals in the categories above, there are many other types of goals that one can come across:
- Being goals, doing goals, achieving goals, having goals
Being-goals describe the person you want to be; Your values; Your qualities. Do goals are about the activities in your life that you want to do. Achievement goals are milestones or events that you want to achieve. Have goals are about possessions or material accomplishments that one wants to acquire.
- End goals, way goals
Final goals capture the desired result, the "what" of the project. Path goals describe the milestones by which you want to get there - the "how" of the project.
- Strategic goals, projects
In a similar way, strategic goals describe the actual goal, while projects are measurable milestones on the way to your strategic goal.
- Active and passive goals
Passive goals define a state. Something you want to be or have. Active goals are activities that you want to be involved in.
- Positive and negative goals
Negative goals focus on things to avoid, like "stop being a couch potato". Positive goals focus on profits and accomplishments like "running 3 times a week".
- Visions and goals for action
Similar to end and road goals or strategic goals and projects, visions capture the great aspirations, the desired successes, while action goals are the milestones on the way to the vision.
- Quantitative and qualitative goals
Quantitative goals are defined by a clear measure such as "Earning € 100k + / year". Qualitative goals are rather subjective and require a personal assessment of whether they have been achieved. An example would be "find a good job".
Which target species should I use?
So which approach is the best? Fortunately, you don't have to strictly choose a target species. You can use many in parallel to better structure your thinking.
However, what one should do is take the time to define the big goals. The corresponding goal types are long-term and life goals, end goals, strategic goals and visions. These must be clearly formed before moving on to the short-term or medium-term goals. Otherwise you risk losing sight of the goal - which is what goal setting is supposed to prevent.
In Focality, only the big goals are referred to as "goals". The shorter-term milestones are called "projects". So you always have the big goals in view during the planning. This prevents you from getting lost in the demands of everyday life.
What makes a good goal?
With the knowledge of different types of target, one can now set about defining the first targets. But what should you pay attention to when formulating your goals? What exactly is a good goal?
The most common method to formulate goals well is called SMART. This is an English acronym that usually stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Over time, the acronym has spawned several alternative interpretations. Wikipedia has a detailed overview of the most common meanings and alternatives.
More about the SMART attributes and other important properties of good goals in the following.
Goals must be clear and unambiguous. Sometimes we fall into the trap of just chasing vague ideas. However, you have to know exactly what you want to achieve.
"Getting rich" is not specific. What is rich Do you want to become a millionaire? Billionaire? Live on passive income? Earn 6 digits? All of this requires different strategies. So make sure to be specific.
Do you remember the target species quantitatively and qualitatively? Measurable goals are quantitative. There is an exact measure that clearly shows when you have achieved your goal. Without ambiguity.
Depending on what you want to achieve, it can be difficult to find a suitable metric. Although the SMART methodology requires that goals must be measurable, it is possible to deviate slightly when setting personal goals. For example, if the goal is to become more resilient, how do you know if you've been successful? There is no unit of measurement for this - you have to make a personal assessment. In such cases, it's okay to have a purely qualitative goal as well.
But one should not give up measurability too early. With a little thought, one can find a measure for most goals. “Being a better speaker” can become “Improve my average public speaking feedback score by 30%”.
Ambitious / challenging
Something that can be easily achieved is not a goal but a task. Goals should be ambitious to motivate you to make the most of your potential. Without a challenge, you won't leave your comfort zone and it will be harder to move forward. Try to make a dent in the universe - to quote Steve Jobs.
"Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground." - Theodore Roosevelt
In fact, opinions are somewhat divided on this issue. The origins of the SMART criteria lie in the definition of corporate goals. So when you set goals for this quarter, you definitely want people to achieve their goals. Employees who fail too often won't stay motivated for long. Even then, however, the bar should not be set too low.
"A goal is not always meant to be achieved. It often just serves as something to strive for." - Bruce Lee
On the other hand, many people prefer to undertake enormously big things. Elon Musk wants to turn humanity into an interplanetary species - to name just one example. For him this is achievable, even essential.
So you have to find the right balance for yourself. Big enough to motivate you to be great, and grounded enough to see a path to success.
This point is obvious. It is difficult (to say the least) to achieve goals that are not relevant to you. You have to spend a lot of energy and stay motivated over a long period of time to implement your plans. If it's not relevant to you, why bother? The whole point of personal goal setting is to guide you and keep yourself motivated. So don't choose a goal that is misleading or sabotaging your motivation.
The time frame will influence the strategy for achieving the goal. If you have a year, you have to act differently than if you have five years. So it is important to define this time.
