The 5 attributes of highly effective goal setting (to find what works best for you)

Written by Arno Jansen

Do you often find yourself setting goals, only to fail to achieve them?

You’re not alone. Many people struggle with goal setting.

But the good news is that there’s no one right way to set goals. Experimenting with different approaches helps you to find what works best for you.

In this issue, I’ll dive into five attributes of effective goal setting that you can try out yourself.

By the end, you’ll be equipped with the tools you need to set better goals that you can actually achieve.

Why do we fail to achieve goals we set?

We’ve heard it so many times: setting goals is one of the most effective ways to achieve what you want in life.

Sure, but why do we struggle to make progress towards our goals (myself included), or worse yet, never even try to set them in the first place?

Let me tell you why:

  • We don’t know how to set meaningful goals with the right specifics for the way we work.
  • We get overwhelmed by the thought of setting goals that are too big or too vague
  • Or we get sudden commitment issues when numbers and deadlines make things too specific
  • And secretly, we’re often setting goals for the wrong reasons.

Don’t worry though. Let me introduce you to 5 attributes of goals that you can experiment with to see what works best for you.

Contrary to popular believe, there is no one best way for all people and purposes.

So, I encourage you to read through these and start experimenting!

Precision: be the right level of specific (for you)

Precision is the foundation for effective goalsetting. Without precise goals, you cannot measure progress or know whether you’ve achieved your desired outcome. Precision helps you to stay focused and motivated, and it provides a clear direction for your efforts.

Stop and read that last sentence again:

“Precision helps you to stay focused and motivated, and it provides a clear direction for your efforts.”

You want to be precise in formulating your goal, because it provides a guide for you to reference when it comes to putting in the effort to make progress.

Consider this (bad) goal example: ”Launch an online service based on ”

This goals is only effective for about the first 30 minutes after you come out of the shower. You’re hyped up and get going. But tomorrow this is just a vague sentence to be used as an excuse to spend a day creating a color pallet for the website.

Making it more specific helps you aim your efforts better: 

“Launch an MVP that only does X (for now) so that it can be used to validate the idea.”

Numbers: Use them wisely!

Numbers can be a great way to measure progress and hold yourself accountable. However, it’s important to ask yourself why you’re using them.

Do numbers motivate you or stress you out?

Do the numbers in your goals focus on input or output?

Let’s look at this example:

“Make €100k in revenue this year”.

Looks like a solid goal to go after, right? Well… you have very limited control over the exact revenue you make. You have much more control over the effort you put in to make (more) revenue.

“Send 3 cold e-mails every workday this month”

That is much more specific and the number is focussed on the effort you put in. It also specifies in more detail how you believe your revenue can be increased: sending cold e-mails.

Focus on Input over Output

As mentioned above, most goals benefit from focusing on specific inputs such as effort, time, or money.

Inputs allow you to focus on “how” you will achieve your goal, rather than the end result, on “what”.

For example, instead of setting an output goal like:

“Get 10,000 followers on Twitter”,

try setting an input goal like:

“Post 2 thoughtful tweets and engage with 5 people on Twitter every day.”

This way you control what you do, rather than what you hope to get.

Sometimes though, output goals do make sense:

  • Increase stock portfolio to €100k
  • Do not weigh more than 80kg.

But more often than not, your goals benefit most from focus on input.

Yay or nay: Deadlines and timeframes

I think I said it pretty well in this tweet:

I know it is somewhat controversial, but for most of the goals in my business, I have no deadlines. Ok, I make an exception for taxes. Especially those goals focussed on consistent effort (ie “input”), require no deadline.

Timeframes freak me out less, as it helps indicate when you will do something.

Like the ‘twitter goal’ example, I used earlier: 

“Post 2 thoughtful tweets and engage with 5 people on Twitter every working day.”

Some of my coaching clients do not get anything done if there is not a deadline on it. Even an artificial one.

For me, (artificial) deadlines add stress I do not need or want. So it is an art to balance your goal in such a way that you do take action, but not get held hostage by your goals.

Make your goals you own

Finally, ownership is perhaps the most important attribute of effective goal setting. These are your goals, so make sure they fit you and help you make the progress you want to make.

In other words, do not set goals to impress your parents or in-laws, a former boss, or your ex. Ego and resentment are never a source for meaningful long-term goals.

Now what?

Now that you know these five key attributes of effective goal setting, it’s time to start setting better goals for yourself.

Here are some steps you can follow to improve your goal setting:

  1. Start by identifying your most important goals.
  2. Use the five attributes we’ve discussed to refine and improve your goals.
  3. Write down why each goal is important to you.
  4. Break each goal down into smaller, manageable steps.
  5. Hold yourself accountable by tracking your progress and sharing your goals with others.

By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals and living the life you want.

And if you want to share your goals with me so you feel accountable, feel free to reach out on Twitter. I’d love to hear from you!

Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

Join my free Focus Finder email course to transform yourself from deeply distracted to fully focused.

    Looking to get more productive, focused, and resilient?

    Join my free Focus Finder course and go from deeply distracted to fully focused.

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