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Productivity Secrets

8 Potent Goal Setting Techniques

If there is one idea, strategy, or word of advice I can give, it is this:

No one has gained significant success without having specific goals and a step-by-step plan for achieving them.

Most people feel as if they’re drifting through life. They work hard, and yet seldom achieve as much as they would like.

They feel this way because they haven’t spent enough time considering what they want. They haven’t constructed goals, made plans, and written them down.

It seems absurd that people undertake the most important journey of all without a map. They haven’t laid out any plans to get them where they hope and dream of being. Research clearly demonstrates that having goals improves performance.

1. Focus on action goals over outcome goals.

Outcomes happen as a result of your daily actions. So, you should focus on your activities and set action goals to achieve your desired results.

An action goal like exercise for 30 minutes 5 times a week is completely within your control. Another action-goal example is write 1000 words every morning. In both cases you have specific action targets you do at determined times.

But, lose 4 pounds or write 1 article a week are weak because they are results that rely on undefined activities.

You need outcome goals like lose X pounds, but you must focus on activity goals to be successful. If you focus on the activity goals, the outcomes will follow.

2. Break goal steps down to as small as you need.

Writing Goal Steps

People often quit because goals and tasks seem daunting. By breaking goals down into the smallest size you need to keep working, you won’t quit.

If you’re not feeling motivated, break the task down further, spend short bursts of effort, and permit yourself to take breaks.

3. Begin goals on the first day of the week, month, or year.

There is a subconscious psychology that supports beginning important events on the first. It works best if you have your plans in place and then mark your calendar with a big circle on the date. Then your anticipation grows as the big date approaches.

Plan to start on the first of the month. If it’s early in the month and you can’t wait, then plan to start on a Monday.

For large life changes, think about starting on the first day of the New Year.

4. Use challenges to make huge progress.

Leverage Technique three by planning a challenge period to focus on your goals. The 30-Day challenge is popular. I like to use 8 weeks because I can get a lot done and still see the finish line.

The book titled “12 Week Year” by Brian Moran popularize a 12-week period.
Decide what period is best for you and challenge yourself.

5. Use rewards and punishment to motivate yourself.

A successful Georgia High School football coach, Art L. Williams Jr. (who is now a billionaire), used this technique. If his team won on Friday night, they got the weekend off. When they lost, they had a brutal practice on Saturday morning.

I'm not telling you it is going to be easy - I'm telling you it's going to be worth it. - Arthur L. Williams, Jr.

He turned a downtrodden program into a state football power in a few years.
After retiring from coaching, he started an insurance business, and he used the same motivation in his work. If he met his goals by Friday, he took the weekend off. If not, he had to work on Saturday. The man is a billionaire now.

Set up small rewards for small accomplishments and bigger rewards for completing goals and major parts of your plan.

6. Use Pomodoro to focus your energy.

Pomodoro is the Italian language for tomato. The founder of this method used a tomato-shaped timer, so he named it Pomodoro.

If you like structure, this technique might be ideal for you.

Pomodoro Timer

The standard method is to set 25-minute periods to concentrate on a task. Then take a 5-minute break. You repeat this cycle four times and take a more extended 15-minute break.

7. Have a buddy or join a group to help you stay accountable.


A buddy or group is a good way to stay accountable for your goals. Choose a partner with shared interests or similar goals, and keep each other accountable. You can remind each other about your plans and encourage one another.

  • Begin by making your plans and goals.
  • Then, share them with this person.
  • Set up weekly progress reports to stay accountable to your partner.

Don’t skip the weekly reports. Your success depends upon doing progress checks weekly to stay on track.

8. Use motivation tricks.

There are some effective tricks you can use to boost your motivation. My favorite is what I named the Newton effect after Isaac Newton. A basic Law of Motion is that objects at rest remain at rest and those in motion stay in motion until acted upon by an outside force.

  • The trick is to commit only to a small action and allow yourself to stop if you feel that way.
  • Decide to spend only 5 minutes or decide to do a short task, like write the first paragraph or sentence.

Often, you will continue working (stay in motion) beyond your original commitment.

How to Set a Goal

Besides goal techniques, it’s essential to know how to set goals in a way that empowers you. First, consider what you want to achieve and then commit to it.

  • Set specific goals that are measurable, a little challenging and that excite you.
  • Write them down to make them seem tangible.
  • Then devise the step-by-step actions you must take to complete your plan.
  • Checkmark each as you work through them.

Goal setting is a robust process for contemplating the future you want to carve for yourself. And it’s valuable for inspiring yourself to turn your thoughts into reality.

The process of setting goals improves your choices about what you want to do in life. By knowing exactly what you want to do, you know where you have to focus your efforts. You’ll also recognize and avoid distractions that can drive you off course.

Why Set Goals?

Marathon Runner

Top athletes, successful entrepreneurs, and high performers in all areas set themselves goals.

  • Setting these goals will give you long-term vision and short-term motivation.
  • It focuses your knowledge and helps you organize your time and resources to make the most of your life.

Set exciting goals that are precise and measurable. You’ll increase your confidence as you recognize your ability to achieve your goals.

Set Personal Goals

You set goals on many time frames:

  • First, create your vision of what you want to do with your life. Identify the most important goals you want to achieve.
  • Then you break them down into smaller and smaller goals to meet to achieve your life goals.
  • And finally, once you have your plan, you start working to achieve those goals. It’s most effective to work backward from where you want to be to where you are starting.

Set Lifetime Goals

Think about what you want to do in your life or at least over many years. Having goals shapes your decision-making in every part of your life. Use the following categories to plan your lifetime goals:

Career: How high do you want to reach in your career, or what do you want to do?

