The Importance of Setting Goals

“The game has its ups and downs, but you can never lose focus of your individual goals and you can’t let yourself be beat because of lack of effort.”
 — Michael Jordan; Space Jam / NBA Star

As MJ rightly says, it’s important not to lose focus of your individual goals in life, and in your career. Whether it’s getting in shape for the Summer, completing your private pilot’s license, or earning that promotion you’ve been working towards, it’s important to have a plan of action for achieving your goals, and to break these down into manageable, achievable steps. With it being the season of EOY reviews for many companies, I feel this is a particularly relevant topic to discuss.

From the very beginning of my career, the importance of setting and tracking goals has been highlighted to me by my colleagues, something which I am very grateful for today. Setting goals is an integral part of the process to fulfilling your potential and feeling satisfied with your progression in life, and of course in your career.

It’s important to remember why you’re setting your goal. What do you expect to get out of this? How are you going to achieve it, i.e. what are the steps involved? What is your long-term plan, and how does this goal help you to get closer to that? How long will it take; is this feasible in the allocated time-frame? When setting myself a career goal I always consider these questions — if you can’t answer any of these questions then you probably shouldn’t be pursuing this goal, as it may not be relevant to your long-term plan.

I personally find it helpful moving forward to have a rough idea what the next step of your career is, and where you realistically see yourself in 3 years time. I start out by analysing the skills, responsibilities and competencies expected of this role, and then actively set myself short-to-medium term goals which not only address these areas, but are attainable through some extra effort outside the scope of your current role.

If a goal seems as though it’s not really stretching you beyond the scope of your current role, you should reconsider; you could easily end up with a hollow victory, and have no real, tangible progression to show for your efforts. On the other hand, if the goal seems too difficult when measured against your current skills, it may be helpful to attend a training course /conference, or up-skilling in a relevant area in your spare time. On that note, I’ve found it helpful to get yourself into a routine, setting aside x amount of time on y day, every week — you soon adjust to losing this previously free time from your schedule, and you’ll feel more accomplished for having done something constructive.

When it comes to evaluating your progression, it’s helpful to look beyond the black & white result of success / failure. Ask yourself why you didn’t achieve your goal(s), and also re-evaluate your long-term plan and conclude whether these goals still apply. Did you not have the opportunity to stretch yourself in this area due to the limitations of your current role or project? Did you set aside the time you promised yourself you would? Did you lose interest in attaining that skill-set, simply because it is no longer relevant to your long-term goals? Stay focused and re-evaluate what you want from your goals in the long-term — you may find that your priorities have shifted, but how often do you take the time to actually think about this?

It’s easy to get upset about not achieving what you had set out to do, but the important factor to remember here is what you’ve learned from the experience and what you would do differently next time around. Maybe you’ve changed your mind about what direction you want to head in your career. Perhaps your work-life balance has taken on a new ratio — you may have achieved a personal goal in lieu of that career goal. Most importantly, always consider how you feel about your performance, and how you feel about what you’ve achieved. If you aren’t happy with your progress, try to understand why you feel this way, and set your new goals accordingly. If you’re happy with your results, its equally important to understand why, and to continue setting goals that will keep you on this track, and avoid falling into complacency.

Keep looking forward. Have a long-term plan. Set achievable goals. Measure your success. Evaluate your highs and lows for the period. Repeat. Deal?