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Know When To Set A Goal

The standard approach to goal-setting works well in relatively known areas, where past performance can be used as benchmarks. However, goal-setting from the start may be counterproductive in entirely new areas.

If you wonder what's achievable for you, you may wait to set a specific target. Keep the effort and timeline goal instead.

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Goal-Setting

Any goal or project will usually have these basic qualities:

  • A general ambition or motivation. (e.g. learn French)
  • A specific target. (e.g.  speak fluently)
  • A time-frame or deadline. (e.g. in 6 months)
  • Constraints or methods. (e.g. practicing every day)
  • Overall impression of effort/time required. (e.g. a few hours per week of moderate effort)

A goal is then a group of different features that get bundled together. Some are necessary, others are optional, and some are better to postpone.

When a goal has high uncertainty as to what level is achievable to reach within a particular time-frame, it is better to set specific targets in the middle of the process.

Plan your goals with the variables you do have: overall direction, time-frame, level of effort and strategies.

  • Uncertain goals should be set in the middle. This will enable you to set the correct challenge level to maximize effort.
  • Some research shows that for very complex tasks, goal-setting can hinder effectiveness. This is because complex tasks are cognitively demanding in the beginning and can be frustrating because you can't perform adequately. To add on more tasks can impair your performance.

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Minimum targeting works well for establishing long-term habits.

A goal of, for instance, doing fifty push-ups every day might not be ideal for fitness, but doing something is better than doing nothing.

Another reason to focus on the minimum is that it assumes the difficulty is in starting. To start a process can often be the hardest. Then you want to set a lower threshold to make starting as easy as possible.

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IDEAS

... using the SMART criteria: 

  • Specific: make your goals clear and well-defined. 
  • Measurable: avoid any abstract notions – you should be able to tick “done” any goal you set as well as any step it involves
  • Achievable: Make sure you have enough time and resources (money, free time, energy) to achieve it
  • Relevant: your personal goals should be relevant to your life goals and feel rewarding
  • Timed: set a deadline for achieving each goal and subgoal. 
Setting career goals: take the initiative

Don’t wait for someone else (your boss or mentor) to ask you what your goals are. Take the initiative and draft your professional goals independently.

  • Review your current status: evaluate where you are now in relation to the goals you set int the past. Did you meet those goals? Do they still align with your career path?Looking at your past objectives may help you set your next ones.
  • Ask someone you trust, who also knows your professional strengths for help with your goal-setting.
  • Ask your colleagues or people you admire what goals they have set and met in past years, to set some inspiration.