How To Set Career Goals

Posted January 20, 2014

Setting goals can be a great way to keep your career on track—and even give it a boost! How can you set realistic goals that you can actually achieve in the year ahead? Here are five tips for choosing the right goals—and accomplishing them:


1.  Start by thinking about the big picture


Read up on your company’s corporate strategy and figure out where you fit in. What is most important for you to accomplish this year? Where do you want to put your energy and attention? Don’t forget to ask yourself, “What do I need to not be doing?” This will help you find areas of focus that will lead to specific goals. These might be as minor as “I need to spend less time on email” and as major as “I need to get rid of the unproductive people I manage.”


2.  Make your goals SMART or HARD 


Both acronyms promote the idea that your goals should be clearly defined and connected to you. According to management consultant Peter Drucker, SMART stands for “specific,” “measurable,” “achievable,” “relevant,” and “time-bound.” Researchers have found that setting a specific, difficult goal consistently leads to higher performance.


HARD is an acronym for “heartfelt,” “animated,” “required,” and “difficult.” Devised by Mark Murphy for his 2010 book HARD Goals, this acronym refers to being “motivated by a vision, picture or movie that plays over and over in your mind.”


3.  Don’t sell yourself short


Most business goals have numbers attached: a 25% increase in clients, reducing shipping time by 12 hours or increasing individual productivity by 50%. Carefully consider these numbers—aiming too high can seem intimidating or even impossible, but don’t underestimate yourself. Set the goal for a long period of time, such as a year, then break it down into sub-goals that you can achieve in shorter periods of time.


4.  Identify barriers


What’s holding you back from achieving your goals? Is it your own assumptions or behavior? Research has proven that when we fail to achieve a goal, it’s often a self-defense mechanism. Is it fear, disappointment or distrust preventing you from taking risks or making change? What about procrastination or stress? All of these can cause you to abandon a goal before you’ve even started to pursue it. Try to identify these obstacles and get rid of them.


5.  Make yourself accountable and celebrate your successes


To increase your commitment to achieving your goals, share them publicly. Write it down, on a website, an app or a piece of paper. And make them visible, or share them with a friend, family member or coworker, to help make yourself more accountable. Then test your progress every couple of weeks. Do you need to refocus? Rewrite or replace your goals, possibly due to external factors?  Just remember to reward yourself somehow when you’ve reached a sub-goal or achieved an important milestone toward your ultimate goal.


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