Without a time commitment, there is also a great risk of postponing your dreams because "something urgent has come up". It is much easier to resist the urge of the urgent when dreams have a deadline.
As already mentioned, SMART goals have their origins in the corporate world. When setting goals, make sure that they are really yours. Make them personal.
If you want to achieve your goals, it shouldn't be an end in itself. It has to be of use. This does not have to be material gain, there are also many other values - be it on an emotional, personal or other level.
Goals should inspire. They should inspire you, but ideally others too. At some point along the way, you will need the support of other people - and they are much easier to get when you have an inspiring vision.
Think about how you can explain your goal to other people. Our inner view, while inspiring ourselves, is often not easily accessible to others. If you invest a little time in making the vision understandable, it works wonders.
The term "positive thinking" has become somewhat clichéd, but the benefits are well documented. Setting goals in a positive way (achieving something instead of stopping doing something) puts you in the right attitude to be successful.
Make sure your goals align with who you are; with your values; with your life path. Sometimes it can be tempting to pursue something that, on closer inspection, doesn't really suit you. Perhaps a very lucrative project that is a little too loose with ethics or runs counter to character. Avoid that and choose goals that suit you well.
Time frames / deadlines
We have already learned that goals can be categorized by time frame and that time constraint is an important property. Goals with a deadline are more likely to be met, and a deadline helps prioritize day-to-day tasks.
So what are good time frames? There are two basic approaches to this
- Define a time frame for a chosen goal
- Define goals for a given timeframe
Define a time frame for a chosen goal
Let's say you've set yourself the goal of becoming a master at playing broomball. How long will this realistically take?
For an informed estimate, you can break your goal down into smaller steps. Establish a path to your goal and estimate how long it will take you for each step. Also plan enough buffer for delays, otherwise your plan will quickly fall behind.
Some goals come with a built-in deadline. If you want to run the Berlin Marathon, you can't choose the date. You should still go through the planning process to ensure that you can meet the deadline
Define goals for a given timeframe
In job interviews one often hears the question "Where do you see yourself in five years"? It may be a cliché, but it is a good question indeed. It's about what goal setting is all about: knowing where you want to go. Based on Lawrence Peters quote: If you don't know where you want to be in five years, you will probably be somewhere else.
So go over the most important timeframes and see if you have a vision for them. Maybe you already have goals that cover these. If not, think about what you want to achieve by then.
Here are some common time frames that inspire goal setting:
- This week*
- This month*
- This year*
- In five years
- In ten years
- In 25 years
- Until retirement
- In my lifetime
* These would be more of a short-term goal. Focality, the app for setting and achieving personal goals, calls these operational goals projects in order to make a clear distinction.
Set goals in 3 steps
So now we know what makes good goals. So next is the core of the process: setting goals.
Take your time for it. You shouldn't set goals quickly on the side. If you can't wait to get started, set some short-term goals (Focality makes this easy) as you work on your long-term strategy. Tip: Defining a long-term strategy is a worthwhile goal in and of itself.
There are three basic steps in goal setting:
In order to set the right goals, you first have to understand yourself. How do I tick? What motivates me What is important to me
Without this knowledge, you run the risk of setting the wrong goals. Goals that sound good on paper, goals that other people like, goals that arise out of peer pressure. But goals must be your own.
To get a better understanding of what is important to you, define your core values. If you don't want to go unguided, there are some good guides out there that will help. For example, here is a simple 5 step process for defining your values. Schwartz's Theory of Basic Human Values offers ten universal values that are based on scientific studies and can be used for prioritization.
Make a list of possible destinations
First, collect ideas for goals. Do not yet decide which goal you really want to pursue. You want to put together an extensive list that will later be a good basis for a decision. Do not worry (yet) about how you will reach the goal or about any details. Just focus on putting together a long list.
You can use the classic brainstorming technique and / or the following list of questions to inspire ideas:
- What should be remembered of me?
- What is my ideal job description?
- Where do I want to be in 5/10/20 years?
- What do I like to do most?
- What's the one thing I should change in my life?
- What would I do if I knew I couldn't fail?
- What do I not like about myself?
- Which parts of my life are contrary to my values?
Do not rush this process. Collect ideas, then put the list aside for now and get back to other things. Keep thinking. New ideas will arise, others will change. Our minds often develop new ideas while we do something else - hence the famous ideas in the shower.
So when you have a long list of potential ideas, it's time to filter and prioritize.
Now you can think more critically. Let's start with a quick elimination round. Go through your collection of ideas and ask yourself for each idea:
- Is that in line with my values?
- Is it relevant?
- Is it worth my time
If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, the idea can be removed from the list.
