We all have them. We may talk about them or not. We may write them down or not. But we all have goals.
There are all kinds of statistics floating around about goals. Things like, “you are X times more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down.” Or, “the X% of people who have goals are X times more likely to be successful.”
These statistics usually tout a Yale or Harvard Business School study of goals. Unfortunately, that study appears to be an urban myth.
Does that mean you shouldn’t have goals? Nope!
I’m a huge believer in goal setting and having a plan to achieve my goals. I know from personal experience that setting specific, challenging goals and following through on my action plans is the key to success.
Without goals, we just drift from one day and one activity to the next. Goals give us something to focus on and keep us on track. Goals motivate us to keep moving forward, especially on the days we are stuck in the grind.
How to set goals and how to achieve goals
So, in this post, let’s talk about how to set goals and more importantly, how to achieve goals. (Note: I’m talking about setting annual goals, but the process works the same for both longer- and shorter-term goals.)
Grab something to write on, whether that’s a pretty journal, a notebook, a big pad of sketch paper, or a digital file. You want to capture all these thoughts before they get away from you.
Start by figuring out your vision
Step one is to figure what you want – your vision for the future. If you don’t know what you want, how are you going to get it?
Spend a little time here, because figuring out your vision is the foundation of goal setting. If you set a goal for something you don’t really want, then it’s going to be hard to achieve. You won’t be motivated and you won’t do the work.
Sit back and do some brainstorming. Ask yourself some questions.
- What is important for my business?
- What do I want my business to look like in 3-5 years?
- What are my biggest priorities?
- What will make the biggest difference in my business?
- What do I enjoy doing?
- What makes me happy?
- What sounds exciting and interesting?
There are no right or wrong answers here. You are simply trying to dig into your subconscious, which will help you define your goals.
Review and reflect on last year
Take a step back to review and reflect on last year (or last quarter). Ask yourself some more questions:
- What worked well last year?
- What didn’t work so well?
- What would you do differently?
- What was your biggest accomplishment?
- What are you really proud of?
- Was there anything that drained my energy?
Also, review any metrics that you track in your business. These might include pageviews, email subscribers, social media followers, and of course, revenue.
Think about why you want to achieve each goal
By now, you probably have some general goals in mind. Before you move any further, take a moment to think about “why” you want to achieve each goal.
What are the benefits? How will you feel when you accomplish it?
Is this goal in line with your bigger picture vision for your business? (If not, why are you pursuing it?)
Remembering your “why” for each goal will help you stay motivated to keep moving through the tough times.
Make sure that your goals motivate you
You want your goals to be motivating. Writing out your “why” for each goal will help you ensure that they are. If a goal isn’t motivating – if you aren’t invested in the outcome or if it won’t make a difference to your business – then you’ll end up not working on it. And that will leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed.
You must write down your goals
I’ve touched on this already, but you absolutely have to write down your goals.
First of all, it’s a lot easier to remember something if you’ve written down.
Think about grocery shopping. When you make a mental list of 10 or 15 things to buy, you’re likely to forget about half of them when you get to the store. On the other hand, if you write out the list, even if you accidentally leave it at home, you’ll remember the vast majority of what you wanted to buy. The simple act of writing down the list helps you retail and store the information.
Second, there is empirical proof that writing down your goals does improve your chances of achieving them. Dr. Gail Matthews, at the Dominican University of California, performed a study on how writing down goals impacts goal achievement. She found that:
Those who wrote their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write their goals.
Make your goals SMART
You’ve heard about SMART goals, right? There’s a reason that the phrase is so ubiquitous. It’s because it works.
SMART is a framework that helps you set better goals. Which, in turn, makes achieving goals easier. SMART goals are:
SMART goals are specific
Specifically define what you plan to achieve, using action verbs.
A goal is a guidepost. Vague or general goals don’t provide enough direction to get you where you want to go. By following the rest of the acronym, your goals will automatically be specific.
SMART goals are measurable
Decide how you will measure success and stay on track to achieve your goals. This means including numbers.
Do you want to increase your website traffic? How much? You might say that you want to reach 25,000 pageviews a month or you want to increase traffic by 20%.
