Set Goals

May 07, 2016

Let’s talk about goals for a minute. First, let’s define what a goal is. When looking to define something, obviously the first place to look is on Wikipedia. wink As defined by Wikipedia, a goal is “an objective that a person or a system plans or intends to achieve.” Some of the problems I've seen with setting goals have to do with specificity, length, and planning. As far as I'm concerned, all three of these things need to be included when setting a goal to have the highest chance of being successful.

A lot of people aren’t very specific when they set a goal. Some examples are, “I want to lose weight” or “I want to be a better developer.” I don’t consider these goals; I consider these the product or result of a well-formed goal. My personal preference is to be much more specific. Instead of saying I want to be better at the guitar, I’ll say something like, “For the next week I want to spend 3 hours a day practicing my Lydian scales.” See the difference? One of those goals is a measurable, tangible goal and the other is not. Moral of the story, make sure your goals are actually some sort of measurable thing that you can actually see if it was accomplished.

If you look at the two examples in the previous paragraph again, you’ll see the difference in length. In the first example, there is no mention on how long the goal should take. Given, I do want to continually improve my developer skills for the rest of my life, but that doesn’t make for a good goal. Setting a time limit to reach a goal is much better. It gives you a specific time or date to re-evaluate the goal and evaluate your progress.

On the subject of length, there’s nothing wrong with setting a goal for a much longer time. The problem is that it’s easy to lose track of the goal if it takes too long to reach it. So another thing I like to do if my goal is particularly far off is set checkpoints. Let’s take a look at an example of one of my personal goals. Within the next year, I would like to create at least 50 new personal projects. This is a specific goal, with a specific end date (May 6, 2017). The problem is that it’s difficult to keep up with that. It could be discouraging to look at my goal in a few months and see that I still have 35 projects to do. This is why it’s useful to set checkpoints and this is where having a plan comes in handy.

A plan is what’s used to map out exactly how the goal will be reached. Without a plan, a goal can easily die. A good plan for the previous goal would be something like the following: “To reach my goal of 50 new projects in a year, I will complete 5 new projects per month. This will leave me with two open months that I can use in case I can’t finish all 5 projects in a few of the months.” If you noticed, I gave myself a little leeway. This gives me a better chance to accomplish and possibly surpass my goal.

The last piece of advice I have is to look at the big picture. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach your goal. It’s ok to set a goal that seems a little out of reach. Think about it, what’s the difference between me doing 49 projects compared to 50? Not much right? Either way, it has resulted in me becoming a better developer.

After reading this, I hope you’re able to more successfully attain your goals by being more specific, giving yourself a time limit, and planning for success. If the goal is particularly far out, set checkpoints or “mini-goals” to keep yourself on track. One thing to remember, this is my personal opinion. If you think I missed something or completely disagree with me, please leave a comment and let me know what you think.