Financial: How much do you want to earn by what point? How does this relate to your career goals?

Education: Are there any skills you would like to get? What information and skills do you need to achieve other goals?

Family: Do you want to be a parent? If so, how will you be a good parent? How do you like family and friends to perceive you?

Health: Do you want to achieve fitness goals?

Mindset: Is any part of your attitude stopping you? Is there any part of your behavior that upsets you? (Then improve your behavior or find a solution to the problem.)

Pleasure: How do you want to enjoy yourself? (Make sure that a part of your life is for you!)

Public Service: Do you want to improve the world? If so, how?

Brainstorm these points and then choose the few most important goals. Focus only on a few goals at a time. Be sure to choose goals that you want to achieve, not those that others might want you to complete.

Set Smaller Goals

Once you have set your lifetime goals, plan the steps you need to take in the short term. I use 8-week periods to plan each week and each day for my goals.

Then create a To-Do List every day from your step-by-step plans to reach your long-term goals.

At first, your steps might be to read books and gather information about reaching long-term goals. The knowledge and experience will help you to improve the quality and realism of your goal setting.

Finally, review your plans, and make sure that they fit how you want to live your life.

Keep the process going by reviewing and updating your To-Do List daily. Above all take action! Review longer-term plans every few months, and adjust for your experience and knowledge.

Set SMART Goals

Make your goals more potent with the SMART mnemonic. SMART usually stands for:

Specific (or Significant).
Measurable (or Meaningful).
Attainable (or Action-Oriented).
Relevant (or Rewarding).
Time-bound (or Trackable).

Use Best Goal-setting Practices

These guidelines will help you to set effective, achievable goals:

  • Make each goal a positive statement. Use “speak well of others” instead of “don’t say bad things about others.”
  • Be precise. Set specific goals, putting in dates, times, and amounts to measure achievement. Then, you’ll know precisely when you have reached the goal. You can take complete satisfaction from having achieved it.
  • Set priorities. When you have several goals, give each a priority. Work on the most important ones first. Break a task down even smaller if it seems difficult to do.
  • Write goals down. Much research reveals that writing down your goals increases your success.
  • Keep your daily tasks small. Break your daily and weekly steps to reach your goals into small and achievable chunks. Trudging through long and difficult tasks can be discouraging. But, finishing smaller steps builds your confidence and motivation.
  • Set performance goals. You have control over what you do, but not always over results. Set goals you can control as much as possible. One type of performance goal would be to increase your effort a little at a time. Examples are to exercise 1 minute more each week or lift 5 pounds heavier weights each month. In my weight loss goal, I have the performance goals of exercising 30 minutes daily, keeping a diary, and eating less than 1600 calories. By controlling these activities, I can lose weight. Base your goals on your performance. Then you can keep control over completing your goals and gain satisfaction from them.
  • Set realistic goals. Set goals that you can achieve. Others may pressure you with unrealistic goals. They might do this not knowing your desires and ambitions.It’s possible for you to set goals that are too difficult for other reasons. For instance, you may not appreciate the obstacles you may face. Or, you might not understand how much skill you need to achieve a particular level of performance.

Achieving Goals

When you’ve achieved a goal, take the time to enjoy your success. Think about the implications of your achievement.

Also, look at the progress you’ve made towards other goals. Congratulate and reward yourself. All this helps you build the self-confidence you deserve. With the experience of having achieved this goal, review the rest of your goal plans:

  • If the goal was too easy, make next goal harder.
  • If the goal took a daunting time to finish, break the next goal into more manageable steps.
  • If you learned something new, adapt if necessary.

When you notice a weakness in your skills despite achieving the goal, think about adopting goals to fix the deficiency.

Feed the lessons you have learned back into the process of setting your next goals. Also, remember you need to adjust your plans sometimes as you discover new information.

Example Personal Goals

For her New Year’s Resolution, Amber has decided on some life goals.

Career: “Be managing editor of her magazine.”
Artistic: “Improve my illustration skills. Have my show in our downtown gallery.”
Physical: “Run a marathon.”

Susan has listed her lifetime goals. Now she breaks down each into smaller, more manageable goals.

Let’s look closer at how she might break down her career goal – to be managing editor of her magazine:

  • Five-year goal: “Become deputy editor.”
  • One-year goal: “Volunteer to work on projects the current Managing Editor is running.”
  • Six-month goal: “Complete my journalism degree.”
  • One-month goal: “Meet with the current managing editor to learn what skills are needed to do the job.”
  • One-week goal: “Schedule the meeting with the Managing Editor.”

This example shows that breaking goals down into smaller actions makes it easier to see how to reach your goal .

Fundamental Truths

Goal setting is essential for:

  • Deciding what you want to achieve in your life.
  • Separating what’s important from what’s irrelevant or a distraction.
  • Motivating yourself.
  • Building your self-confidence, based on the successful achievement of goals.

Final Word About Goal Setting Techniques

Set your lifetime goals first. Then, develop a series of shorter-term plans with smaller goals to reach your lifetime plan.

I prefer to focus on 8-week periods. When the period is over, I reward myself, reenergize, and restart a new 8-week challenge.

Review and update your goals every few months. And remember to reward yourself and enjoy achieving your goals.

I wish you great success in your goal setting efforts!

References

Kleingeld, A., van Mierlo, H., & Arends, L. (2011). The effect of goal setting on group performance: A meta-analysis. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 96(6), 1289-1304. doi: 10.1037/a0024315

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265–268. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00449.x

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2018/04/15/neuroscience-explains-why-you-need-to-write-down-your-goals-if-you-actually-want-to-achieve-them/#72b5d3e97905