The Goal-Setting Process: Definition, Importance, How to Set and Achieve Goals

Setting goals is an essential psychological strategy for your professional and personal life.

The end of the year is an excellent period of reflection when you analyze what you have achieved and set new goals for the coming year. 

Do you find yourself recommitting to a goal and promising that you will finally accomplish it next year? 

If your answer is yes, and your goal is not impossible, a poor goal-setting process is often to blame. 

Don't worry! 

By the end of this article, you will have all the proper means to break this cycle and get the most out of your business, team, and yourself.

TABLE OF CONTENT

1. What is the goal-setting process?

What are goals?

What is goal setting?

Goal setting theory

2. Why is goal-setting important?

3. Key steps to set goals? 

4. How to achieve the goals you set?

1. What is the goal-setting process?

Before defining the goal-setting process, let's clarify what goals are.

You, like many others, have been describing and setting goals for so long and probably assume you know the answer to this question. 

However, after we learn certain concepts, we tend to forget their real meaning. 

People setting a lot of goals but achieving too little is not surprising. 

Goals are choices and commitments we make to succeed in various aspects of our lives.

What are goals?

Goals are specific, action-based, and quantitative and require focus and clarity from our side. 

Many times people confuse resolutions with goals. You should not make this mistake. Resolutions are passive, while goals are active, and your goal-setting process will be the way to bring them to reality. 

What is goal setting?

Goal setting is a process of deciding what you want to achieve and laying out a plan on how to reach that goal. It involves identifying specific objectives, setting performance targets, and evaluating your progress in achieving those goals.

In other words, goal setting is the process that provides you with a long-term vision and short-term motivation. It consolidates your accumulation of knowledge and helps you manage your time and resources so that you can thrive in your life.

What is the goal-setting theory?

In 1968, Edwin E. Locke, an American psychologist, developed the Goal Setting Theory to explain human behavior in specific work situations. 

Based on Locke's view, setting challenging goals along with appropriate feedback is linked to higher and better task performance.

The key features of the goal-setting view are as follows:

  • The main source of employee motivation is their willingness to work towards attaining a goal.
  • Clear, measurable, and challenging goals accompanied by a deadline are motivating factors for improving employee performance. 
  • Goals should be realistic and provocative. The employees feel triumphant when achieving them and passionate about attaining the goals.  
  • Constructive feedback helps employees to work harder, leads to greater job satisfaction, and boosts employee morale.


2. Why is goal setting important? 

Goals setting, planning, and defining should be a straightforward process; once you know your path and destination, you know how to get there.

"The goal is the most critical part of the process; it's the plan you create and your actions that drive results" 
James Fleming

Here are the main benefits one can expect when setting goals:

Goals help you focus 

The body follows the mind, so goals help you focus on your time and energy. 

Setting and focusing on your goals helps you achieve better and faster results. Goals are the engines that give you a direction and path to follow. Knowing the key tasks needed to achieve your goal eliminates distraction, overwhelm, and procrastination.

Goals provide motivation

Goals increase your engagement and inspiration. You are motivated to take action when your goals are exciting. When you reflect on the benefits of achieving your goals, then you will be much more committed to making them a reality.  

"When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute." 
Simon Sinek.

Goals provide direction

Goals give you a clear roadmap, direction, and path toward goal achievement. When done correctly, the goal-setting process provides a clear timeline and measurements for goal accomplishment.

Goals improve productivity

Goals provide specific measurements of everyday work, which increases productivity. Monthly, quarterly and annual goals give you a target and a measuring stick to track your progress in a specific time framework.

Goals give clarity

Goals clarify your future with measurements, milestones, and deadlines. Having goals triggers increased clarity and motivation to progress in your life. Goal setting allows you to discover new opportunities. Setting goals enables you to prioritize your time and energy.   

Goals provide accountability

Goals give you accountability. Having a goal creates an image of you in the future and inspires you to take action toward that future. This emotional engagement with achieving goals keeps you accountable through daily actions.  


3. How to set goals? 

You must know how to set goals if you desire to accomplish them. You can't simply think about a particular thing as a desire and hope it will become a reality. For example, you might think about losing weight; however, this will not happen without work.

