Goals - we all have them - whether it be learning a new language, getting that promotion, creating more time for that hobby or something else. We’ve all stopped to think about how an extra skill or boost in position could enhance our life just that bit more. Well, as we’re sure you know by now, goal setting is the easy part. Actually achieving your goals is a WHOLE different story.
For those of you go-getters who are thinking to yourselves - “This time i’m really going to achieve my goal - no matter WHAT” we’d like to tell you that you’ve come to the right place. Here we have all the tools, tricks and advice you need to get you on the fast-track towards accomplishing whatever it might be to get you closer to that new and improved you.
So let’s first start by saying that we’re 99.9% sure that you’re not the reason your goals aren’t being reached. And we don’t think it’s the reality of your goal either. Accomplishing goals isn’t as difficult as it might feel. The thing is - winging a goal, no matter how determined you are to ace it is rarely ever enough. The way to reach your goals, no matter if they’re short term goals or long term goals is to implement a strategy, create a plan and stick to it.
Without a structure of when, where and how you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure. What you need is a clear system to follow and we have just the right thing. So we’ve picked out some of our favorite techniques and golden rules from our tried, tested and honed workshop strategy to get you hitting the goals you set for yourself every single time.
Don’t let your goals become empty promises - implement a strategy!
What if we told you the reason you're falling short of your targets no matter how much you change the scope of what you set is NOT your lack of persistence, or poorly set ideals, (or even an ancient curse plaguing all of your dreams altogether.) What if we told you that the destiny of your new-found goals lies in the strategies you put in place.
We’ve helped companies put their best work forward and follow through with projects of every size - big, small, creative and corporate. And the way we’ve done it every time? Strategy, strategy, strategy.
Step 1: Take time to reflect
So you’ve decided that you’re definitely going to reach whatever you’ve set for yourself this time. Now what?
While it might be tempting to dive straight into practicing your newfound goals, we’d like to suggest that you take a step back and first evaluate what you know from how you approach accomplishing the tasks you set yourself.
Clean, fresh starts are exciting, we know, but failure to learn from the past can result in the same mistakes repeating themselves over and over so reflection is of the utmost importance. Look back over the past month, 6 months and year and start to work out if you can see any patterns that come about when you get started on a project.
Often, reviewing what you’ve achieved and fallen short of can actually reveal some additional accomplishments that you haven’t yet given yourself credit for – and celebrating wins is one of the crucial steps in achieving goals (so you can go ahead and give yourself a tap on the back for those right now. 😉)
Reviewing your past goal setting doesn’t have to be difficult, lengthy or complex. In fact, our all-time favourite reflection techniques will take just 10 minutes of your time. One of our favourite techniques comes from Marie Forleo, a life coach, philanthropist and host of Marie TV.
Her technique is simple, effective, and cuts right to the chase. Grab a pen and a piece of paper and jot down the answers to these questions:
- What did I create, do, or experience this year that I’m proud of?
- What mistakes did I make that taught me something? What lessons did I learn that I can leverage?
- What am I willing to let go of?
We can guarantee that going through these simple questions will make your new goals stick and boost your chances of success dramatically.
Pro tip: Change and tweak this reflection technique to fit you! Feeling even more reflective? Then dive in even deeper and try out this framework by Tim Ferris.
Step 2: Define your why
Let’s get real for a moment. What are the true intentions behind the goals you want to achieve? Is getting promoted something that you want, or something that you think you should want?
Truth is, if you’re striving after someone else's visions and desires, the minute the first obstacles pops up, it’ll be very easy to abandon what you have set for yourself.
Unfinished goals can create a nagging feeling of frustration and failure. Dealing with this can really drain your energy. So why don’t you save yourself the time and trouble by going after the goals that you truly want?
A simple, yet effective way to unearth the underlying motivations for your new project is to run a quick exercise called “The 5 Whys’. This exercise comes from the realm of Design Thinking and is perfect for understanding the cause and effect relationship of issues at hand.
For example, let’s say your goal is to get promoted to a manager role. Start with the most obvious reason as to why you might want it, and keep asking the question until you feel you’ve gotten to the root of your reason.
Why do I want a manager role? – Because I want a new role on my CV.
Why do I want that role particularly? – Because I want to make progress in my career.
Why do I want to make progress in my career? – Because I enjoy being hands-on in the work that I do.
Why do I enjoy what I do? – Because I’m skilled at it.
Why am I good at it? – Because I’m genuinely interested in what I do!
