I’m a huge proponent of goal-setting. Without having goals, most of us wouldn’t have a clear direction of where we’re headed; we would wander aimlessly, unwisely pursuing all sorts of leads that wouldn’t actually bring us to where we want to be in life.
When you take a step back, you’ll realize that your entire life is dictated by goals: those that are consciously held and those that are unconsciously held, those that are proximal (short-term) and those that are distal (long-term), those that are recurring and those that are set for a specific purpose.
At the very minimum, goals should help you accomplish what you need to accomplish within a set time frame. However, at their greatest level, goals can be used to motivate yourself to reach higher than ever before and to achieve more than you ever believed to be possible.
On a professional level, it’s those goals--the ones that stretch you--that should be aimed for.
I think we’re often afraid to make goals that we might not achieve, probably because we’re innately afraid to admit our shortcomings. However, if we don’t force ourselves to jump a little higher, we might never find out just how high we can jump.
Why Entrepreneurs Need to Create Goals
We’ve established that goals exist to define objectives, guide strategies, and provide a sense of motivation. BUT it’s also important to realize that simply making a goal is not enough. Goals cannot possibly be achieved without routine activities that lead to the completion of the goal. Therefore, one of the most important reasons that entrepreneurs should create goals is that goals inform what actions are necessary to achieve them. It’s those actions, rather than the goal itself, that drive the success in reaching the goal.
In business, goals are often synonymous with KPIs, or “key performance indicators,” which exist to demonstrate the success of a business. For example, Google’s KPI was a certain number of searches made, Airbnb’s was nights booked, and Uber’s was rides taken. All the early activities of each business ultimately sought to increase searches, nights, or rides in order to reach their KPI.
In short, regardless of what industry you’re in, you need to set goals/KPIs in order to dictate which activities are necessary to achieve your goal/KPI.
5 Guidelines for Setting Goals
When setting goals, a common acronym to abide by is the “SMART” acronym. Spelled out, this states that goals must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely, and these are all good guidelines to follow when you’re setting personal and professional goals.
For a goal to be specific, you must clearly and thoroughly describe the goal and the steps taken to achieve that goal. For example, setting a goal to “increase website traffic” isn’t very specific, mainly because it doesn’t specify how you plan to do this. Modifying the goal to “increase traffic to our company’s blog by promoting the blog via our social media channels” would be a much more specific goal.
“What gets measured gets improved” -Peter Drucker
A goal is measurable when its results can be quantified. Even seemingly unmeasurable characteristics, such as employee morale, can be measured. For example, at Sticksnleaves, we do this using a free service called Morale. This sends our employees a daily email asking how they’re feeling, and these results are tallied on Morale’s website.
Moreover, in my previous website traffic example, this goal can definitely be improved by quantification. Changing the goal to “increase traffic to our company’s blog by 500 users per month …” satisfies this requirement and improves this goal overall.
3 & 4. Attainable & Realistic:
The next two requirements, attainable and realistic, go hand-in-hand. The trick to creating attainable and realistic goals is knowing how to walk the fine line between achievable and unachievable. The goal can’t be so attainable and realistic that it's easy and requires little effort; however, the goal also should not be so audacious that it scares you away from getting started or making progress. The art of creating great goals is understanding the balance between practical and audacious.
To return to our website traffic example … if your current blog traffic is 10 users per month and you make a goal to increase traffic to 10,000 users per month after only three months of efforts, your goal is probably neither attainable nor realistic. Props to you for dreaming big! But you should probably either decrease your expected amount of users or increase your time span.
On the other hand, though, suppose someone makes the same goal as in the previous example: to increase traffic to 10,000 users per month after three months of efforts. But in this case, suppose that person already averaged 9,500 users per month. Is this goal attainable and realistic? Yes and yes. But is it a good goal? Probably not.
These examples represent what can happen when you fail to recognize the balance between practical and audacious goals. Instead, strive to find a more balanced goal, such as to increase traffic from 8,000 to 10,000 users within 3 months. This goal is appropriately attainable and realistic.
The final guideline is that goals must be timely, which means that a goal must include a specific time frame in which it should be accomplished. People usually hate deadlines, and they’re often not taken very seriously. However, for the sake of your motivation toward goal completion, it’s important to set a time-frame/deadline and stick to it. In my previous example, establishing the goal to “increase traffic by X amount of users after three months” is, therefore, a timely goal.
Yet, when setting time-frames and deadlines, you still have to maintain the balance between stretching yourself and being realistic. Don’t establish deadlines that are impossible to meet because it will lead to rushing, which lowers the quality of your work. However, neither should you establish deadlines that are too easy to meet because it will completely remove the sense of urgency, lead to procrastination, and, in turn, lower the quality of your work. Finding the “Goldilocks” zone for the timeliness of goals is a difficult, but important, task.
4 Steps to Track Your Progress
1. Outline the Steps:
Some goals can be extremely overwhelming when they’re first set. If your goal is to start your own business, for example, it’s difficult to know where to even begin. With any goal, regardless of how big or small, a good habit to develop is to outline the steps that you must take to achieve that goal. By outlining the steps, the final goal will seem much less daunting, and you’ll be able to accomplish that goal in a much more logical, systematic way without unnecessary detours.
Consider the process a student takes (or should take) when writing a paper. After the student decides what to write about, he then should outline his paragraphs and the main topics he will cover in each paragraph. Doing so prevents the student from going on illogical tangents and writing a paper that is incoherent. Outlining the steps towards goal achievement includes these same benefits.
2. Set Checkpoints:
Sometimes, however, simplifying a goal to a list of actionable steps has an adverse affect: procrastination. Seeing the list of steps often leads goal-makers to think, “Oh, that doesn’t look too tough after all!” This type of thinking removes the time sensitivity from the process, which often leads to missed deadlines and a delayed achievement of the goal.
To prevent this, it’s a great idea to set “sub-deadlines” within the time-frame of your final deadline. So, after every outlined step or set of steps, indicate a date you’d like to have the work up to that point completed; doing so will keep you on track toward goal achievement and prevent you from procrastinating.
3. Review Your Goals:
When working towards a goal, there are two extreme behaviors that are common. On one end of the spectrum, you’ll find people who obsess over their goal--they’ll literally think about where they stand with their goal 24/7. This is not a good behavior to develop because it will have an adverse effect on other important aspects of your life: work, family, friends, etc. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who try to ignore their goal as much as possible to prevent themselves from worrying about it. This sort of behavior isn’t particularly wise either because it leads to missed deadlines and low commitment.
Clearly, a middle ground is the way to go, as it usually is! In order to find the happy medium between obsessing and ignoring, it’s wise to set a specific time every day to review your goals. If it’s a work-related goal, review your progress at the end of every work day. If it’s a personal goal, check up on yourself every morning when you wake up or every evening before you go to bed. Either way, this establishes a pattern that rests between both extremes of goal dedication.
4. Stay Motivated:
Staying motivated can be one of the most trying aspects of goal achievement, especially when it comes to long-term goals. Every person has to find their own way to drudge through the mundane aspects of the process, especially when results are tough to see. In order to stay motivated, though, it’s important to note two things. First, remember why you started in the first place. Take yourself back to that moment, gather the passion you felt, and re-internalize that passion. And second, take a step back and look at how far you’ve come. Even if you still have a long way to go, realize that you’ve made it this far, so you might as well go all the way.