How to Set Goals You Can Achieve

Setting goals is easy. Accomplishing them is difficult. Achieving your goals begins with creating goals that are achievable. Here are 5 ways to set goals that you can achieve. 

I dislike goal setting. Let’s face it, most goals just aren’t realistic. Setting pie-in-the-sky goals may be motivating for some, but for most of us we end up discouraged. I’ve found another way that works better for me.

How To Set Goals You Can Achieve

You already know a lot about setting goals. Here are 5 helpful “checks and balances” to your goal setting.

  1. Set a goal for what you won’t do. Most goal-setting is focused on achieving something new. The problem for most of us is our current responsibilities don’t change. So we try to add the new task on top of all our old work, somehow squeezing it in. This is a big reason we don’t achieve our goals. Instead, try setting goals for what you are going to delete, automate, and delegate. This will create the needed space in your schedule to work on new things.
  2. Annual goals are too big, set quarterly goals instead. My complaint about annual goals is they are often too big. Bobb Biehl said, “We overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what we can do in 3 years.” Most annual goals are so big they end up taking me 3 years. I find it more helpful to decide the direction I want to go, then create quarterly goals that move me in that direction. Quarterly goals work better for me because the action is more immediate.
  3. For large, complex goals, making them SMART doesn’t help. Even though the goal, “Publish my coaching book by November 1, 2018,” is SMART, it’s not likely to happen. Writing and publishing a book is just too complex for most of us. SMART works well for goals that are straightforward and for goals that are more immediate. For complex goals it’s better to break them down into chunks, like, “Outline my next coaching book by February 28th.” I then block out time in my calendar to research and make an outline. Then set another goal regarding the first chapter, the second chapter, etc.
  4. Watch out for Planning Fallacy. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman identified what he termed “Planning Fallacy,” which is our tendency to underestimate by 50% the time it will take to do something. In one study, 37 students were asked to estimate how much time it would take them to complete their senior theses. In response to “if everything went as well as it possibly could,” their estimates averaged 27.4 days. The average went up to 48.6 days “if everything went as poorly as it possibly could.” How long did it take them to finish their senior theses? 55.5 days! Double your time estimate.
  5. Use Parkinson’s Law to get it done more quickly. Cyril Northcote Parkinson noted “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In setting goals, I will sometimes create a time frame so short that there’s not time for procrastination. The short time-frame causes me to focus. I’m forced to push other things out of the way to accomplish it in that time. The reality is that it often takes twice as long as I hoped for (see #4 above), but it’s done more quickly than having a far away deadline, or none at all.

The key to achieving goals is to create goals that motivate you to get into action. Create goals that are within your power to accomplish. Take large goals and break them down into smaller, quarterly goals. Then, schedule blocks of time to work on them.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    One thought on “How to Set Goals You Can Achieve

    1. ´Thanks Keith, I have set out some 2018 goals, but I want to take into consideration what you write here about using quarterly goals and not underestimating the time to accomplish those goals. Thanks for the encouragement.