How To Set Better Goals



This How To article shows you how to set goals, make them compelling, and turn them into action.

Key Goals for this Article

  • Learn how to set goals and objectives
  • Learn how to break your goals down and turn them into action
  • Learn how to make your goals more compelling to inspire and motivate you on the journey
  • Learn how to plan your goals in a way that makes them specific, actionable, and more likely to succeed

Overview of Effective Goal Setting

Goals help you clarify and chart our what you want from work and life.

Setting goals helps you identify what you want, while setting objectives helps you map out a path to get there.

A goal is the overall target. Objectives are the steps along the way. Strategies are the approaches you use to reach your objectives, including what you will do and what you won’t. Tactics are what you actually do reach your objectives. Your strategies guide your tactics.

Measures are what you use as your unit of measurement. For example, if you’re losing weight, you would use pounds. Metrics would be the target.

For example, in the example of losing weight, you might say lose 10 pounds, where pounds are the measure, but 10 pounds is the metric. You can set measures and metrics for your goals and for your objectives. This helps you identify what good success looks like as well as know when you’ve achieved your goal or objective.

Benefits of Setting Goals

Here are some reasons for setting your goals:

  1. Goals provide a target. Writing goals down helps improve your clarity. When you know what you want, you become more resourceful and alert to things in your life that can help you reach your goals. You also become more aware of things that take you off your path.
  2. Goals provide a roadmap. Goals can help you turn a dream into a path. It’s been said that goals are dreams with deadlines.
  3. Goals help you focus your time and effort. Having goals with deadlines helps you identify the work that needs to be done to get there. This helps you better allocate your time and energy towards what you want to accomplish.
  4. Goals help you prioritize. There are always trade-offs in life. Having goals helps you optimize your life towards what you want to accomplish. Goals help you prioritize your time and energy. For example, if you are training for a marathon, you might prioritize your workout and routines over other activities so that you can succeed.
  5. Goals help you with motivation. Having something to hope to hope for and work towards can provide inspiration. Whenever you feel off track, you can remind yourself of your goal and what you want to accomplish.

In other words, if you don’t have goals with timeframes, then you don’t have a way to prioritize your time and energy, since you don’t have clarity on what or when you need to accomplish something.

The following steps show you how to set better goals.

Step 1 – List Your Goals

In this step, you list your goals. To do so, on a sheet of paper, simply make a list of your goals. Stay in brainstorm mode and write down whatever comes to mind. Don’t get stuck on how you write them down. You can tune that later. What’s important is that you write down things you want to accomplish.

To get yourself going, you can use some prompts:

  • “What do you want to accomplish?”
  • “Who do you want to be?”
  • “What do you want your life style to be like?”
  • “What experiences do you want to create?”
  • “If you suddenly found out you had limited time on Earth, what would you regret not doing?”

Note that there are additional prompts at the end of this article.


  • Keep the goal itself simple and exciting.
  • Grab the goals you get excited by.
  • If any of the goals are stepping stones to other goals, then take it off the list. The point is to have end-goals vs. means goals.

Step 2. Identify the Timeframes for Your Goals

In this step, you identify the timeframe you have in mind for each of your goals. To do so, for each goal, ask yourself, “By when do I want to achieve that?”

For some of your goals, the timeframe won’t matter as much and will really be up to you. For other goals, they’ll have an expiration date because of age, health, windows of opportunity, etc.

Step 3. Identify the “Why” Behind Your Goals

For each goal, write down why it is so important to you to reach this goal. This is the fuel that will keep you going on your journey so write down everything that comes to mind. Don’t second guess yourself, just keep writing down all the reasons why achieving each goal matters so much to you. Make it real. Really light up each goal with all the compelling reasons of why you want to make this happen.

If you find that nothing comes to mind or the reasons aren’t compelling, then you don’t have a compelling goal. If the goal is not compelling for you, and you can’t find a way to make it compelling, then it’s not very likely that you’ll succeed. It’s better to go back to the drawing board and find a more compelling goal.