Now sort the remaining goals according to relevance. Here are a few pointers to help you prioritize.
Is it worth the sacrifice?
Any sufficiently challenging goal requires sacrifice. You will have to invest resources, be it time and / or money, that could have been invested elsewhere. There will be opportunity cost - the benefits you would have received if you had invested the resources in something else. So the big question is: is this goal worth it?
Is it sustainable in the long term?
Can the required effort be made sustainably? Is it healthy in the long run? If the goal is so big that you have to work 100 hours a week for years, this is unsustainable. Elon Musk may be able to do that - he juggles space travel and the electrification of transport at the same time - and is a great source of inspiration. But for most people, such workloads are a recipe for disaster. You won't reach your goal if you burn out along the way.
Imagine your future when you have achieved this goal
What would your life be like if you achieved this goal? How different would it be? How excited are you about your future life? If there isn't much of a difference, ask yourself if it's really a worthwhile goal.
Imagine your future WITHOUT having achieved this goal
Do the same exercise in reverse order: if you don't - what would your world be like? Scary Thought? Then this is a high priority candidate. Does not matter? Maybe it's not that important after all.
Jeff Bezos' strategy for minimizing regrets
The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, once described how he decided to found Amazon. He calls his decision-making process a strategy to minimize regrets (“regret minimization framework”). He wants to look back on his life at the age of 80 and feel as little remorse as possible. As a result, many things suddenly take on a different perspective that would otherwise be overlaid by short-term worries. In the case of Bezos, he concluded that if he didn't start Amazon, whether the company was successful or not, he would not be let go. Even if he quit his well-paying job to chase that dream, he probably wouldn't regret it - even if Amazon had flopped.
In his own words:
So imagine you were 80 years old. Would you regret setting yourself this goal? Or would you regret not having done it?
When the list has been reduced to just a few ideas, a decision tree can be used to decide which goal is the most promising. Decision trees are used to aid in decisions that involve multiple steps. So you have to think a little further and make some assumptions. This gives you a clearer understanding of the possible scenarios.
Buffets 5/25 rule
There is an inspiring story of advice Warren Buffet once gave to his pilot Mike Flint, who has flown for him for over 10 years. Concerned about his career path ("The fact that you are still working for me tells me I am not doing my job"), he asks him to write down his 25 most important goals. Then he asks him to choose the 5 most important ones from this list. The trick? He instructs Flint to actively avoid the 20 unselected targets. You shouldn't lift a finger for this, even if you seem to have some time. Achieving the 5 chosen goals requires full concentration, and the discarded 20 goals offer the most enticing distractions.
Now that the goals are set, the real journey begins: achieving the goals.
Much of this will depend on the particular goal. Here are some overarching strategies that will help you succeed:
The whole point of personal goal setting is to be in control of your life and to proactively steer it in the right direction. However, it is not enough to just set these goals. There will be challenges, other things will struggle for attention, and the path may not be as clear as it was initially thought.
So make it a habit to always have a plan. What do you want to achieve today? This week? This month?
Focality makes these plans easy to forge and follow.
Visualize the way
A common technique for setting goals is visualization. Draw a vivid picture in your head that shows your future after you have achieved the goal. This helps to stay on the ball, motivates and prepares the subconscious to continue working on it.
There is, however, a lesser-known approach: Don't just visualize the result, visualize the path. The path is what gets you there, so that's what you should focus on. Visualize the process and key decision points. That will help move forward - especially during difficult times.
Divide goals into individual steps
"Most impossible goals can be achieved simply by breaking them down into bite-sized pieces, writing them down, believing in them, and working hard on them as if they were routine." - Don Lancaster
For each goal, there are a number of steps that lead to the desired result. The better you understand these steps, the easier it is to achieve the goal.
First, define the most important milestones that need to be achieved. Then break this down into further subtasks. Repeat this process until the tasks are small enough that they are easy to complete.
You don't have to break down all the milestones at once. Otherwise, the amount of small-scale tasks can be difficult to handle. A good alternative is to work on different levels of abstraction. It is important to always know the next step. Later, think about steps that are far in the future.
A simple technique for doing this is deep planning. Don't create long sequences of steps that need to be constantly adjusted. Instead, think in layers of time. What do I want to achieve this year that will bring me closer to my goal? This month? In this week? Today? With Focality you can easily create and implement such multi-layered plans.
Use the power of habit
Humans are creatures of habits. Use this to your advantage. Think about which parts of your goal can benefit from a habit. This is usually easiest for fitness goals. Frequent running is a habit. With other goals you have to think a little more. Starting a business is not easy to turn into a habit. But even there there are opportunities for habit formation. E.g. start with 5 sales calls every day. Or with a tweet.
