You need to stop wandering around and set some damn goals.

People with a goal.

I’m a software developer. And, if last year’s survey is any indication, there’s a good chance you are too. Despite that, you and I have different goals in our respective careers. We’re all working toward something unique, no matter if you’re working at a job, running a studio, consulting, or just working on a side project.

But, do you know what your goals are? More importantly, do you know what you’re doing to accomplish them?

In my experience, most developers don’t set concrete goals for themselves. They wander from job to job, adopting whatever goals a boss or team lead hands them. Usually, they’re kind of unhappy with where their careers are heading.

When was the last time you sat down and thought about what you want out of your career? Or your life, for that matter?

If you’re aren’t setting goals for yourself, your work is aimless. Sure, you might hit on the occasional success. But is that really how you want to go through life, hoping to get lucky? I know I don’t.

It’s like hopping in your car for a road trip, without knowing where you’d like to go. You’ll probably see some great sights along the way, but I’d wager you’d have a lot more fun with a destination in mind.

Deep down you probably know goal-setting is something you should be doing, like flossing or changing the oil in your car. But you keep putting it off. The question is: why?

Honestly, I think it’s because of fear. Fear of making a wrong decision, or experiencing regret. But the benefits of setting clear, actionable goals far outweighs the potential negative rules, I promise you. It’s something you need to be doing, right now.

Until you do, you’re just wasting your time.

The best way to get started is by defining the thing you’re trying to accomplish and work backward from that point.

Not coincidentally, this is also a fantastic way to plan a side project. Check out Amy Hoy’s excellent book, Just Fucking Ship, for more on that topic.

You need to know what your big, awesome goal is. You don’t need to get super precise about it — you just need enough definition to be able to check in, from time to time, and ask yourself, “How close am I to accomplishing this goal?”

When all the chips are down, and you’re truly honest with yourself, what do you want to do in your career? Your relationships? Your free time?

Where do you see yourself and your loved ones in 5 years? How about 10?

Give yourself plenty of time to come up with your first big, awesome goal. The first time is really hard. Once you start contemplating questions like, “What do I want?” there’s a good chance you’ll start to question everything — from your career to your friendships, to your daily habits.

That’s a good thing! Taking time for setting proper goals can give you a lot of clarity.

Once you’ve figured out where you want to go, you can start working out how to get there. That means creating smaller goals you can work on, eventually accomplishing your big, awesome goal. This step is where the “thinking backward” part comes in.

Let’s say your goal is to save $10,000. What will you need to do to accomplish that? Maybe you decide you’ll set a smaller goal to save $100 a week. Great! Now, what do you need to do to accomplish that? Could you stop eating out every lunch hour?

The more you break your goals down, the more likely you’ll accomplish them. Tiny minuscule goals are easy to do and help you build momentum. Momentum gives you the motivation to keep going and makes progress visible.

Schedule time to review your goals, every so often. At the beginning of each month, I sit down with my notebook and plan ahead. I ask myself what I’ll need to do to make progress on my goals. Ditto for the start of every week. In the evenings, I review my day and see how well I did.

I don’t always accomplish everything I set out to do. But having a clear picture of my progress is invaluable. Sure, it takes some time. But the clarity it gives me is always worth it.

You don’t need a fancy notebook and pen. You can follow this process in a spreadsheet, or in your favorite app. The more important thing is just to do it.

Otherwise, you’re just wandering around — hoping to get lucky.


Thank you for reading! If you found this article useful, check out the Monday Mailer — my weekly newsletter about shipping side projects, productivity, and doing your best damn work ever.