The process of defining goals begins with a thoughtful analysis of what you want to accomplish and concludes with a great deal of effort to achieve it. Between, clearly defined steps take precedence over the specifics of each goal. Setting achievable goals will be made possible by being aware of these procedures. 

Here are the top seven steps for setting goals:

1.    Set goals that resonate with you

When you set goals, ensure they are relevant to you and that reaching them would be worthwhile. The likelihood of you putting in the effort to make things happen is low if you have no stake in the result or if they are unimportant to you. Set goals that motivate you and relate to the high priorities in your life. Goal achievement requires commitment and an "I must do this" mindset.

Here are some tips:

  • It can be big or small; it doesn't matter the ambition while you commit to it but remember that smaller ones are easier to finish and can boost motivation and start the momentum for more significant aims.
  • Examples like starting a business, reaching 1000 clients, or hiring 20 people are excellent; however, make them consistent with your vision 
  • The goal-setting technique will be your strategy for success over the long term.


2.    Set SMART goals

You have probably heard of the SMART goals matrix already. If you want to set goals and increase the chances of achieving them, you must design your goals to be SMART. There are many nuances of the SMART acronym, but they all point in the same direction – the goals should be:  

  • Specific: your goals must be well-defined, clear, and unambiguous.
  • Measurable: Your goals should be specific in terms of dates and numbers so that you can track your level of success.
  • Achievable: Your goals must be realistic yet reachable.
  • Relevant: Your goals should be relevant to the path you intend to take with your life and profession.
  • Timely: Your objectives must have a clear schedule with a start and an end date. Your sense of urgency increases when you have a deadline. In this way, the achievement will come easier and faster.

Let's see a concrete example:

Example of a SMART Goal: Improve goal-setting abilities by using a tracking app every workday for the next two months.

  • Specific: Implement the goal-tracking method and split the goals into smaller tasks with clear deadlines.
  • Measurable: Review and work on tasks daily.
  • Achievable: Setting tasks specific for each goal and marking the complete ones is very doable
  • Relevant: Management experts have confirmed such initiatives provide results.
  • Time-based: The method must be used daily over the next two months.

Tip: Did you know that in the November 1981 issue of ”Management Review” a 2 page essay by George T. Doran called "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives" was the start point for this goal setting methodology? Find below the original document that is still relevant today.

Download the S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives essay

Related:


3.    Write down your goals

Writing out a goal makes it concrete and tangible in the physical sense. You have no justification for disregarding it. Avoid writing it with imprecise or vague words. Instead of saying "would like to" or "may," use the word "will" or another strong, engaging, and compelling word.

Listing your goals in plain sight will serve as a daily reminder of what you want to accomplish. 

For example: 

  • You can write your goals on post-it notes with different colors, then place them on your walls, desk, monitor, or mirror as a constant reminder. 
  • Alternatively, you can use an agenda, where you reflect on your goals' specificities and review it daily.
  • A printable daily planner with a schedule and priorities to focus on work. also
  • Lastly, a goal-tracking app can help split a big goal into smaller ones that are easier to follow. 

Remember, if you schedule it and if you invest the hours to achieve it, then success is closer. Therefore, a daily goal planner like the one you can find and download below can greatly help improve your results and performance through deliberate daily practice.

Download the daily goal planner


4.    Create an action plan

Don't skip this crucial step in the process of goal setting. Achieving goals is a long-term process. You should split your goal into milestones to keep your eye on the goal and remain connected to the overall process. These mini-goals give you something to look forward to, keep you engaged, and boost your confidence and motivation when you reach them. By keeping track of your progress toward achieving your objective, you keep the momentum and accountancy and gain clear insights on how close you're to the main goal. 

Tip: Apps like Asana, Todoist, or Notion can help track big projects and set them as action plans with concrete actions to be done, a definite timeline, and deadlines. Moreover, you can set them up by project and importance. They have easy-to-use interfaces, and using them constantly will ensure that you work on the right things at the right time. Moreover, when working with your team on specific initiatives, it will be easy to know who does what and what is on hold.

