Making goals work

Cover photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Being able to make goals work for you is a great way to stay focused, boost productivity and maintain positive energy. This is so important when you’re a freelancer and working solo.

One thing I will never forget from my first job as a retail store manager at Orange Telecom is the way we were trained to set SMART goals, because it was repeated so frequently and is a catchy acronym. Unfortunately, I can never remember what the individual letters stand for - not so helpful!

So, out with SMART goals. Bye bye.

The kind of goals I’m talking about here are the small goals I set myself at the start of every week. Not the big, hairy, audacious goals that are ‘supposed’ to get you fired up.

These are the bite-size goals to keep you moving in the right direction.

Think mini, consistent jabs as opposed to the knock-out uppercut.

Goal-setting tips

Every Monday (or Saturday if things are whirring around in my head!) I’ll sit down and set myself 3 - 5 goals for the following week. And for every goal, I ask myself these three questions:

1. Can I achieve this goal myself, without waiting on someone else?

There is a time and place for wider goals that require a team’s input and as people work their way up career ladders and take on more and more managerial responsibility, they are increasingly reliant on other people doing the work. However, for weekly goals, I always identify the most important things that I must do, that I can do by myself, without relying on or waiting on someone else. That way, I am the sole controller of this goal’s outcome.

2. Can I achieve this goal in one week?

The idea here is to avoid having those points on your to-do list that sit and stagnate and increasingly lose their relevance as time goes by, but you can’t just get rid of because you committed to it once.

Image of banana with brown spots against a yellow background
Get to your goal before it shrivels up like a sad little banana

It is also a really useful way to break problems or projects down into manageable chunks, which can make them much less daunting. When faced with a large project or task, split it into parts. Identify the parts that you can complete yourself now (perhaps thanks to some work done by someone else previously). Split that into something you can do in a week (warning: don’t go any more granular than this or you’ll get stuck in a planning black hole, I know you planning junkies are out there, I see you).

Then, commit to doing it.

3. Does completing this goal move me along in a meaningful way?

This one can get complicated but I’ll try to keep it simple. I’m a firm believer in prioritising action wherever possible, over excessive planning or analysis. I’m definitely not an advocate for spraying blindly, hoping I hit something; but, I do believe in taking action as early as I possibly can, in any project.

I believe every action should either move me forwards on a particular path, move me sideways by proving that the current path is incorrect or give me new information on which to make a decision.

What I see as wastes of time are actions that move me backwards (resurfacing a decision or conversation that was had previously), things that keep you exactly where you are (aka, decision paralysis or navel-gazing) or maverick left-field actions that have nothing to do with the wider vision you’re trying to realise.

Your weekly goals should keep you on the path to your vision and move you along in a meaningful way.

There you go. My personal goal-setting tips, designed to keep you focused, motivated and charging through your ambitions like a boss.

Don’t just take my word for it though, there’s plenty of science behind the power of working with small goals including this old (but not old-fashioned) HBR article "The Power of Small Wins", on how progress, creativity and feelings of happiness are linked, among other interesting things.

Thanks for reading and happy goal-setting!

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