Setting Effective and Respected Goals

Goals are not given enough respect. We treat them as an afterthought, or as a basic overview of what needs to be done.

But what if true commitment to success came from those goals? Under that viewpoint, would you give a bit more time to setting goals?

Like a throwaway comment, goals are generally boring lists (e.g. read Chapter 12, draft introduction, check Internet, compare lecture notes, etc.). These lists are usually vague in scope, regardless of whether or not the goals have an achievable target.

But a marker of true success may be as simple as having a well-structured goal. With this in place, reaching the goal may be the easy part!

I have made 3 observations of those who consistently set effective goals and go on to respect those goals:

1. Be exact

Photo by notsogoodphotography

The trick here is to understand what you need before you begin working toward the goal. Firstly, you cannot set a vague goal like “Research Essay Topic” even if you think you know what that means. Without an explicit goal, you have the space to change goalposts when you can’t be bothered to step up a gear. Secondly, an exact number or reason gives your goal a proper shape. When you don’t set out the specific nature of what you intend to undertake, your goal is just a fidgeting blob of pointlessness.

2. Make the goal a proper challenge

Photo by vrogy

A teacher mentioned a very good point to me recently. Imagine giving a young child a box of balls and a hoop…

Now, if you put the hoop a few feet away, tell them to start throwing the balls into the hoop, and then walk away from the situation, it’s not long before the child gets bored after a few tries and makes up a completely different game (like “let’s chuck the balls at passers-by” for instance). Sure, lacking a solid goal here may help the imagination, but it’s a poor strategy for achieving anything specific.

However, if you issue a challenge to the child to try and get 5 balls in the hoop in a row, there will be a lot more mileage in the game. By setting an effective goal, it holds the interest and gives motivation to succeed.

3. Don’t overcrowd with simple tasks and regular work

Photo by Denislav Stoychev

Goals should not be lists or an issue of tasks. If you like to write to-do lists, it’s wise to keep them separate, even if there is an apparent overlap or if some issues are direct repeats of the other list (hey, you get to cross out more than one thing when you’re done…now that’s productivity!).

The reason for this is to highlight the difference between what is truly a goal and what you would be getting on with anyway.

List too many goals and it becomes a list of tasks. Therefore, a clear set of goals should never stretch to more than a few points.

What methods do you use to make sure you achieve your goals?


  1. I find great value in telling everyone that will listen about my aspirations. Their expectations encourage me to follow through on my words.

  2. Fantastic advice, John. Thanks for sharing this. Sometimes we need more than our own desire to succeed. In announcing goals to as many people as possible, you’re far less likely to back down. And the friendly support comes in handy too.

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