How to Write a Good Goal
February 05, 2020
Woman in thought

Properly articulating your goal can be the difference between you achieving your goal or falling short. A well written goal turns an abstract amorphous idea into something tangible that you can achieve.

“SMART” goals are a helpful framework for writing a goal in a way that sets you up for success. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound.

Specific

Specificity helps in multiple ways:

  • It helps clarify what achievement means

  • It focuses you on the right actions for success

  • It helps you visualize achievement which helps with motivation

If you’re struggling with getting specific, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I want to achieve / what do I want to be capable of doing?

  • Why do I want to do this?

  • What’s required of me to achieve this or be capable of doing this?

Here is an example:

Imagine you work on the product or marketing teams for a direct to consumer business.

Vague: My goal is to learn SQL.

Specific: My goal is to learn SQL so that I can run basic queries to understand how our product is performing without always having to file requests to the data science team.

Measurable

Measurable forces you to articulate how you are going to measure success. The clearer you are about quantitative success metrics the clearer your path forward will be. Push yourself to move beyond binary measures of success (i.e., instead of success being absolute, make it a continuum). And, if needed, you can have multiple measures of success.

Continuing our example from above:

My goal is to learn SQL so that I can run basic queries to understand how our product is performing without always having to file requests to the data science team. Success is being able to self-support for 50% of my analysis needs.

See how much clearer your goal is? The added benefit of quantifying is that you open up the doors to partial achievement. Take the SQL example. Let’s say that you learn some SQL and you are able to self-support for 45% of your needs. Framing your achievement as “90% goal achievement” instead of “I failed” will keep your motivation high, let you celebrate your progress, and put you on the path to continuous improvement over time.

If you’re setting goals around feedback from your performance reviews, make sure you engage your manager in a discussion about success. You need to make sure that you and your manager are aligned on what successfully addressing the feedback means otherwise you may end up in a situation where you think you succeeded but your manager disagrees.

Achievable

Your goals should be aggressive but achievable. There is nothing more de-motivating than an impossible goal. If you set an impossible goal for yourself, it’s really easy to start telling yourself “well I’m never going to hit my goal so why even bother trying.”

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set big audacious goals. You may, however, want to break down your big audacious goals into smaller goals that are stepping stones so you can feel a continuous sense of progression and achievement.

Continuing with our SQL example, the ultimate end goal may be that you want to be able to answer all the questions you have on your own, without ever needing to go to the data science team. That’s a much bigger goal than getting to 50% self-sufficiency - all those corner cases can get complicated. It's definitely one that’s worth going after, but if you break it down into smaller goals and then ladder up to your big goal, you’ll get some wins under your belt to keep you motivated on your journey.

Relevant

Your goal should matter to you. After all, it’s your goal. If you are breaking down a big goal into smaller goals, make sure your smaller goals are relevant to your bigger goal.

If you’re building goals from the feedback in your performance reviews, keep in mind your bigger picture - what does addressing the feedback help you achieve? Are you gunning for a promotion? A raise? Leadership opportunities?

You should include the “why” of the goal as you write your goal, so you don’t lose track of the motivator behind your goal.

Time bound

Goals should have target dates so you have a deadline in mind to create urgency and focus. We recommend setting goals with end dates no longer than six months out, and ideally somewhere around three. If that’s not enough time to reach your goal, you may want to consider breaking your goal up into pieces so that they are each more achievable in a shorter duration.

This is so that you give yourself enough time to do something meaningful, but not so much time that there is no real pressure to start acting now. If a goal end date is one or two years off into the future, it’s easy to let the urgent day to day tasks consume your time and defer starting your goal - after all you have so much time! But then all of a sudden you only have six months to achieve something that you thought would take twelve, and then you think it’s no longer achievable, so you don’t even start, and then no progress gets made at all.

Putting it all together

Our first example goal started as “My goal is to learn SQL”. Vague, not measurable, unclear why, and not time-bound. Definitely not a SMART goal.

Compare that to:

My goal is to learn SQL so that I can run basic queries to understand how our product is performing without always having to file requests to the data science team. This will make it easier for me to uncover hidden insights which I can use to suggest novel solutions - showing leadership and critical thinking, which my manager mentioned as something I need to do to progress in my career. Success is being able to self-support for 50% of my analysis needs. My target is to achieve this in 3 months.

How to do this in Nodabl

The best way to write these goals in Nodabl is to break them up across three fields: Name, Description, and Target End Date.

"My goal is to learn SQL so that I can run basic queries to understand how our product is performing without always having to file requests to the data science team. This will make it easier for me to uncover hidden insights which I can use to suggest novel solutions - showing leadership and critical thinking, which my manager mentioned as something I need to do to progress in my career. Success is being able to self-support for 50% of my analysis needs. My target is to achieve this in 3 months.”

Name: Learn enough SQL to self-support for 50% of my analysis needs

Description: Learn SQL so that I’m no longer as dependent on the data science team. I need to display leadership and critical thinking to progress in my career, and one aspect of that is to suggest novel solutions based on data-driven insights.

Target End Date: (3 months from today)

A well written goal does require some work and introspection. It’s worth it to do this up front though because then you’ll know exactly what you’re working towards, why, and when you want to get there. That’s how you set yourself up for success.

So, what are you waiting for? Add your goal to Nodabl today.

Written by
Vikas Gupta

Vikas is the founder of Nodabl. He started his career in management consulting at McKinsey & Company. When he left and joined the operating world, he was shocked at the difference in the way he experienced development and growth at McKinsey versus industry. This difference became even more apparent when he started managing a team for the first time. He was challenged with both developing himself as a leader and fostering growth in his team. Since then he's been thinking about how to improve the growth experience and enabling every person to be their professional best.

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