Everyone has goals. Whether they are professional, personal, financial or health goals, we recognize the milestones and objectives that we want to achieve in different realms of our lives. Successful goal setting is a process that helps you decide where you’re headed and what’s important to you, allowing you to act on them rather than drifting in the wind or waiting for your lucky day.
Knowing exactly how to set and achieve your objectives, however, can be challenging. There’s an art to it that’s more than just writing down the first thing that comes to mind. Plus, goal setting isn’t just for New Year’s resolutions or quarterly meetings. Successful goal setting is an ongoing process that you can start at any time of the year.
Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals
You’ve probably heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals, but here’s a quick refresher.
S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound. In other words, your goals should be clear and well-defined (no vague desires here) and quantifiable in some way. While goals are designed to stretch you out of your comfort zone, they should also be something that you can realistically achieve within a specific time frame.
Keep your list focused. Otherwise, it can be easy to get distracted, and you may not know where to put your energy and attention, making resource and time management difficult. By setting a few S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’ll have a clear picture of what you’re working toward. Plus, it helps if your goals are connected to your purpose, so you should hone in on the things that you want to do — the things that make you want to jump out of bed in the morning — versus what you think you should do. When your goals are aligned with the things that you care about, you’re more likely to stay motivated.
Once you’ve come up with your goals, write them down. The simple act of writing down your goals makes them real and tangible. You’re more likely to achieve them in the long run, too. In fact, a study conducted at the Dominican University of California found that 70 percent of participants who wrote down their goals and shared them with family and friends were successful in goal achievement, while participants who only acknowledged their goals but didn’t write them down or share them had only a 35 percent success rate.
You can keep your list in a planner or journal or write them on the white board on your office. This way, you can refer back to your goals regularly and remind yourself what you’re working toward.
Create a System to Help You Stick With Your Goals
Now that you have your goals, it can be daunting to look at your list. How do you actually work toward achieving them?
First, try breaking down each into smaller action items. Think about what you need to do to actually move you forward toward our milestone. Consider all your goal setting as if you were planning to run a marathon. You wouldn’t jump to running 26 miles right away, right? Instead, you’d start with a couple easy runs the first few weeks until your legs (and lungs) got used to the physical activity. Then, you’d gradually tack on more distance to your runs, slowly building your endurance until you could run marathon distances.
It’s the same with professional goals. You can break your action plan down into daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly milestones that will put you on track for your overall goal. Thinking about different time frames can help you stay motivated and energized on your journey, not to mention help with time management, too. If you want a big promotion in a year, think about all the little steps that will help you get there and create goals for those, too.
As you develop your action plan, think about roadblocks that may crop up and how you’ll address them. That way, instead of being thrown when something unexpected arises, you’ll have a contingency plan in place.
Check in Regularly
Here’s a secret: Goals aren’t set in stone.
While your goals provide a road map and general direction to where you want to go and what you want to achieve in your career, it doesn’t mean that you have to stick to a straight line. You may have to make adjustments or take a detour on your way to achieving your goals when your circumstances shift or, frankly, when what you want to achieve has changed.
Make a date to regularly review and track progress. Reflecting on the work that you’ve done can be encouraging. Plus, it’s an opportunity to identify any barriers or areas where you’re falling behind and adapt your plan. This can also help you fine tune any time management obstacles and avoid expending unnecessary energy.
Whether or not you’re a planner, learning how to set the right goals can take a little trial and error. If you stick to it though, you’ll find that successful goal setting can set you on the right path toward making your professional aspirations become a reality.