What is Goal-Setting

Goal-setting is the act of selecting a target or objective you wish to achieve. But why is that important?

Research on goal-setting is vast and points to what now is a unanimous conclusion - setting goals leads to a better performance. When we have clarity on what we want to achieve, we can prioritize and avoid spending time and energy on irrelevant tasks, as well as identify what are the skills and resources we'll need to develop over time.

Goals vs Systems

We can often see stories of how extremely successful people set big and ambitious goals, trying to convince us that following the same path is the best way to make progress. There is only one problem with that: we ignore the story of all of the people who had the same large goals and fail - their stories rarely go public.

What are the difference then? How come two people with the same goal differ so much in terms of result? There is one specific characteristic that stands out: the idea that, even more important then a goal, one must have systems in place to support it. We can illustrate what that means by a number of examples:

  • If you’re a sports coach, your goal might be to win a championship. Your system is the way you recruit players, manage your assistant coaches, and conduct practice;

  • If you’re a sales person, your goal might be to reach your sales and revenue target. Your system is how you find and identify new prospects, engage and cultivate relationships, and close deals;

  • If you’re looking to improve your health, your goal might be to reduce 10% of your weight. Your system is how often you exercise, the size and quality of your diet, and how you replace bad habits for better ones.

Does that mean that goals are completely useless? Of course not. Goals are excellent tools to set direction, but systems are better for making progress. In fact, by using the right framework to set goals, you will naturally be forced to explore which are the systems you will need to implement.

How to Set Effective Goals

Define them clearly: An essential element of goal-setting that is very often neglected is the importance of ensuring your goals are clear and well-defined - if your goals point the direction to move towards, the last thing you want it to be is imprecise.

There are a number of different criteria you can use to certify that your goals are not too vague - the most popular being "SMART". The SMART criteria is helpful for the vast majority of the goals, but can also lead to very ambiguous interpretations - which led to the creation of a new and more agile framework to goal-setting: Objectives and key results (OKR).

Don’t pursue too many: Another important idea is the one of “goal competition”. Whenever you chase a new goal, you have to divide your focus and energy (which are limited) from all your other goals. How to solve it? Focus on one or two and eliminate everything else.

A simple but powerful story from Warren Buffet translates the idea of goal competition perfectly, and reminds us that “if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.” 

Review them often: You need to experiment and learn on the process, making sure you are always looking for new ways to improve. The key here is to take time to perform a regular review of your goals. To learn what were the mistakes you made and correct them. To double down on your strengths and what worked out well. To identify and anticipate obstacles on the way. 

All Goal-Setting Articles

This is a complete list of articles I have written on goal-setting. Enjoy!

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