For this specific example, the goal to get a promotion to a manager role is driven by interest in the hands-on, nit and grit of the job itself, not the managerial aspects of the new role. While striving for progression is admirable, it’s not always tied with assuming a managerial role. If what you're after is getting better at the hands-on job that you do, becoming a manager might actually take you further away from what you are looking for!
If you build this foundation with every goal then you’ve taken one of the most important steps to paving the way to accomplishing it. It’s substantially easier to ace goals once you’ve given them sentimental value. After you work out how it’s important to you - the drive to reach the final target will be deeper-routed.
Pro tip: this exercise is not only great for personal goals but for business goals too. It also works wonders on both long term goals and short term goals!
Step 3: Understand what works for you
So we’ve covered goal setting and how to go about it correctly.
So now let’s make sure that you can go out into the real world and actually execute them in a way that will make them easier for you to achieve. This is where the tactics come into play and it’s crucial you know which ones will work for you and which won’t.
Early birds will do great with early wake-ups to complete a new habit they decided to adopt, night owls will struggle and most likely abandon their goal if any productivity has to happen before 10 am. Some people will need an accountability buddy to follow through with their goal, others will resent the idea.
Don’t sway on your strategy, but adapt your tactics to fit into your lifestyle. A great way to find out what will work for you is to follow the 4 tendencies framework by Gretchen Rubin.
Gretchen argues that the way we respond to inner and outer expectations defines how we should frame and approach a challenge – and we couldn’t agree more!
Step 4: Write it out
It’s back to the good ol’ pen and paper, baby! Yes, we really mean it.
Ditch the keyboard, close the Notes app on your phone, and write your new project out. This might seem insignificant, but research shows that our brains work and process information better when we write it out as opposed to typing.
Writing by hand has proven to be more effective for understanding and retaining new information. It’s a mighty neurosensory exercise that involves different parts of the brain firing together at the same time. This allows your brain to slow down, so you can express your ideas more clearly and access your feelings more deeply. This sharpens your critical thinking process and strengthens conceptual understanding.
Now that we’ve covered the groundwork, let’s dive into how to actually craft your goals for maximum efficiency.
Step 5: Set realistic expectations & stop over-committing
OK, so you’re ready to get going - you’re excited AND determined to learn that skill, gain that promotion or create more time for that hobby. It’s all a fresh start, a clean slate, and it feels like you can take over the world!
You decide to dream BIG and go after audacious goals. You’re going to totally shine at this thing.
While being excited and ambitious about your goals is not a bad thing, setting the bar too high and over-committing yourself to fully turning your life around as soon as the clock strikes midnight can be a surefire way to set yourself up for failure.
Spreading yourself too thin by landing too much on your plate is a recipe for burnout. And we don’t want that, do we? So instead of implementing 10 different things at once to have you mastering that skill in no time. Take a minute to sit back and focus on forced prioritization.
What is the most important thing I can do to reach my goal?
It might be a tough call to make, “I want to read 2 books a week, go to evening classes and attend those Sunday meetups’ MIGHT not be so realistic when you take work, family and personal plans into consideration. Remember that setting priorities doesn’t mean that you are discarding your other ideas altogether. You can use these to help you too, but only after you’re implementing your first tactic in a strong, steady way.
Prioritization also forces you to look at your goals critically: “Will doing X require more effort, but bring in fewer results than Y?” To make the decision easier, we recommend you do a little exercise that we love, called the “Effort/Impact” scale. Place all of your ideas of how to reach your goals according to the effort level that they will require and the impact that they will have on your goal reaching. Visualizing your tactics on this scale will help you gain a clearer understanding of what you should be focusing on. If you want to step it up a notch you can also separate the scale into quarters and decide what should happen first, second, third and last. Place all of your ideas of how to reach your goals according to the effort level that they will require and the impact that they will have on your goal reaching. Visualizing your tactics on this scale will help you gain a clearer understanding of what you should be focusing on. If you want to step it up a notch you can also separate the scale into quarters and decide what should happen first, second, third and last.
Place all of your ideas of how to reach your goals according to the effort level that they will require and the impact that they will have on your goal reaching. Visualizing your tactics on this scale will help you gain a clearer understanding of what you should be focusing on. If you want to step it up a notch you can also separate the scale into quarters and decide what should happen first, second, third and last.
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Step 6: Leverage the power of 1% improvements
If you’re reading this article chances are you've already attempted a few goals and dare we say it?... failed. Are we right? Often, after failing at forming a new habit people think, “If only I had tried harder, I would’ve accomplished my goal.”
Ahhh, the guilty willpower talk. While it might work for some people and situations, in the grand scheme of things, sheer drive is rarely enough (some even go as far as to say it doesn’t work at all!)