Good books for learning how to efficiently build habits (or get rid of unloved ones) are Tiny Habits and Atomic Habits.
Focus on the process / thinking in systems
In motivational theory, there is advice to focus on the process, not the outcome. At first glance, this contradicts setting goals. The focus should be on the goals - which are the result. However, the underlying advice is sound. As mentioned above in connection with visualization, it takes a lot of motivation to just concentrate on the result - simply because a well-chosen goal is always a challenge and accordingly requires a lot of energy to achieve it.
Therefore concentrate on the path, the necessary actions. Because the way leads to the goal. And don't try to mark out just a single path. Try a process of building a system. A tool that will get you where you want to be ..
Here is a helpful article that will help use systems thinking for goal setting: Systems Thinking - The Essential Mental Models Needed for Growth
No more zero days
Another inspiring technique is called "No more zero days". It is intended for those who want to achieve one big goal and not many goals at the same time.
Essentially, it's about making sure you do something every single day that brings you closer to your goal. Never stop. Even if you can't do a lot, you should at least do a little something, or at least a tiny bit. But one must never allow one day not to approach the goal at all. No zero days.
This concept started as a comment on reddit, but has since taken on a life of its own. There's a subreddit, tons of articles, and even an app.
Don't give up, but think about alternative ways
"Be persistent in the vision, but flexible in the details." - Jeff Bezos
Sometimes finding the right balance between stubbornness and flexibility can be a challenge. It is important to be persistent so that you don't stray from your goal in the face of challenges. If you want to achieve big goals, you have to be very persistent.
However, the way in which the goals are achieved can be customized. You will learn, have new experiences, receive new information. The strategies originally chosen could prove to be inadequate. Therefore, once you realize that there is a better way, don't cling to it.
Be careful with multiple destinations
Avoid setting more goals than necessary. It is difficult to achieve multiple goals at once and to balance them among each other. However, it is often not possible to limit yourself to just one goal.
Be careful not to get caught up in any of your goals. Often there is a goal that stands out. That inspires you the most. That is the most exciting. You can get lost in it and forget everything else. Don't do that. Plan your time proactively. Decide how much effort you want to put into each goal and then plan accordingly.
Plan often. Determine what you want to achieve at the beginning of each day (or the night before). Now is the time to take a conscious look at the goals and make sure that everyone is adequately represented in the plan. Do the same for every week and every month. It's easy with Focality.
Setting and achieving goals is about not being blind when it comes to where to go. But there is another common blind spot: How to get there. It is important to look ahead, but also to look back every now and then. Take a good look at what you did and how it turned out. Learn from it. Make your next steps even better.
Do you remember the recommendation to set up processes and systems? You and your actions are a system. Tweak it. Get better at what you do. To do that, you have to take a step back and think.
A good time to do this is at the end of each planning period. Think about what you wanted to achieve. Did you achieve it? If not, what was the reason? What was good about that period? What was wrong What can you do differently next time?
If you use Focality, you can also learn from the aggregated statistics of your plans. Is there a goal with which you fail more often than with other goals? How much can you plan to do before your plans start to fail? Are there recurring reasons that trip you up? Use this insight to find the most promising points to work on. And take a look at your compiled good moments for a boost in motivation and satisfaction.
Still looking for more information? Here are a few reading tips on setting and achieving goals. But be careful not to fall victim to paralysis through analysis.
Many famous (Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Steven King, Franklin Roosevelt) and some less famous people have spoken about goal setting. Get motivated by their inspirational quotes about goals.
It's hard to keep track of the avalanche of productivity books. One look at Goodreads' list of books to aim for is overwhelming. Here are a few selected recommendations:
Many of our actions are controlled by habits. Things we should be doing, but also things we should avoid. Tiny Habits describes an effective way of establishing new habits by starting with a tiny version of the habit you want.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The title is a bit unfortunate, but the book is very readable. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People isn't really about habits. There is also not much talk about famous effective people. It describes the principles and strategies behind a successful and fulfilling life.
Stephen Cophey's 1989 book became a productivity classic. Despite its age, it is still useful and applicable today.
Goal setting theory
A lot of research has been done on goals. Research papers are usually quite demanding read, but if you want to dive really deep, they are an exciting source of information.
Google Scholar is a specialized search engine for searching through research papers.
Achieve your goals with Focality
Put what you have learned into practice and register with Focality. Focality helps you set goals and achieve them. Make your life proactive by making plans for every day, every week, every month and every year with ease.Reflect regularly and learn with data-driven evaluations.
Achieve your goals with Focality
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