We've all set goals that flop. We might lose interest, realise they were too ambitious or change our mind halfway through based on what was really important.
Finding someone to help you set effective goals is a great place to start. They can offer advice, ask the right questions and even make suggestions for ways to achieve them. However, you'll be setting goals for yourself for the rest of your life. Whether it's intentional or not, we all make plans every day for what we're working on next. It's a great idea to equip yourself with some of the techniques used to lay these plans out for personal success.
This skill of unpacking your motivations, what you're really looking to achieve, and making sure it's wrapped up in a realistic package will make sure you hit your goals every time.
There are many frameworks for setting goals. You can learn something from all of them! Here I'm diving further into the SMART framework. It describes a bunch of characteristics that you can evaluate your goals on before you commit to them.
The easiest way to apply it is to first brainstorm your ideas for your next goal on a piece of paper. Don't hold back, write as many bullet points as you need to capture your current thoughts. Next, go through each of the headings below and answer the questions. Slowly start building up your final goal statement based on your answers. And repeat!
Drill into the meaning behind your goals. This helps you narrow them down, which in turn makes sure you can come up with very specific actions to take towards them. And that leads to goals that are understandable, non-negotiable and possible to hold yourself accountable for - in other words, there's no room to reinterpret them later on.
- “Which parts of the goal are most important and unimportant?”
- “What’s the first area I will focus this goal on?”
- “Is there a specific project I have in mind for this goal?”
You should leave this step feeling very clear on exactly what you're trying to achieve. If you still have parts you are unsure about, write those questions down now and make sure to come back and answer them before finalising your goal.
Find something as objective and easy to measure as possible. Sometimes the outcome of a goal might more be of a feeling, but there will still be some tangible measurements you can use to check in on your progress. This is key to staying motivated.
- “How will I know at the end of this goal if I've achieved it or not?”
- "What tangible or countable outcomes will I be aiming for?"
- “If I ask myself at the end of the month if I've achieved this, what examples/outcomes will I have experienced to justify it?”
After finding some measurable metrics, you should be able to feel confident in understanding your progress as you work towards this goal. Make sure that if you manage to 100% these measures you'd genuinely feel you can mark the goal as completed. Otherwise, find some other/more metrics to cover those gaps!
While goals can be ambitious, they need to be rooted in what's possible. That means for you personally, your skills and competencies. It also means in your environment and current resources available.
- “How achievable do I feel it is out of ten? Why?”
- "If all my support fell apart, what would I still be able to achieve myself?"
- “What’s the smallest possible piece of this goal that I totally know is achievable? Let’s start there”
You'll leave this step feeling a sense of sureness. You'll know that the goal is possible to achieve. You'll know which bits are risky and which bits are entirely in your hands. Understanding these risks upfront help ensure they don't derail you as they potentially become a reality further down the line.
Goals have to fit within your current priorities. That means they should align with your values, current career goals, team goals, company mission and so on.
- “How does the goal align with bigger objectives/values/missions of x?”
- "What would make this goal irrelevant in the future?"
- "Which other and bigger goals does this new goal align and contribute towards?"
Now you can be sure that your new goal is relevant to your bigger picture context, both personally and for any team or company you are a part of. This is key to making sure goals continue to make sense, and don't get pushed to the side as new upcoming priorities appear.
Finally, to bring the goal to life set an explicit time frame to help set fair expectations for yourself. It will also help you hold yourself accountable and give you a way to check in on your progress.
- “When is a reasonable time I will achieve this step by?”
- "If I didn't achieve this goal by x date, how would I feel?"
- "What's the cost of not achieving this goal by x date?"
Another tip is not just to make up a random deadline, but user events to anchor to. For example, maybe you could plan to achieve it before your next 1 on 1 with your manager, before you go on summer vacation, or by the end of a specific project.
By evaluating these characteristics when you're next setting a goal for yourself, however big or small, you'll set yourself up for success and avoid that demotivating feeling of your goals slipping from beneath your feet.
Remember, effective goal setting takes a lot of practice. You'll make poor goals, you'll fail, and you'll make some too easy and some too hard. That's all part of the process!
Over time, you'll get better and learn more about yourself. In the end, you'll be able to set out an achievable plan for whatever you're next ambition looks like.