We humans are sensitive to change, and inconvenience. Dramatic changes naturally cause us stress and signal danger, which makes our reptilian brains want to revert back to the safe, old ways of doing things.
But who said you need to make drastic changes to achieve grand results?
In 2010, Dave Brailsford, general manager and performance director for Team Sky (Great Britain’s professional cycling team), began a process of tweaking every area related to cycling by just 1%. He then made sure these 1% improvements were implemented consistently, day after day.
Long story short: Within just 3 years, the team won the Tour De France, two years ahead of Brailsford’s 5-year goal!
As James Clear, bestselling author of Atomic Habits, puts it: Humans tend to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.
Humans tend to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.
So how can you find your 1% gains? We’re glad you asked.
Under your goal, write out every “Barrier” you can think of that is stopping you from achieving it. Write them down no matter how big, small, significant or silly these things might be – write them all!
If your hope and dream is to become an expert on Design Thinking, your barriers might look something like this:
I don’t have enough time
I have no training budget
I’m intimidated by more experienced team members
After you’ve jotted down every single barrier you should write “1% Solutions” for each of them. For example:
I don’t have enough time → Limit study sessions to 15 minutes a day OR listen to audio training on my commute to work
I have no training budget → Look for an in-house specialist who could help me out OR look for free info on the internet
Intimidated by more experienced team members → Study at home OR reach out to more experienced colleagues and ask for their help
After you do the exercise for every target you want to achieve, you’ll have a clear idea of what barriers might stand in your way and what marginal 1% improvements you can do to make achieving your goals easier. The best thing is, you’re much more likely to follow through with your project since you’re not relying on willpower and not placing hope in big, dramatic, unrealistic changes.
Step 7: Deadline Everything
Ahh, where do we start with this one? Deadlines might be one of the most under-appreciated tools for achieving your targets. We know they can be a pain - but they really are your friend. Trust us.
A smartly set deadline will force you to think about the necessary steps to achieve the goal and push you to actually get sh*t done. Unless you’re a highly organized super-human with a developed sense of self-accountability, you need an end date to strive towards, otherwise, nothing will get done, ever.
Deadlines help us allocate time for our goals before starting which in turn helps with burn-out. They also give us a reason to work on our skills every day (not just when we feel like it)
The most common pitfall of setting deadlines is that nearly all people fall prey to what psychologists call planning fallacy: underestimating how long the task will take us and being overly ambitious with the scope of it all. So when you’re setting the deadlines for your project, be real with yourself.
Remember: nothing will magically change about your life circumstances next week, next month, even next year. So if you have a full-time job, a family, a hobby, and a side-hustle you run in your free time don’t aim to learn a new language in just one month.
Step 8: Clear the clutter
Whether you’re a Marie Kondo believer or not, decluttering your life of useless things, as well as useless thought patterns will pave the way for new things in your life. And what other time of the year is more suitable for a major clean up than the new year? So out with the old, and in with the new!
Remember the questions from the retrospective technique we tried in step one? Look over the answers for the things you’re willing to let go of and clear them out of your life.
Ask yourself, what are the projects and the goals that you’ve attempted but fallen short of. Are you ready to let these go or do they deserve a second chance? Get rid of any commitment that is not aligned with your goals. Unfinished goals that you are still half interested in can drain the energy out of your new goal, so either let it go or evaluate if you have picked your current goal correctly.
Once you do that, we guarantee you, you will experience a sense of relief from not having to carry all of that extra weight of outdated commitment around.
Step 9: Rephrase your goal for success
The problem with many of our projects is that we’re not specific about what we want to accomplish. “I want to become an expert in Design Thinking” and “I want to learn a new language” are great plans but they are not measurable.
Avoid the pitfalls of vague, broad goals. While the aforementioned goals themselves might be motivating to you, they have one critical flaw: they focus on the outcomes, instead of the process.
If you want to become an expert on something, think of what it is directly that you have to do. If you want to master a new language, think about the easiest route to getting there and what that looks like. Crafting your goals to be behaviour specific helps you to visualize both the route to achieving what you want and the end goal.
So your rephrased goal might look something like this:
I want to become an expert in Design Thinking → I’ll read at least 10 pages of “Creative Confidence” every day, and go to at least one Design Thinking meetup a month.
I want to learn a new language → I’ll go to my language class every Tuesday and Thursday, and I'll go to at least 2 language exchange gatherings per month.
Including daily actions that will bring you closer to your end goal puts a system in place for you and makes it that much easier to act on accomplishing it.