Step 4. Plan Your Goals

In this step, you turn your goals into action. Now that you know the goals you want, you know when you want them, and you know why you want them, it’s time to make a simple plan you can execute.

To turn you goals into action, take the following steps:

  1. Put each of your goals on a separate piece of paper. Write each of your goals from above on a new, separate sheet of paper.
  2. Break each goal down into key steps or “stepping stones.” For each goal, write down the critical few steps or whatever you need to achieve the goal. This might be education or knowledge or experience, etc. Some of the sub-goals or stepping stones you removed from Step 1 – List Your Goals above might be now appropriate here.
  3. Break each step down into actions you can take. Write down the key actions you need to take to achieve each step. Keep breaking your steps down until they become tasks you can execute. You can use these sub-steps as a checklist and a way to gauge your progress.
  4. For each goal, identify the time frame by when you want to achieve it. You can use the time frames you thought of from Step 2 – Identify the Timeframes for Your Goals above.
  5. For each of the steps within the goals, identify a date by when you’ll complete it.
  6. Identify measures. Identify the unit of measurement you’ll use to gauge your progress and success.
  7. Identify targets (metrics.) Identify the specific measurement you’re going to evaluate. Think of this as an exercise in getting clarity on “What does success look like?”
  8. Schedule a recurring time to check your progress on your goals. Setup a daily, weekly, or monthly checkpoint as appropriate. This will help you acknowledge and appreciate your progress as well as adjust your actions or correct your course based on feedback and results.

Step 5. Take Action

In this step, you identify one small action you can take, and one big action you can take right now toward your goals. To do so:

  1. Identify one small thing you can do right now that would get you started on your path. Do it.
  2. Identify one big thing you can do right now that would get you started down your path. Do it.


You may have heard of SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that has multiple variations:

  • S – Specific, significant
  • M – Measurable, meaningful, motivational
  • A – Actionable – acceptable, achievable, action-oriented, agreed upon, attainable
  • R – Relevant, realistic, reasonable, results-oriented, rewarding
  • T – Timely, tangible, time-based, trackable

You can use SMART as a way to test that your goals are set up for success. A common pattern is to make sure your goals are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and timely.

Remember that at the end of the day, the most important thing behind your goal is having a compelling “Why.” This is what will keep you going. Keep taking action, and use your results as feedback to keep learning and improving along the way.

Example Goal Summary Template

Here is a sample goal summary template you can use as a starting point to help you organize your goal, the objectives (steps), the measures, the targets (metrics), and the actions to get there.


Prompts for Goals

The following categories are common areas that people use to set goals. You can draw from them as you think through your goals:



  • Do you have any educational goals?
  • Do you have any subjects you want to learn?
  • Do you want to learn another language?
  • Do you want to read more?


  • Do you want to improve your health?
  • Do you want to eat better?
  • Do you want to exercise more?
  • Do you want to take up a sport?


  • What do you want to feel more of?
  • What do you want to feel less of?
  • Do you want to improve control of your emotions?
  • Do you want to stop letting other people push your buttons?


  • Do you want to start your own business?
  • Are there awards you want to achieve?
  • Are there skills you want to learn?
  • Are there experiences you want to add?
  • Are there projects you want under your belt?
  • What do you want to spend more time on?
  • What do you want to spend less time on?
  • Do you want to change careers?
  • Do you want to add mentors at work?


  • Do you want to learn more about personal finance?
  • Do you want to save more?
  • Do you want to reduce your debt?
  • Do you want to make more money?
  • Do you want to prepare for retirement?


  • Are there people you want in your life?
  • Are there people you want to spend more time with?
  • Are there people you want to spend less time with?


  • Are there experiences you want to have?
  • Are there things you want to do?
  • Are there people you want to meet?
  • Are there places you want to go?


  • Do you have any artistic talents you want to explore?
  • Do you have anything you want to create?
  • Do you have any creative goals?


  • Do you have any habits you want to add?
  • Do you have any habits you want to drop?
  • Do you have any behaviors you want to improve?


  • Do you live where you want to?
  • Do you want to contribute more?


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