Maddy Osman
I write about productivity, the future of work, and collaboration at the Planio Blog.
August 15, 2017 · 5 min read

The Ultimate Guide to Setting Goals that Get Accomplished

The Ultimate Guide to Setting Goals that Get Accomplished

Setting goals is one of the easiest and fastest routes to actually achieving something, but it is not something that most people do. Michael Hyatt, author of 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever, thinks that many people haven't been taught how to write and set effective goals, and as a result, decide not to bother with them.

Goal Setting vs Resolutions

You might have heard the saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” This just means that to realistically achieve a goal, a fair amount of planning is involved.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Some people mistake goals and resolutions as being the same thing. Resolutions are really just positive intentions for a plan. If you share your resolutions (like those made for New Year’s) with other people, you’re introducing some level of accountability for your intentions. However, most New Year’s resolutions fail because there’s no actual plan in place to achieve them.

As such, the main difference between these two concepts is that resolutions are passive, and goals are much more active. Goal setting, according to Susan Ward, is "the process of deciding what you want to accomplish and devising a plan to achieve the result you desire."



You’d have to have been living under a rock to have not heard of the concept of SMART goals, but it’s worth breaking down each part in the discussion of setting goals that actually get accomplished. SMART Goals are:

Specific. Goals should always be specific. Saying that you “want to lose weight” is not specific. Instead of generalities, start defining the goal in more detail. With regards to the example goal, How many pounds will you lose?

Measurable. Besides being specific, goals should be measurable so that you can track your progress. Without a metric for measurement, how do you know you’ve achieved some level of success?

Goals should be measurable so that you can track your progress.

Actionable. It isn't enough just to set goals. Goal setting is merely the first step. When you set a goal, you also have to make up your mind to actually achieve those goals. When setting goals, choose something that you know will be hard to reach, but still attainable. In his own goal setting practice, James Clear asks himself, “What kind of pain am I willing to subject myself to?” Unrealistic goals will just cause you to lose drive.

Of course, when it comes to goal setting, you can dream up anything you want. Goals only become unrealistic if you don't have the time, money, or effort available to attain them. Start small, and work your way up from there. It’s ok to set mini goals on the way to a large one.

Relevant. Make sure that your goal matters to you, but that it also aligns with other goals that are important to you. Say for example, you are vying for a promotion, but it means an increase in travel. This might be exciting, but it can also take you away from your other goals. If your main goal is to have kids in the near future, increased responsibilities and travel will likely get in the way of achieving this goal.

Relevance can also refer to whether or not you already have the right skills to accomplish your goal. Again, if you’re hoping for a promotion, it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll get it if you’re missing any major skill requirements.

Time-bound. Without a specific deadline for your goal, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever feel compelled to complete it. It’ll be easy to put off “until next week” - indefinitely. Giving your goals a deadline motivates you to work harder to achieve them, so that you can cross them off your to do list, and work on the next one!

Say your goal is to create a comprehensive book on a relevant topic in your industry. Here’s an example of a useful SMART goal, highlighting each factor necesary for success:

A Guide to Goal Setting for Beginners

Once you’ve internalized the proper process for creating SMART goals, you can move forward with these best practices for goal setting.

Evaluate and Reflect

Before you start writing or thinking about your goals, evaluate where you are right now. This means and pondering of:

Constantly check in with yourself. This will help you to continually work on and achieve your goals. Make note of how much you're improving, and if you’re not, shows that a new approach is necessary.

Start with a Just Few Goals

Take the time to define your goals (even the boring ones) and dreams--sit down and really think them through. What are the things that make your heart race? What are the things that truly make you excited? Where do you want to be in your professional career in the near future?

Write down everything that comes to mind, then eliminate those that don't fit the SMART categories. Be ruthless in your eliminations, as it’s better to focus on just one thing at a time. Keeping your goals fewer in number will make them each easier to achieve. After all, the human mind can't focus on more than 5-7 items at a time.

It’s great to have a lot of goals, but the best goal setters know that it’s better to find a specific (and limited) focus. This might mean taking longer to get to where you want to be, but it’s preferred to having so many goals that you get overwhelmed and never end up achieving anything.

Part of finding success with goal setting is making sure that your goals are easy to recall (and act on).

Write Goals Down

There is a certain power in writing your goals down. When you write things down, you are stating your intentions for yourself, and putting goal setting in motion.

All my goals

Once you’ve created your list of initial goals, make it easy to see and act on. This might be as simple as adding them as a permanent fixture on your daily to do list (at least until they’re accomplished), but could also take the form of a poster, or a series of post-it notes, that you see everyday. Display your goals in a place that you can’t ignore them, and you’ll increase the chances that they actually get accomplished.

Display goals in a place where you can’t ignore them to increase chances that they get accomplished.

Make Plans for Your Goals

Research has shown that people are 2-3x more likely to stick to their goals when they have specific plans attached to them. In the study, scientists asked their subjects to fill in the blanks for this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Those that filled in the sentence were 2-3x more likely to stick to their goals, compared to those that didn't specify any specific plans. Scientists call this “implementation intentions” because they state when, where, and how you intend to implement a particular behavior.

On a similar note, say your goal is to run a 5k in a certain amount of time. Anchoring that goal with an actual 5k that you sign up for will motivate you to accomplish all the necessary tasks on the way to goal completion. After all, you wouldn’t want to show up for that race without the basic ability to finish it!

Review Goals Often

Reviewing your goals allows you to evaluate progress, specifically, to see where you are now, compared to when you first set a goal. Seeing progress can motivate you, while also providing insights as to where improvements can be made.

Create check in points for reviewing goals. Check in on short term goals daily, and long term goals weekly or monthly. For each goal, add specific check in points on your calendar so that you don’t forget to review your progress!

Recruit an Accountability Partner

Some people don't like sharing their goals because they feel like if other people know, they might disappoint them if they don’t follow through. But there’s something to be said about being held accountable for the goals you create for yourself.

Selectively share your most important goals with an accountability partner. This might be an individual or a small group. Ideally, you’ll have similar goals, so that you can push each other to find continued success in your goal setting.

The Ultimate Guide to Setting Goals that Get Accomplished

Successful goal setting can be directly attributed to achieving your most fantastic dreams in life. Start small, and create bigger goals as you accomplish your most important tasks. Using a tool like Planio can help add organization to your goal setting, not to mention accountability, and an easy way to track progress.

What are your best tips for setting goals that get accomplished? Tweet your thoughts at @Planio, and we’ll share our favorites!