If you want success, goals help you set a vision to obtain them. This guide is for the beginner to help you put together your first set of goals.
I remember the moment I set my first goals. I’d been unhappy with the direction my life was heading, and as another year reached a close I decided enough was enough – I needed to focus if I wanted to reach my potential. That was a time I wrote a list of everything I ever wanted, and through a process of analysis and elimination, I had agreed on the first goals that would become my priority for the year.
The results were revolutionary, after years of stalling and drifting through life I started experiencing a repeated series of successes, achieving things that once seemed out of reach. Goal setting had changed my life, and I became addicted to the success they brought.
To set your first goals, ensure to do the following:
- Write down every aspiration, dream, and desire down onto a piece of paper.
- Review this list prioritising which you would like to achieve the most.
- Pick 2 – 5 of your favourites, and make them more focused (breaking down as appropriate) using the SMART approach.
- Have your goals recorded in a journal – make a plan, and agree your first actions.
- Agree a schedule to review your progress and keep accountable.
By following these simple steps, you will set yourself on a path to greater achievement than the person who does not have goals. Keep reading to understand more about each step:
Step one: Write it all down
In order to achieve goals, you need to focus them. But first you need to do work to filter through your thoughts. This starts with getting everything out of your head and onto paper.
When I decided I needed to change my life, I knew there was lots of things I wanted to do, so had no idea where to start. By writing every idea down, I could begin to understand everything that had become jumbled up in my head.
First thing I notice was themes – there were aspirations focused around my career, relationships, health, and creativity. I took out another piece of paper and started grouping these together putting ideas that interrelated close together.
For example, I saw a relation between these three ambitions:
- Start a regular writing habit.
- Write a book.
- Setup a blog.
The purpose of this task is to answer this question “What do I actually want?”
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Step two: Prioritise what matters the most
Now everything is written down we can start to apply shape to what is on paper.
Have a look at which of those sentences jump out the most – what excites you? What do you want to start tomorrow?
To help with this you might want to look at the size of the ask, and decide whether they are small, medium or large goals. As a general guide:
Small goals: are something you could probably complete in three months or less, or could be considered behaviour change goals like quitting smoking which can be done now, but needs months of measurement to establish whether the habit has stuck.
Medium Goals: take over three months and could take up to two years. These types of activities require persistence, planning, work and breaking down into smaller goals. Because of the task you will need to build towards this such as achieving a promotion, or reaching a personal best in the gym.
Large Goals: Take over two years plus – you could consider these your long-term vision goals – the types where you are looking at future you. To even get there you need to complete a range of small and medium goals to get anywhere near it. Prioritising one of these as your immediate short-term goal would not be considered realistic. Examples including obtaining millions in wealth, obtaining several promotions until you get to a senior leadership position in your organisation, or reaching a a series of personal bests that’s considered ‘above’ average in the gym.
When prioritising take the large goals and decided what medium and small goals they need breaking up. At this point you’ve probably now got a range of ideas, with ideas on potential first steps.
Now you’re in this position realistically look at your life – where are you? Do you have lots of time on your hands? Are you balancing other commitments? These are important questions to ask because this will influence how many goals you should focus on.
If you are preoccupied with child care duties, you probably want to focus on a maximum of two goals at a time – doing too much at once will meaning you’re spread too thinly to see any tangible results, and you’ll find you naturally ditch the less important goals for the couple that matter the most.
Now write down what you are focused on and put the other goals to one side. It’s good to keep a record of all your reflections, and longer term amibitons as you’ll want to come back to these when reviewing your progress.
Step three: SMARTen up your ambition
After prioritisation you should be looking at between 2 – 5 goals (depending on commitments). The next step is to focus these goals, by using the SMART objective method:
S – Specific: allows you to really drill down into what you want the goal to achieve.
M – Measurable: how will you know when you’ve achieved it? By making your goal measurable you apply some sort of metric or tangible evidence to demonstrate it’s been achieved. If you’ve not got anything like this, apply something you can see to know you’ve got to your destination.
A – Achievable: assesses whether your goal is something you can actually reach. If you’re aiming to earn £10,000 a month in affiliate link sales, by next year, yet you’ve never made a single sale, and don’t actually know anything about affiliate marketing, then it’s not achievable. Review this goal to make it achievable.
R – Realistic: your goals also need to be grounded in reality. Think about what you have within your current capabilities. How can you grow that? What are you trying to do? If the ‘What’ you are trying to do, is something that is currently out of reach of your abilities, then you’re failing to be realistic.
T – Time-based: every goal you set should have a target date to complete. By setting a date you have a driver to motivate you into action, otherwise you’re more likely to procrastinate viewing your goal as something you can do ‘tomorrow’. Make sure you set a date when you’d like to achieve it – even if you don’t, you’ll still have made lots of growth along the way.
Applying this approach lets discipline your goals and take an objective view whether you are in a position to actually achieve them, and be accountable with how long you take.
As an example, here’s my writing ambition SMARTened up:
- To setup a blog.
- To stick to a once a week posting schedule.
- Have an agreed ‘subject’ I intend my blog to be about.
