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The Importance of Goal-Setting: The Key to Success in Work and Life

by Niamh Moynihan on

Setting goals can make you feel productive or wonder if you've accomplished anything worthwhile during the week. It all depends on the quality of the goal and how you align your daily work. Improving how you set your goals can make a massive difference in your workday or any other area of your life where you set goals.

The outcome is bigger than the sum of the tasks.

One significant benefit of setting goals is that it gives you a clear outcome for the week and shifts your focus from a task-oriented approach to a result-oriented one. For a long time, I used to create long lists of tasks to complete and often felt like I was busy but not achieving anything.

Contrast this to outcome-based planning. I write down two to three outcomes or mini-goals for the week and prioritise the tasks related to them. Focusing on outcomes is helpful as it makes you think about why you're doing something rather than just what you're doing. Keeping the list short also helps to filter out the less important tasks and focus on what's essential. 

Goal setting

The best part about outcomes is that they are always more than just the sum of their parts. Even if you have several tasks on your list, if they're all aligned towards a specific goal, achieving that goal will result in something bigger and better than just completing it.

For instance, if you aim to run a 5K, you might start by walking every couple of days and then gradually progress to a half walk, half jog routine until you can finally run the entire distance. However, achieving the 5K distance is not the only outcome of this endeavour. You also benefit from increased confidence, improved mindset, better physical fitness, and a clearer headspace. The journey towards achieving a goal is much more significant than the individual steps.

Know what success looks like, and then work towards it.

Before you start working on your goals, I recommend you write down how you will measure your success. Because, if you're anything like me, your expectations tend to be like a moving target. The closer you get to one version of your goal, the more tempting it is to rewrite it and set it at a higher bar or make it more challenging. 

Shifting goals is not good for your confidence and well-being because if you constantly move the goalposts, how will you ever achieve your desired outcome? To avoid this, it is helpful to write down two versions of success. The first version should be the base level or the "good enough" version of success, and the second version should be your desired version—what you would love to achieve. 

Sticking to the running analogy, the "good enough" version could be that you could run 5K in 45 minutes, and ideally, you would love to run it in 30 minutes. This way, you will know what "good enough" is, and if things come up in your life or work that means you do not achieve the highest level of success, you can still feel good about yourself because you have achieved something and reached a level that you had deemed "good enough" in the beginning.


A goal without a plan is just a wish.

Once you have set your goals, it's time to work on them. If you just write them down and keep them aside, they won't get you anywhere. To get started, ask yourself two questions: "When and where am I going to work on my goal?" This will depend on whether you are trying to introduce something new or build on an existing habit.

If it's something new, you need to schedule it into your week and decide where it will take place. However, if your schedule is already packed, you may need to make some adjustments to create space for something new. Often, we forget to account for the preparation work and the post-work while scheduling time for our goals. When you allow enough time to do the work, you are more likely to get it done. For example, if you plan to start running, you need to consider the actual running time and the time it takes to get dressed, prepare for the run, and shower afterwards.

When it's an existing habit, you need to identify the triggers that lead to that habit and decide what you will do instead. For instance, if you want to increase your daily steps, you may take the stairs instead of the elevator. Your trigger could be taking the stairs whenever you have to climb up to three flights of stairs. Remember to set realistic triggers and have a clear action plan. Your goal isn't to take the stairs every time you have the option, as this could be unrealistic and could lead to failure. Instead, you must set a trigger you can realistically achieve and build on.

Make your goal a priority.

It's important to prioritise your goals to make progress. You should schedule time for your goals in your calendar and treat it as a commitment. If someone asks to schedule something during your goal time, you may need to push back and explain that your goal is a priority. Planning your calendar as far in advance as possible can help manage your and others' expectations. If you plan to work on a goal for four to six weeks, schedule it in your calendar for that duration. 

When it comes to prioritising, even small decisions can make a difference. For example, if you're in a situation where you could take the stairs or the elevator with someone else, but your goal is to exercise more, it's okay to choose the stairs and prioritise your goal over a brief conversation. These small choices can add up to significant progress.

You don’t have to “goal it” alone.

Having a goal is a good thing, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you have all the resources you need to achieve it. Whether in your personal or professional life, it's rare to accomplish a goal without help from others. Knowing what kind of support you need upfront can make you more productive and reduce procrastinating time. You might need different types of support, including someone else's skills or knowledge, emotional support, or even a shift in mindset.

For instance, you might require someone else's expertise to achieve your goal. This could be a book, podcast, YouTube video, or course. You may also require emotional support from someone who can keep you motivated and discuss the challenges that come up during the process. Finally, you might need to change your mindset to achieve your goal. In some cases, this could mean shifting your perspective around a particular task or project. 

Goal setting

When I decided to start training for a marathon, I realised that I needed to shift my mindset. I had to believe that I could run and achieve my goal. Mindset is often overlooked when we set new goals, but checking our mindset and ensuring it supports our objectives is essential. If you need help in this area, consider picking up a book or talking to someone.

What kind of support do you need to achieve your goals? It's important to put those supports in place.

Feedback is the key to staying on track.

As you work towards your goals, receiving feedback is crucial to stay motivated and productive. If your goal is measurable, such as running a 5K, tracking your progress and adjusting your efforts is easy. However, if your goal is more abstract, like creating something new, it's important to share your work with others to receive constructive feedback. 

This can help you manage expectations, make necessary adjustments, and ensure that everyone involved is on the same page. If your goals are difficult to measure, consider scheduling regular feedback sessions and sharing your progress to stay on track. Remember, it's not just about talking about your progress—you need to show it.

Goal setting

Having clear goals in life provides a sense of calm and direction. When we understand what we want to achieve, we can measure our progress and know we are headed in the right direction. However, when we lack clear goals or have vague ones, we often feel lost and unsure of ourselves. We may work aimlessly without any sense of direction or purpose.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by your workload or unsure if you're spending your time on the right tasks, take a moment to evaluate how much of your daily routine aligns with your goals. This simple exercise can help you regain clarity and purpose in your work, ultimately leading to greater satisfaction and success.