5 Steps to Effective Goal Setting

setting goals

Goal setting is often considered the first step towards career development because it’s a vital part of career planning. It can help motivate and drive you in the workplace, and this is why professionals should learn to identify their targets.

1. Understand your priorities

Making your targets specific will help you make them more concrete. To begin with, you need to start thinking about what matters to you and what your priorities are. As work takes a lot of our time and it can also take a toll on our energy, you need to decide how much you are willing to sacrifice for a successful career. Not that you can’t be a successful businessperson and lead a happy home life as well, but achieving certain targets will always require you to go the extra mile and you need to understand just how far you are willing to go for your career goals.

To better understand your priorities separate your aspirations into three sections, financial, professional and relationships. Decide what you would be interested in working towards in these three categories and then prioritise your targets.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Where am I now? The first step you should take is to understand where you are as this will allow you to set more realistic targets.
  • What have I done so far? Your past experience also matters because it has helped shape who you are and it can provide insight as to what you can do in the future.
  • Where do I want to get to? Think of your end-goal and what would ultimately mean success to you.
  • What am I passionate about? If there’s one thing that can help you succeed in the workplace it’s being passionate about what you do, so think of what matters to you.
  • What do I enjoy doing? Taking into account your likes and dislikes can help create a bulletproof career plan.
  • What do I want to achieve until I get to my end-goal? Maybe you are interested in furthering your education, or picking up new skills. Or maybe there’s a hobby you’d like to explore more.
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses? Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses as this will be crucial in creating realistic targets.
  • How can I reach my goals? Understanding exactly what you need to do will help you develop a winning strategy.
  • What is holding me back? Are there any obstacles you can’t overcome? Can they affect your targets? What can you do to avoid these barriers?
  • What kind of professional do I want to be? Apart from recognising your potential and determining your objectives, you also need to consider what kind of professional you would like to be. Do you want to become someone who focuses on work-life balance? Or, do you want to be someone who’s ready to sacrifice their free time to go the extra mile for their career?

2. Ensure your objectives are realistic

The reason we focus so much on creating realistic goals is because they will help determine your success. Setting unrealistic targets will not only hurt your growth, but it will also hurt your motivation.

To determine if your objectives are realistic you need to consider whether they are:

  • Plausible
  • Time-bound
  • Within your Skillset


Although most of us would like to become Bill Gates, the truth is that few of us can. Success does not depend solely on creativity or motivation; it also relies on time restrictions, talent and a myriad of other factors as well. So, if you are interested in becoming the next industry disruptor, you need to ensure that you have something worthwhile to offer.

Interested in starting your own business for example? First, make sure that there’s a real gap in the market and that you really do have something unique to offer that could benefit people.


Unfortunately, most of us do not have enough time work towards our dreams. If you need to make a living, things can be particularly hard, so understand whether you can fully develop your dream within your specific time limitations. If you can’t don’t abandon it, simply see if you can make any alterations to it. Remember that you can always tailor it to fit your specific needs and expectations.

Within your skillset

Of course, you can always expand on your skill set, but you need to start by testing your goals against your skillset. So, if for example, you’d like to start your own accounting firm and only have a degree in business, you can acquire the skills required for accounting and build towards your dream. But, that does not mean you can go from being terrible with numbers to being great. Understand what you can do as this will help ensure success.


3. Distinguish between long-term and short-term goals

After you’ve determined what your career goals are take a minute to write them down and then separate them into long-term and short-term.

Long-term goals

Long-term objectives refer to your ultimate goals, the ones that when reached will make you feel satisfied with your life choices and efforts. These usually include starting your own business, becoming a team manager etc.

What is important to remember is that these targets are not independent from your short-term targets. Rather, they depend heavily on them.

Short-term goals

Short-term objectives refer to smaller targets that you need to set which will help you reach your long-term ones. Of course, that’s not the only purpose behind creating short-term targets. You might also consider developing targets because you want to achieve smaller things as well. For example, you might be interested in taking up an online course or freelancing to help your finances or even build your own clientele.

But, it’s important that your short-term objectives don’t distract you from your long-term goals. Plan them so that your short-term targets fit into your long-term ones and so that they create a path towards success.

4. Ask for feedback

Goal setting is a very private matter in the sense that you should only take into account your wants and needs. You can also factor in other people if you wish to, but your professional goals are only pertinent to your dreams.

But, that does not mean that you shouldn’t ask for feedback. Feedback helps us improve and what you should be aiming for with the goal-setting process is to ensure that your objectives are as specific and as realistic as possible, so discuss your objectives with people whose opinion matters to you.

Apart from talking about them with your family, friends, partner or whoever is important to you, you might also want to consider getting an opinion from a professional. Someone in the industry, who’s already achieved a lot, can probably provide valuable insight so think if there are any colleagues you trust. Another option is to talk about them with your boss or manager, if the two of you have a relationship based on trust you might want to consult them, but be weary of bosses who might be displeased to hear you have big plans.

5. Build a career plan

Goal setting is the first step towards fulfilling your dreams. To ensure success, you’ll need to build your own career plan. This process includes identifying methods to track progress as well as strategies to help ensure success.

Note that to make the most of your career plan, you’ll need to keep it somewhere where you can see it, and this is especially true if you are a visual type of person. Consider vision boards, printing it and sticking it to your fridge or simply syncing it to your calendar. Whatever you choose to do, remember that your career plan should not be kept at the back of your mind, it should be kept somewhere where you’ll be reminded of your goals regularly.

Successful goal setting can be instrumental to professional growth. Prioritising your wants and needs and ensuring that your targets are realistic are the first two steps towards effectively planning your career.

Have you had any trouble with setting your goals? Let me know in the comment section below!


This article was originally posted in February 2015!