Without a measurable number, you have no way of knowing whether or not you achieved your goal.
SMART goals are achievable
Make sure your goal is realistic and possible for you to reach. Setting a goal that you can’t achieve is demotivating – the opposite of what we want. You want your goal to be challenging, but not too hard.
Remember earlier in the post when we reviewed last year? Check your metrics.
Let’s go back to our website traffic example. If you increased traffic by 18% last year, then increasing it by 20% this year is on trend and probably doable. On the other hand, if you increased traffic by only 5% last year, then a 20% increase this year may not be achievable.
SMART goals are relevant
Your goals should be relevant to your business’ mission, purpose, and revenue model.
Let’s say you are a service provider who works with a handful of clients one-on-one. Then a goal to increase website traffic may not be relevant, depending on how much traffic you have now.
By keeping your goals aligned with your big picture aspirations, you’ll be more focused on doing the right things to move your business forward. Setting goals that aren’t hyper-relevant for your business is a waste of time.
SMART goals are time-bound
You must have a deadline for each of your goals. A deadline instills a sense of urgency to actually get the work done. Without a deadline, projects drag on and on. Eventually, you’ll become demoralized because it seems like you never finish anything.
Moreover, make sure that you establish a realistic time frame for accomplishing your goals. This is something that gets easier with practice. Keeping it real helps you to stay motivated. If you set time frames that are too aggressive, you’ll feel down when don’t meet the deadline. Conversely, deadlines that are too easy to meet won’t push you to work hard.
Stay focused by ranking your goals
Not everything can happen at the same time. And, if you try to work on all your goals at once, you’ll lose focus.
Here are some questions to help you rank your goals:
- Which goal is going to have the biggest impact on my business?
- How much time or effort will be required to achieve this goal?
- Will this goal directly impact the profitability of my business?
- Can I achieve this goal with the resources and skills I have now?
- How excited am I about this goal?
- Is the timing right for this goal (i.e. are there any seasonality factors to consider)?
Create a plan to take action on each goal
This is one of the most important steps to achieve goals. Accomplishing your goals won’t just happen no matter how SMART they are. You have to create a plan to take action on each goal individually.
So how can you plan to achieve these goals that you’ve worked so hard to set? You do that by breaking each goal down into small, actionable steps.
Start by listing all the things you think you need to do to achieve a particular goal. I like to think of each goal as a project, so I create a project plan.
After brainstorming all the tasks and subtasks related to the project, I set up the project in Asana. I can group tasks together in a way that makes sense and attach dates to each one.
Then, each week, I block out time in my schedule to work on my goals. If I didn’t block out that time, then my days might be frittered away working on all the urgent tasks that don’t necessarily move my business forward.
As I move through the project, I mark tasks as completed. When the going gets tough, I can look back at all my completed tasks and realize that I’m making progress. This is especially helpful for those big, long-term goals.
Make time to review your goals regularly
One of the benefits of having written goals is that you can review them regularly. Only a small percentage of people make the time to regularly review and evaluate their goals. But doing so increases your chance of success, so put this step on your calendar.
Track your progress weekly
I recommend tracking your progress weekly. In my weekly reviews, I look first at my action steps. Did I complete the weekly tasks assigned to each goal? Am I on track or do I need to make adjustments to the due dates?
I also capture the relevant metrics each week. So going back to our website traffic example, I would write down my number of pageviews each week. That way I can see if the numbers are moving in the right direction.
Do a deeper review every 90 days
I also recommend that you do a deeper review every 90 days. I do this as part of creating my next 90-day action plan.
Priorities change. New opportunities arise. Sometimes you hit your goals early. So, every quarter, take a look at your goals and decide if they still fit into your big picture. Review your action steps and deadlines. Are there things that need to be moved up or back? Or eliminated entirely?
You have to stick with it
This last tip is one of the most important if you want to achieve your goals.
Stick with it. Don’t compare yourself to others. Keep your head down and do the work.
Goal setting and planning how to achieve your goals are ongoing activities. The more you do them consistently, the better your results will be.