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Goal-Setting, and Why You Should Write Them Down

While many of us go through the annual ritual of goal setting at work, too few of us take the time to define broader career (or personal) goals for ourselves. Maybe you want to earn a promotion, work internationally, get a job with a particular employer, or start your own business someday. While such goals are often in the back of your mind, you need to bring them to the forefront and actually write them down. Doing so makes you more likely to remember them and to commit to them, akin to forming a contract with yourself. 

SMART Goal Setting

A commonly used framework for setting goals is called SMART, generally viewed as originating in a Management Review article by George Doran in 1981. SMART goals are:

  •   Specific
  •   Measurable
  •   Achievable
  •   Relevant
  •   Time-bound

Since the publishing of Doran’s original article, a number of modest variations on the SMART framework have appeared, some of which have talked about SMARTER goals that are also:

  •   Evaluated (or Exciting)
  •   Reviewed (or Rewarded)

In any case, the SMART framework is powerful in its straightforwardness, and it provides a useful approach for providing structure to your goals. It will definitely help you sharpen your goals and make them more outcome-oriented.

Revisit Your Goals

Career goals should be re-visited at least annually, and you should keep them in mind in your day-to-day activities. A good way to do so is to complement your goals with a specific action plan that covers what you want to achieve:

  •   This year
  •   This quarter
  •   This month, or
  •   This week

For example, you may have a goal to become head of your department within three years. Your more specific action plan is to earn a promotion to first-level management this year, to work on a project with your boss’ boss this quarter to increase your visibility, to finish an important project this month that will showcase your skills, and to address a particular situation this week that is blocking success on your project.

Action-planning and committing to making regular progress against your goals are examples of the day-to-day discipline that underpins successful career management. As the adage goes, “what gets measured gets managed.”

Share Your Goals

Another key principle is to share your goals where appropriate, particularly with family, friends, trusted colleagues, mentors, or your manager. Communicating your goals to others will help them hold you to what you’re aiming to achieve and to support you along the way. Be thoughtful, however, in how you share your goals at work. Your work colleagues are your competition, at least to a degree, and you need to appreciate that they have their own aspirations as well, some of which may not align with what you want for yourself.

Part of the focus on goal-setting also relates to knowing yourself, determining your values and interests, and advocating for yourself – these are all underpinnings that will help you both set and achieve your goals. If you aren’t sure what you want – what outcomes you actually want to achieve, start with a career assessment or two to get a better sense of what’s important to you.

Write Your Goals Down

One final point. You may be reading this article, thinking, “I don’t have time to write down my goals.”  But if you don’t have time to write them down, how will you find time to actually achieve them?

How we help. We offer a toolkit for defining your goals and actions, and for tracking progress against them. We provide reminders to keep you goal-focused, even when you’re most busy. You can also work with one of our coaches or other career experts on setting or achieving your goals, or on developing a strategy to overcome roadblocks you see in your path.

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