Whether intentional or not, you’ve likely partaken in some sort of goal-setting before. Maybe you’ve had to set professional goals with your previous manager or maybe you set yearly goals for yourself and your business. Setting goals is an effective way to help you be more successful. In fact, a Harvard Business Review study found that people who set goals are up to 10 times more successful than people who don’t, and people who write their goals down are even more successful than people who just mentally set them. There is empirical evidence that supports a correlation between goal-setting and success, meaning that it’s advantageous for you to carefully set and write down your goals. That’s easier said than done, however, so, in this article, we’re going to go over seven of the most damaging mistakes individuals make when goal setting.
Mistake #1: Your goals are too broad.
More likely than not, you’ve heard of SMART goals before. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Based. The first mistake people tend to make when goal-setting is forgetting about the S — specificity. It’s easy to think “I want one million dollars in one year,” but simply wishing for an outcome is different than setting a goal. If you want to set goals that will actually contribute to your success, they need to be specific and relevant to you and your career. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a broader outlook when it comes to goal-setting, however (more on this later). So, when you’re setting goals, make sure that they are specific enough that they actually allow you to take action to achieve them.
Mistake #2: You don’t create measurement methods.
Drawing from the SMART goals framework again, one of the biggest mistakes you can make when goal-setting is failing to set measurable goals with a methodology to measure your progress. The “M” in SMART stands for “measurable,” but that’s only one part of the equation. You need to create goals that are measurable, but you also need to think through how you are going to measure them. For example, if one of your goals is to increase your business’ employee engagement, you need to think about how you can measure employee engagement then set milestones for assessing your progress. If you just think about measurement as an abstract idea, you’re not going to effectively measure your progress, and it’ll be harder to successfully achieve your goals.
Mistake #3: You don’t continually track progress.
Similar to Mistake #2 is the common error of forgetting to track your progress. This is true when it comes to setting and tracking your own goals but also when you’re managing employees and helping them track their progress. While returning to your goals and tracking your progress may seem tedious, it’s the only way to ensure that you are actually achieving what you set out to do. More likely than not, your goals will be complex and require a lot of work to accomplish. That’s great, but that means that you need to dedicate the time to ensure that you’re progressing as planned. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make mistakes, get held up, or go faster than you planned. All it means is that you should have a good sense of your progress until your goal is achieved, as it will help you pivot when needed or make any changes that will help you progress.
Mistake #4: You don’t have a clear vision to start with.
We know we said you need specificity when it comes to goal setting, and that is 100% true. But before you start getting into the detailed goals, you need to understand the bigger picture of what you want to achieve. If you’re setting company goals, you can start by taking a look at the company mission. If you’re working on personal goals, take some time to think about what you want to accomplish, not just in the short-term, but also five to ten years in the future.
When you lack clarity on your bigger picture, you’re setting goals without knowing why you want to achieve them. If you find yourself victim to this mistake, you can start to overcome it by simply asking yourself “Why?” when you’re setting a goal. For example, if your goal is to increase your financial aptitude, ask yourself why you want to do that.
Mistake #5: You don’t set a schedule to accomplish your goals.
Remember in Mistake #3 when we talked about tracking progress? Well, tracking your progress becomes a whole lot easier when you’ve already created a schedule and milestones to accomplish your goals. Not only will setting a schedule help you track your progress, but it will also help you further specify your goals. Setting milestones is a great way to take a bigger, harder goal, and tease it out into smaller, actionable items. The point of setting goals is to actually accomplish them, but without a timeframe, progress-tracking, and measurement, your goals just become dreams that may not come true. So, create a schedule with each of your goals and set yourself up for success.
Mistake #6: You go about goal-setting alone.
Defining and working on your goals can be a very personal thing. But according to the Harvard Business Review, it’s easier to successfully achieve goals when you’re not trying to do it alone. When you share your goals with someone else, whether that be a friend, colleague, or spouse, they become invested in your success. They can help you troubleshoot when you have obstacles, motivate you when you fall behind, or simply hold you accountable by checking in with you. Similarly, if you have a team, you can help them achieve their goals by going through the process with them. It can feel intimidating to share your goals with others, but if you reframe it in your mind as a tool that will increase your odds of success, it will be easier to have someone help you along the way.
Mistake #7: You’re too rigid with your goals.
Finally, being too rigid with your goals will only hurt you. While you should create specific goals and track them, you have to remember that things change. There are uncertainties that you just cannot predict and when something happens, you need to be flexible enough to pivot when it’s in your best interest. That means that at times, your goals will change. Whether it is the actual goal, the method by which you are accomplishing it, the timeframe, or anything in between, don’t beat yourself up if you need to revisit your goals and adjust them.
In fact, you should be revisiting your goals regularly and to see if they need updating. Not only will this help you remember what you’ve set out to do, but it will also help you as you progress to see how your wants and goals change, too. So, don’t be too rigid with your goals. Know that there are things that are out of your control and when they occur, it’s not what happened that matters, it’s how well you reacted to it.
Hopefully, this article helped you see some of the major mistakes that you may be making when you’re setting goals. While the SMART goals framework is beneficial, it’s not the only consideration that you should have when you’re creating and accomplishing your goals. Take enough time to actually create meaningful goals and track your progress. If you can do that, you’re much more likely to be successful.