How to set goals that actually deliver the results you want

Most of us are quite familiar with the idea of setting goals. When you are younger, your teacher may have asked bout your ambition. What do you want to be when you grow up? When you attend your first job interview, the interviewer may ask: Where do you see yourself in next five years? And when you are in the workforce, your bosses and managers will ask for your annual goals.

Setting goals let us focus on what we want to achieve. It gives us motivation and a sense of purpose. It is also a way for us to measure our progress. Having a goal is like having a sense of where you want to go and a way to track your progress towards that direction.

If you have not been setting goals for a while, it is probably a good idea to start again. Your goals can be about your personal life, work, relationships, financial, hobbies or anything that’s important to you. Take some time to assess where you are now and where you want to be in the future. If you are ready to do some goal-setting, here are some tips to make sure your goal will lead you towards the results you want.

Goals must have a deadline

A goal is a dream with a deadline — Napoleon Hill

The most common mistake is to set a goal without a deadline. A goal that says I want to write a book is not as helpful as one that says I want to write a book by end of this year. A deadline stops us from procrastinating. A deadline gives us a sense of urgency.

And when you do set a deadline for your goals, make sure it is something that is achievable and practical. Don’t set a goal like writing a book in a month. Instead, break them into smaller achievable goals with their own deadlines like write a chapter every week.

Goals must be measurable

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. — Peter Drucker

Once you have a deadline for your goal, next thing is to make sure it is measurable. The reason we set goals is to get from one place to the other. So in order to gauge our progress, we need to measure how far along are we towards the goal.

A goal that says increase blog reach by year end is hard to measure. How do you know if your blog reach have improved and by how much? Is an increase of 1 reader considered a success?

A better goal would be to get 1000 blog subscribers by year end. This prevents us from cheating and also provide a constant feedback on how far away we are from our goal. Remember, the reason we are setting a goal is because we want to improve ourselves in some areas and the only way to improve is to start measuring.

Goals must measure the right thing

Avoid false proxies & false metrics — Articles by Seth Godin

Now that you have a goal that have a deadline and is measurable, the next step is to make sure you are actually measuring the right thing. Since we will improve what we measure, measuring the wrong thing will lead us to the wrong results.

There are situations where we can’t directly measure certain things so we use a proxy in its place. A classic example would be, we want to improve happiness and choose to measure our bank balance as a proxy to how happy we are.

In the tech startup world, it is quite common for founders to use number of registered users as a measure of success for their product. However, a product can have a million registered users but if they all left after they tried it, then it’s probably not going to work out. Instead, you can measure the number of active users per month to get a better pulse on the product engagement.


Some examples of bad goals

  • I want to lose weight. (no deadline)
  • Improve my company’s web presence by year end. (hard to measure)
  • Sell my product to 5 customers this month. (is number of customers the right metric?)

Some example of good goals

  • I want to lose 1kg in 3 months.
  • Increase company’s website monthly visits to 1000 by year end.
  • Sell my product and generate $1000 in revenue this month.


Now that you have a measurable goal with a deadline, the next order of business is to start working towards it. Setting a goal doesn’t make it real. Get out there and make it happen.