How to set goals for yourself (and why it's important)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Goals are important in many aspects of your life. From pursuing career paths to personal ambitions, it's important to have set goals that you can work towards. By achieving your desires, you may naturally feel a sense of accomplishment, but choosing the goal is just as important as the work you do to achieve it. In this article, we explain how to set goals for yourself, learn why this is important and look at some effective approaches to set goals.

Related: How to make a life plan and achieve goals in 8 steps

How to set goals

Knowing how to set goals that are realistic and measurable can help increase your chances of success, meaning you are likely to feel motivated when you start achieving them. This also means that celebrating small successes and having a plan to handle setbacks ensures that you are more likely to set further goals that improve your potential in the long-run. By following the clear process of steps below, you can set goals that are effective:

1. Write your goals down

Deciding upon your goal is important, but making it tangible is also a key step. This is why writing down your goals and your deadlines for achieving them can be a good motivator. This is primarily a psychological technique, positioning you as the goal's creator so that you can stay accountable and continuously remember your key aims.

2. Put together an action plan

Action plans are a project management solution designed to make goals achievable. A strong action plan considers every step that your goal requires and can help you overcome most obstacles with ease. Action plans commonly include the tasks you want to complete, the tools you require to complete them, the deadlines for each task and ways to measure progress. This can make use of the SMART method, which is effective for goal development. The best action plans work parallel to this level of planning, making this a good chance to further develop your understanding of SMART.

Related: How to write an action plan to help you achieve your goals

3. Set up a timeline for your goal

Your goal is going to typically work to a specific timetable. For example, your aim may be to increase income by 10% by the end of the year. As mentioned above, your goals may be at their best when you make a schedule and work according to the timeline you've set. Project management tools or simple timeline makers can help you plan out the rate at which you develop growth or achieve your milestones, ensuring a healthy pace of work.

4. Execute your plan

Having a comprehensive understanding of the steps you want to take and the time you require for them can give you the confidence required to begin enacting your goals. This is where you do the hard work that you've planned for to achieve the goal you have set. Be sure to assess your progress at regular intervals so you know how well it is going at any stage, in addition to correcting any missteps you might encounter.

5. Ask for help wherever necessary

Independence can be an important skill to have, but so is knowing when to ask for help from your team. If you do encounter difficulties when you're trying to achieve your goals, it can be a good idea to ask for help. This means that you can solve the problem quicker and then proceed with your other tasks. Asking for help can also be an opportunity to improve your collaboration and communication skills, as you'd be working with a colleague to solve the problem.

Use the SMART method

The SMART technique is a common framework for creating goals so that you are more likely to enjoy success. You can frame your goal the way you desire among the key SMART criteria, each beneficial for developing the right goal for you. These principles are:

  • Specific: being honest and as clear as possible about what exactly you wish to achieve

  • Measurable: deciding upon the metrics to incrementally track your progress over time

  • Achievable: determining whether a goal is doable with your current skill set and timeframe

  • Relevant: asking if your goal aligns with your long-term desires and if it truly suits you

  • Time-based: setting a reasonable timeframe for completion so you can pace yourself best

There are some derivations of SMART that include additional rules such as evaluating (E) your goal frequently to ensure it is going as planned, and readjusting (R) your approach if you face any significant difficulties. This is the 'SMARTER' variation of the acronym. You may find that additional space to accommodate unpredictable outcomes or roadblocks, which can help you deal with those issues faster and proceed with the goal at an even faster pace.

As integral as the SMART or SMARTER methods are, they are neither the start nor end of setting a goal. Rather, they are simply the first step to solving a problem or developing a plan. Execution, review and continued motivation are just as important for ensuring that your goals are achieved.

Related: How to develop SMART goals

Why is it important to know how to set goals?

It's important to know how to establish goals, as pacing them to your unique needs may be the best way to succeed. This is somewhat similar to a New Year's resolution. Every year, people choose goals that may seem possible at first, but they soon start to encounter difficulty. This is not the fault of the person or people who make these resolutions because they chose a goal that may have been too ambitious. Although the point of many goals is to take you out of your current circumstances, it's important to develop goals that are attainable.

This is also important for maintaining your motivation, as setting attainable goals can motivate you further and encourage you to set more goals . Besides this, a goal is usually not just a change you can make, but it is an explicit target that may signify your success once you achieve it. This is subtly different to an objective, which are the actions you take to achieve your specific goal. Knowing how to differentiate these and use them to complement each other can increase your chances of success and also keep you motivated.

Related: Objective vs. goal: what are the key differences?

Benefits of setting goals

Setting the right goal not only makes success more likely, but it can completely change how you approach a particular task or challenge in a positive manner. This can massively improve your work ethic in several key ways, as explained below:

Providing a sense of focus

Knowing your aims can allow you to adjust your work towards them, so you'd have a more comprehensive awareness of what you wish to achieve. This is a powerful motivator, as you may be working specifically to get certain results rather than for the sake of completion. A clear focus on your goal can allow you to reduce any risk of procrastination and keep you motivated to overcome any challenges or obstacles.

Helping with time-management

You may become more aware of how to efficiently complete your tasks or aims when you have a clearer understanding of your goal. The focus provided above is going to remove distractions and allow you to focus your time on what matters. Dividing your goal into smaller micro-goals in tandem with set milestones can also help you pace yourself effectively.

Related: Time-management skills: definition, examples and tips for improvement

Letting you take control of your future tasks

Having a robust goal can give you control over where you are going and when. It isn't necessary to relegate these goals to short-term career tasks. Instead, you can also set long-term goals that you slowly work to achieve. For example, this could include roles that you intend to take on to eventually reach a dream job years later. So long as you are realistic about the effort and time required, you can set yourself up for a positive and ambitious future.

Making you accountable

If you set goals that are achievable, you may feel a strong motivation to complete it. Equally, you'd know that the success was entirely the result of your own efforts, and that your own oversights caused any failures. Only you can attain your goal if you take the necessary steps. You may also develop an emotional link to your goal, which can give you a greater incentive to complete it.

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