Step 10: Aim for progress, not perfection
Are you the type of person who keeps tweaking, polishing, reiterating, and delaying the start of a project/habit/initiative just because everything has to be perfect? Then oh boy do we have somethin’ to tell ya…
Ditch the habit of over tweaking and assume the mindset of starting before you’re ready. Yep, even when your work is objectively not the best.
Holding yourself to a high standard in everything you do is admirable, and there’s nothing wrong with striving to be the best… Unless your perfectionism stops you from getting started (and it almost ALWAYS does.)
There’s a fine line between a sane desire to put out good work, and procrastination disguised as perfectionism. If you let the latter take over, it will kill your goals before you even get started.
So as you approach your goals this time around, don’t let perfectionism stop you from attempting to achieve your goals. ‘Getting started is more important than being right’ is the mantra we live and breath by, and we’re not the only ones! We love the advice Chris Do, one of the most sought-after designers in the world, recently shared with his audience:
Rather than spending your time thinking about how to go about accomplishing work - just throw yourself into it. Jump straight in at the deep end and get going. You can only reach those goals if you’re working towards them - even if it's only 10 minutes a day.
It’s more important to be making progress and completing things than being perfect. Don’t let insecurity derail you, and always try to keep yourself in the growth mindset: Focus on learning and experimenting, rather than getting everything right the first time around.
Gain control over your time
This might be a hard pill to swallow for many, but, you can’t ace your goals unless you master the art of time management. We’re sorry to break it to you, procrastinators, but this one is essential.
There are a ton of frameworks out there aimed at helping people manage their time better, so you can pick and choose whichever suits you and works best for you. Here are some time management tips and resources we LOVE:
- Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. This book is all about creating time for the things that are important to you. If you’re not the type for over-optimizing every hour of your time and giving up sleep in favour of productivity, this one’s for you.
- Productivity Planner by Intelligent Challenge. If you’re into written to-do lists, then this planner will be your best buddy on the quest to smarter time management. Built on basic principles of productivity, such as the Pomodoro Technique and prioritization, it will help you focus on what’s important and shut out the busywork
- Gary Vee’s Time Management Techniques. Who’s the better person to ask for time management advice, than the guy who seems to be everywhere at the same time, and whose productivity machine never stops? Gary Vaynerchuk doesn’t beat around the bush and he doesn’t sugarcoat things, and that’s just why we love him! Practical, to the point advice on how to squeeze every minute out of your day.
- If you’re an iPhone user, take advantage of the Screen Time feature on your phone. You might be in for a harsh wake-up call when you see how much time you spend browsing on Instagram, and that’s exactly the point. Minimise your distractions by setting a defined time limit for apps that demand your attention.
- What if you HAVE TO use Facebook and co. for your job and there’s no way around it? Minimise the damage with neat browser extensions just like this one, that will eradicate distracting bottomless feeds.
- Make your smartphone distraction-free. Smartphones are distracting and attention-grabbing by design. If you’ve ever reached for your phone to check on that one message, only to find yourself in the sinkhole of mindless scrolling hours later, you know what we’re talking about. Good news is: there are ways to minimise how distracting smartphones can be, and we strongly urge you to try
Step 11: Celebrate the milestones along the way!
Nothing is quite as effective in making people abandon their goals as a lack of feeling of achievement and progress. If all you EVER do is work away on your goals, without taking time to celebrate how far you’ve come, it won’t be long before this rat race gets the best of you.
The thing is, if you set out to achieve a major goal in your life, chances are you have to wait for quite some time before you can celebrate the win. And celebrating wins is one of the most essential ways to wire your brain to be excited about goal-setting and achieving! Here at AJ&Smart, we celebrate even the smallest wins, and the effect it’s had on our team morale, motivation and productivity is amazing.
Milestones are important because they are the most visible indicators of progress, and growth is nourished by encouragement.
So create smaller milestones for your bigger goal and make sure to celebrate when you hit them!
And that concludes our definitive guide to accomplishing your goals - no matter what they are!
We are confident that following these tips will set you on the right track to achieving your max potential, and while you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy the ride.
As cheesy and corny as it might sound, the journey to the goal is at least as fun, as achieving the goal itself. You learn along the way; discovering things about your work and yourself that you didn’t know before; you grow and evolve– and isn’t that ultimately the best goal of all?
So get excited about the coming challenges, celebrate them, own them! And now that you have the bullet-proof system for goal achievement, we’re 100% sure that you will get there!
Now, we’d love to hear from you! What goals have you guys set for yourselves, and which steps are you going to try out first? Let us know!