- Having a WordPress blog available and open for all to see.
- Have one new post appear every Wednesday.
- I have a computer and Internet access to setup a blog.
- I am comfortable in my writing skills and have time to write one new post a week.
- WordPress is a free platform available for all and I have a word processing software to help me complete the task.
- I will setup the blog with the first post before the end of February.
- I will produce 1000 words in writing every week.
- By the end of the year I will have 52 posts on my blog.
Step four: Set your plan
Now you have some clear goals, ask – how am I going to reach the destination?
The answer is to put some sort of plan into place. This doesn’t need to be complex, as a project manager speaking from experience the best approach to planning is to start from the end and work backwards, writing down what you need to do at key points.
For my example this is pretty simple:I have the end goal (a blog with 52 posts published).
I have the end goal (a blog with 52 posts published).
Steps along the way:
- Research / Draft / Finalise / Publish post (x52 every Wednesday).
- Create supporting pages (About, Contact Me, Newsletter)
- Create supporting widgets (Sign-up to the mailing list, Twitter handle link, Page Archive List)
- Create Design
- Register for a WordPress Blog.
- Finally, I have the first action – come up with my agreed ‘subject’ and brainstorm some initial ideas.
For my gym workout I do a similar process – I aim for what I want to be lifting as my small goal in 12 weeks, then I design the program (plan) to establish how I’ll build the strength to get there.
Tip: The trick to planning is to not make it too complex:
- You can see I’ve made this plan high level; I don’t go into detail what I’m writing about, what I need to research, or any social media engagement to promote the blog – it’s about the focus on the goal.
- With planning there are a lot of ‘unknowns’ – for example you don’t know what you’re having for dinner in three weeks’ time. The trick with your goals is to adapt, and adjust as you learn things, so if you planned to get promoted in your job in six months’ time, but your company has just listed a new opening, you probably want to take the opportunity! You can pick up on a lot of changes to your circumstances when reflecting.
The final bit with your plan is to take the first action that you said that you were going to do! Get going don’t procrastinate by throwing yourself into too much paperwork!
Step five: Set a review schedule and keep accountable
The final step is to agree a review schedule so you keep accountable. Try the following:
Daily Review: it’s purpose is for you to review everything you need to do in your life. Therefore this thinking looks at how you fit your goals around your job, your family, household chores etc. I often use this time to identify gaps where I can fit in 30 minutes of deep work in a demanding schedule
Weekly Review: this looks at the progress you’ve made this week and asks the difficult questions. Have you been spending hours that could be spent on your goals, or on timewasters like watching TV and social media? Use this session to look at what you’ve actually achieved. If you’ve not done so well figure out what went wrong and ask how you’d do it differently.
Quarterly Review: bring out the paper listing your SMART goals and review what progress you’ve made towards achieving them. Celebrate your successes, make changes, and if you’ve got gaps where you’ve achieved goals (or decided to give up because you realised the goal didn’t matter that much to you), then pull more new goals from the list to work on!
Tip: Keep asking those difficult questions – when you get these problems out on the table you can examine them and start on working on them until you find a solution.
For more guidance on reflection, I fully recommend Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, particularly the chapter around ‘Sharpening the Saw’ – this introduces the quadrant theory which is a simple concept to manage your time more effectively, so you spend more time on productive stuff and less on time wasters, and also recommends a system to spend time each day reflecting on what you need to do, and what you have done.
By following this guide you should be well on your way to defining and prioritising what the first goals are you want to work on!
It’s worth remembering for anyone new to setting goals, achieving them isn’t an easy process, it takes hard work, reflection and persistence – you will stumble on the way. You could say that the difficultly in this is the point – so you are challenged, stretched, and ultimately when you achieve the goal… rewarded by your efforts.
Actions to take away:
- Follow the five steps to help you design robust and realistic goals that you can find challenging and strive towards.
- Don’t be afraid to redefine your goals if you find that they are not working for you.
- Use the quarterly review to keep assessing your position – if you are failing remember to ask ‘Why’ and take the opportunity to make changes to reinvigorate your motivation to succeed!
- Success depends on your ability to keep showing up, make sure not to procrastinate and keep putting yourself back to working on your goals until they become a habit!
Good luck, you’ve got this!
Wishing you the best of success.
James @Perfect Manifesto
5 thoughts on “How To Set Your First Goals”
Writing down my goals have always had a certain magic to them. Even my daily to-do lists ensure that I get more things done, compared to when I don’t write them down. Thanks for this post, James!
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There certainly is something magic about writing it down – I was storing my to do list in my head and kept kept bigger to the point of stressing me out. Writing it all in a book took that pressure off and allowed me to work methodically through the tasks.
well done, James. Good advice for new and experienced goal setters. I am also a fan of Covey, particularly his idea of Sharpening the Saw…
I’m curious if you have ever done a Vision Board…
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Thanks Jim, because of 7 habits I have slots in my work dairy for daily reflection and end of week reflection!
I haven’t done a vision board before looking it up this looks like a really good method by someone who learns best from visuals.
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I have my students do a vision board and then present it to the class…