In this screenshot from the app Things, you see how the preparation of an important presentation is split into multiple tasks that are easy to follow. 

"If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe." – Abraham Lincoln.


5.    Take action

Goals are not going to be achieved alone. Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Get proactive in achieving your goals and put your plan into action. Build in reminders and make regular time slots available to review your goals. If it is precisely defined, your goal will remain consistent in the long term. However, you should be flexible and ready to add, remove, or adapt your steps and actions. 

One specific way to ensure that you act on your goals is to schedule 2-3 hours of deep work sessions in your calendar on the most important actions for the entire week ahead. If plans change, shift the timings a bit. However, consider these are very important goals for you and should not be neglected or forgotten.

A concrete example is from legendary author Dan Brown's strict writing schedule. Mr Brown starts writing every morning at 4 a.m. and finishes at about 11 a.m. While many authors establish a daily word count goal, Brown aims to write for a certain number of hours. According to Brown, "writing a novel is about a process."

In his bestselling book about habits, author James Clear defines the process as "a system to achieve your goals." Mr. Clear's philosophy regarding goal-achieving systems is very explicit. These are his words:

  • If you're a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day. 
  • If you're a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week. 
  • If you're a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month. 
  • If you're an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million-dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

Success and failure are not overnight experiences. The small decisions along the way cause people to fail or succeed.— Tony Robbins


6.    Be accountable

Trying to accomplish a goal by yourself can be overwhelming. Accountability motivates you to work toward your objectives and enables you to make steady, consistent progress. Share your goals with a partner to help you stay accountable.

Filmmaker and minimalism expert Matt D'avella share the two days rule to sustain your goal throughout the month. More exactly: try to follow your goals daily without losing more than two days in a row. Ok, let's exclude weekends if you have a family and kids from this role. Matt describes this tactic best in one of his popular videos.


7.    Reflect and fix

It is absurd to think we can function perfectly all the time. We are humans, not machines. So, maybe you haven't achieved your goals in the time frame you wanted to. Or they were a bit too unrealistic. It is ok. Rather than feeling defeated, review your goals and see what you can improve. 

Depending on your style, at the end of the day, week, month, or quarter, put aside some time to reflect on the following:

  • What worked, what didn't work as planned and why?
  • What were the significant achievements?
  • What needs to be done next? What do we need to eliminate or reschedule?
  • For my team, what goals, couldn't we achieve?
  • How to improve the scheduling, or were the goals too ambitious?
  • Whom to thank for the support? (Remember gratitude is important)

These questions relate mainly to setting goals for teams; however, they can work well also for ambitious professionals.

Tip: If the goal requires a serious effort from your team or a long period of time to achieve it, it is a good practice to celebrate the achievement with the people who helped you achieve it.


4. How to achieve your goals?

Now that you know how to set goals let's look at how to accomplish them. 

Follow these bits of advice to accelerate your journey toward success.

Envision your goals

As Tony Robbins says, where focus goes, energy flows. You need a clear goal with a purpose and meaning to get what you want. When you visualize your goals, you align your purpose with your actions. Every successful person, from star athletes to entrepreneurs, uses this powerful tool to achieve their goals. 

Track your progress

It is crucial to track your progress toward reaching your goals by checking in and noting what you can do more effectively as you reach each milestone. Set a schedule to review both short- and long-term goal setting. Stay committed to your goal, but don't be rigid about the steps that get you there.

Over 2000 years ago, The Greek philosopher Aristotle said: "Well begun is half done." This means that once you've started working on your goals, achieving them will be much easier.

Reward yourself

Rewarding hard work is a great way to motivate yourself to stay on track with your goals. Review your goals and steps and determine which reward you will provide yourself once you hit each goal.


Wrap-up

Goal setting is among the best ways to help underperforming employees improve their game. When done right, it can positively impact any employee's performance. 

Individuals, teams, and businesses will benefit from goal setting in several ways. A clearly defined strategy for employee goals keeps your workforce focused and can motivate them far more than even financial incentives can.

When properly implemented, goal setting can significantly influence overall productivity and profitability in your business.

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