Improve Your Life #12: Write Down Your Goals
Research has shown that people who set goals perform better than the ones that don’t. Goal setting will help you in many different ways. Setting clear goals improves your performance at any given task. Clear goals help you to focus more on the task at hand and avoid distractions. Your enthusiasm is higher when you are working on clear goals. Well defined goals increase your persistence helping you to get through rough patches and negative emotions. And finally, setting a clear goal makes you more resourceful helping you to find better way to achieve the results you want.
For more information you can read a research paper about the effects of goal setting on college students (PDF). From this paper you can find references to a lot more goal research.
How to go about setting goals? There’s a great mnemonic to help remember different elements of a clear goal. Many of you may know the SMART criteria. I will go over each aspect of the SMART goals and add comments from my own experience.
Specific. This is the key in the clear goal setting. What is the end result, what do you want to achieve. Here are some examples:
- Lose 15 pounds instead of lose weight
- Earn $5000 per month not just earn more
- Not exercise more but walk/run 25 minutes every day
- Replace become a writer with write 500 words per day
- Go to X with kids every weekend not spend more time with family
Measurable. This derives directly from specific and means that you can measure progress. Either you are measuring the things you do (write 500 words every day) or results you are getting (lost 2 pounds last week). What gets measured gets done and every step in the right direction will motivate you to move on.
For example I set a goal to write every day and noticed in a few days that it’s not really clear. What to write, on single topic or total. Does Skype chat count, but how about proposal to a client. So I made the goal more specific and measurable by stating that I will write at least 2000 characters every day on a single topic that is not email, chat, proposal or technical writing.
Actionable. There are different terms associated with the letter A. I have used the word actionable as it relates most directly to the idea of getting things done and knowing what you have to do next. Actionable means that you know what the next step is and you can make that step. If I want to start an airline then I don’t know what the next step is. Instead set a goal to create a list of requirements to start an airline. Try to make the next step small so it wouldn’t overwhelm you and keep you from taking it. The next step in clean the house is clean my desk. Break large vague goals into small, clear, and actionable goals.
The important thing in life is to have a great aim, and the determination to attain it. ~~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Relevant. Ask yourself if this is really something you want. How will this goal help you be happier? Will it improve your overall quality of life and have a positive effect on you and others. For example you can count the pages in your favorite book in the next two hours. This is a goal that is specific, measurable, actionable and time bound, but it’s pointless and irrelevant. Examples: I want to earn 5000 dollars every month because then I can travel to my dream locations. I write every day because I want to become better communicator and write a book.
Time-based. If it does not have a deadline then it is not a goal. Every goal you set has a timeline. There are different points you can set on that timeline:
- When do you start? The sooner the better.
- By what time you want to achieve the goal? Estimate the time needed and add 50% buffer.
- How often do you do it? Create a schedule and stick to it no matter what.
Keep in mind that we tend to overestimate what we can do in short-term and underestimate what we can accomplish over the longer periods. So, don’t set a goal to lose 20 pounds in a month.
Now that you know how clear goals work. Create a list of your own goals. You don’t have to go all SMART about your list. Just write it down. Anything that comes to your mind will be OK at this stage. Just to get you started here are the different areas of life that you might want to concentrate on:
- Physical: health, looks, exercise
- Financial: net worth, regular income, stuff you want
- Personal development: education, hobbies and self-improvement
- Family: relationships, children, lifestyle
- Social: friends and community
- Career: ambitions, fields of interest
After you are done with the dreams and long-term goals go over them one by one and try to make them SMART. You may find that you have to break many dreams into more manageable goals, but that’s OK. Make them small enough that you will take the first step in achieving them.
One thing to remember is that you don’t have to treat the list of goals as a fixed set. You can always add new goals or drop the ones that have become irrelevant. If you are doing this for the first time then you should revisit the list every few days and add more stuff.
Now take your first goal! Get a pen and paper or open a text editor and write down your goals.