How to Set Goals & Achieve Them

How to Set Goals & Achieve Them


This post was originally published April 1, 2015. I have updated it extensively and republished it on January 18, 2016.


There are very few people I know who are successful at much of anything without considering how to set goals and achieve them.

Goals challenge us to achieve more than we normally would, to expand our capacity, and to discover our true potential. A calculated, carefully planned goal with meaningful action steps and a well-defined payoff is a powerful tool to achieve new levels of success.

For instance, my wife and I set a goal for our freelancing business in December 2014. The goal was to achieve a specific revenue target for Q1 2015 — January through March. And we decided that once that goal was achieved, we would take an all-inclusive vacation in April.

To give you a sense, the month before, our combined freelancing revenues were less than $3,000. And the goal we set for ourselves was to achieve more than $9,500 a month in revenue for the first three months of 2015…

…for a total of $28,680.

And how did it go?

(I published the results later in this post…)

Long story short, we enjoyed a week-long stay at an all-inclusive resort in Dominican Republic. You can find pictures on my about page. In fact, at the time I’m republishing this, we’ll be heading back to that same resort in just five more sleeps.

I share this not to impress you, but to impress upon you the value of aggressive goal setting.

Because really, the goal we set for ourselves was insane. It meant exponentially increasing our revenue in a very short period of time.

But let’s face it… why bother setting a goal at all unless it’s going to be challenging?

Although there are many strategies out there on how to set goals and achieve them, I would like to share with you my process. This is how I go about setting goals, planning the action steps, keeping focused, and achieving the intended outcome.

And as you focus on growing your own freelancing business, I encourage you to set lofty goals, too.

Figure out Your “Why”

A goal might be related to any number of things, including diet, education, fitness, business, sales, blogging, or another category altogether…

But for all intents and purposes, we’re going to talk specifically in this post about growing your online, service-based business.

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Whatever your reason may be to consider how to set goals and achieve them, ask yourself one simple question…

Why?

  • What is the true benefit of achieving your goal?
  • What are the consequences of failing to achieve your goal?

If you are unable to clearly determine your reason for pursuing a goal, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Goals are intended to push, challenge and change us — to allow us to achieve things we would not normally by concentrating a significant portion of our resources on a single objective.

It is going to be difficult. And if you really want to pursue a big, scary, challenging goal… you’re going to need to kiss some of that freedom and flexibility goodbye for a little while.

And when things get hard, goals set without a clear why attached to them are easy to abandon.

Know What You’re Willing to Sacrifice

To successfully set goals and achieve them, you need to shed some blood, sweat and tears.

Know What You’re Willing to Sacrifice

To put it more plainly, goals that really push our limits come at a cost, and that usually involves giving up things we enjoy doing. For instance,

  • Are you willing to see less of your friends and family?
  • Are you willing to risk investing financial resources to achieve your goal?
  • Are you willing to forgo sleep, proper meals, exercise, and leisure time?
  • Are you willing to miss attending your daughter’s soccer games?

Consider in advance what you will truly need to give up. That way, these sacrifices will not come as a shock when you get started.

If you fail to consider the true cost of pursuing your goal before starting, you are going to be tempted to give up when things get hard.

Use SMART Criteria to Set Your Goal

You have most likely heard of setting SMART goals before. In order to set goals and achieve them, the following criteria should be true:

(S) Specific // Can the intended outcome be clearly defined?

(M) Measurable // Can the intended outcome be clearly measured?

(A) Attainable // Can the steps to achieve the intended outcome be clearly defined?

(R) Relevant // Can the reason to pursue this goal be clearly defined? Is it worthwhile?

(T) Time-bound // When will the intended outcome be achieved?

As you will see, to track and measure your results effectively, each of these aspects must be true of your goal; otherwise, it is more like a dream or a wish.

Start with a SMART goal, and achieving it will be a much simpler process.

Choose Your Payoff

To keep focused, it is a good idea to plan how you will celebrate when you hit your goal. That way, the sacrifices you have to make along the way will seem like short-term pain for long-term gain.

I personally like to choose travel-related payoffs. It’s one of the major perks to being a freelancer — for the most part, I can go where I want when I want. But if travel isn’t your thing, consider:

  • a spa day
  • a shopping spree
  • tickets to a concert

You get the idea.

Factor the cost of your payoff into the goal you are working to achieve. And the big key here is to mentally commit not to take the payoff until you hit your goal.

When you run into setbacks, struggles, or otherwise experience difficulties while pursuing your goal, your payoff is one more reason you have to keep moving forward.

