How to Actually Achieve Your Goals

Setting a goal is just the first step. These eight steps will help you see it through to completion.

Published: Jan 27, 2021

If you’ve already given up on achieving your New Year’s goals, you aren’t alone. In research on its 73 million users, the activity-tracking network Strava identified January 19th as the day people are most likely to quit their New Year’s resolutions.

Instead of giving up your goals for lost, though, consider approaching them differently. If you allocate your time and effort sustainably over time, you have a much higher chance of achieving what you set out to do.

It may be helpful to divide the areas of life where you set goals into categories—i.e., business and career, personal well-being, personal finance, community, learning and development, recreation and fun, friends and family, and environment.

Once you’ve sorted your goals, follow these eight tips for fine-tuning them and actually getting them done.

Instead of giving up your goals for lost, consider approaching them differently. If you allocate your time and effort sustainably over time, you have a much higher chance of achieving what you set out to do.

1.     Start somewhere.

If you set goals in many or all of the above areas, that’s great, but it’s too overwhelming to tackle them all at once. Instead, pick one or two to get started.

Jen Zamora, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance, recommends making them SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, “I will commit to volunteering 21 hours at a nonprofit organization in 2021” is a great SMART goal in the community category of your life.

2.     Keep it simple.

If the goal is too complex or likely to take a long time, you’re more likely to get frustrated and quit. Start with an easy action that will give you a sense of success and momentum, then build to bigger action steps from there. For instance, if your goal is to pay off debts, apply Dave Ramsey’s idea of the “debt snowball”—pay off your smallest debt first before starting to chip away at larger ones.

3.     Find the personal meaning.

Doing something just for the sake of doing it (e.g., losing 10 pounds to be 10 pounds thinner) won’t help you when motivation inevitably flags. “Instead, consider what it will mean for you to achieve this goal,” says Zamora. When you know why it’s important for you to focus on this goal right now in your life, you can come back to that reason when you hit an obstacle.

4.     Anticipate challenges.

Before you even get started, think about what could get in the way of your success. List the competing priorities, old habits, and other things that could trip you up.

“Many of us dedicate 80% of our time to things that only deserve 20% of our effort,” says David Ginchansky, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “Recognize your Achilles’ heel, and either find help with it or focus on other things you can do better and faster.”

5.     Protect your time.

“Develop a habit of protecting at least one hour per week or every two weeks in your calendar to focus on your goals,” says Jonathan Britland, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

Create “time budgets,” a term coined by Gary Keller in his book, The One Thing. These are blocks of time that you dedicate to doing your work and working on your goals. “During that time, don’t allow anyone to interrupt you, don’t check devices, and let others know you won’t get back to them until the time budget ends,” Ginchansky says.

If you have more time and energy to dedicate after you’ve reached one or two hours in a given week, go for it. But the important thing is that you can sustain your effort over time.

6.     Manage your time.

Experiment with different time management techniques to find one that’s productive for you. One popular format is the Pomodoro Technique, when you work in 25-minute increments with five-minute breaks in between. Another technique suggests 52-minute work increments and 17-minute breaks.

However you choose to structure your time, remember that taking breaks actually helps you work faster and be more productive because you aren’t draining your energy through one long period of effort.

7.     Create a support system.

Accountability is key to achieving your goals. Think about who can support you, and ask for their help in specific ways. Colleagues, friends, and family can assist by doing something or not doing something, such as not interrupting during the times you’ve budgeted for progress on your goal.

A career coach, personal trainer, or financial advisor can also serve as accountability partners in a more formalized way.

8.     Acknowledge your achievements.

Reward yourself for each goal achieved, no matter what it is! Zamora says that it’s important to celebrate your wins along the way, not just when you eventually hit the big goal. “Sometimes it’s the small things, like establishing daily habits, that create the greatest momentum,” she says.

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