Plan the Specific Action Steps

You have probably heard,

Goals that are not written down are just wishes.
– Anonymous

You may have also heard,

Goals in writing are dreams with deadlines.
– Brian Tracy

If you are serious about wanting to set goals and achieve them, writing them down is just the first step. Now you need to plan exactly what steps will be taken to achieve that goal.

Plan the Specific Action Steps

Be as detailed as possible.

More often than not, goals will require some math. For this reason, I like to use spreadsheets to plan everything out.

For instance, let’s say your goal is to generate $10,000 in revenue in the next 60 days.

You earn an average of $500 for each new client you win.
You need to win at least 20 new clients.

You win 4 out of every 10 prospective clients you speak with.
You need to schedule 50 meetings with prospective clients.

It takes you 5 proposals to schedule 1 prospective client meeting.
You need to send out 250 proposals.

Assuming you intend to send out proposals just 5 days each week, you have 44 days to send proposals in that 60-day period.
You need to send out 5-6 proposals per day.

Each proposal takes you about 20 minutes to prepare and send out.
You need to allot 100-120 minutes per day for sending proposals, the equivalent of nearly two hours.

^ I totally made up these numbers for illustrative purposes.

You now need to plan how you are going to schedule your time each day to include those two hours of sending proposals.

In the heat of the moment — when things get difficult — you always want to be able to default back to what you planned. Once you have set your goal, the objective is to have your planning already done so that you only need to execute on it.

Share Your Goal with Others

I can’t remember where I first heard it, but if people don’t laugh at your goals, you haven’t set them high enough.

Aside from reality-checking your goals, there are two main reasons you should share them with others:

(1) Accountability – From the cashier at your local gas station, to your in-laws, to your next door neighbor, it can be very helpful to have others holding you accountable to set goals and achieve them. When these people ask how your goals are coming along, it will serve as a friendly reminder that people want to see you succeed.

(2) Understanding – When your friends, family, and others of significance see that you are around less, they will understand. After all, you shared upfront that you have a goal to achieve, and they will be more likely to forgive you for other areas of life that get less attention for the time being.

If you are not willing to tell other people about your goal, what is that really saying?

Is it that you simply do not believe you can achieve your goal, or are you afraid someone will talk you out of it?

Eat, Sleep & Breathe Your Goal

Staying focused on achieving your goals can be one of the toughest parts. This is especially true of goals that will take two months, three months, six months, or even longer to achieve. After all, momentum and enthusiasm will only carry you so far. Eventually you will get tired, demotivated, hungry, discouraged, frustrated, or worse.

Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
– Vince Lombardi

For that reason, try to post reminders about your goal everywhere.

  • set it as your cell phone lock screen
  • set it as your desktop wallpaper
  • write it on your hand
  • wear a special bracelet to remind you
  • put in a picture frame on your desk
  • set a voice memo as your ringtone and alarm clock
  • post it on your dashboard in your car
  • attach it to your dog’s collar
  • write it on your bathroom mirror in lipstick
  • tape it to your ceiling above your bed

Are you getting the idea?

Everywhere you look, everything you see, make sure it is reminding you that you have a goal to achieve. And that every action you take — between now and the deadline you set — is either moving you closer to or further from your goal.

Track & Visualize Your Progress

Most of us enjoy having visual reminders of our successes. That’s why we keep plaques, trophies, ribbons, medals, and other souvenirs of our achievements.

In the same way, you should post a visual reminder of the progress you are making. A thermometer or arrow can be very effective, such as this one:

Track & Visualize Your Progress

Click on the thermometer to enlarge and open it in a new tab, and then print as many copies as you need.

Yes, this is the exact thermometer I use to track my own goals. Here is the completed, colored-in thermometer from the goal I set and achieved in Q1 2015:

Completed Thermometer

^ That colored-in thermometer meant a trip to Dominican Republic!

I still have it in my office a year later to remind me of the importance of goal setting.

Quantify the ticks to the right of the thermometer when you are first planning your goal, and then color in your thermometer each time progress is made. Line by line, inch by inch, your thermometer starts to fill up… a red Sharpie is my best friend when I set goals and achieve them.

No matter what writing implement you use, each little bit of progress reminds you that you can succeed!

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
– Lao Tzu

This type of visualization can be very empowering. It serves as a reminder that actions produce results.

What Are Your Goals?

In this post, I reviewed the importance of sharing your goals with others.

  • What is your goal?
  • Is it a SMART goal?
  • Are you willing to share it with me?
  • Is it related to building your own online, service-based business…? Or something else altogether?

START FREELANCING

I’d like to help you start your own freelancing career.

I recently published a checklist entitled, Everything You Need to Start Freelancing. Would you like me to send you a free copy?

Leave a comment below with your goal(s), and I’ll be sure to reply with a word of encouragement.

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