October 16, 2020
You did it! You set a goal that you’re super excited to achieve. Maybe you’ve decided to run that marathon you’ve been talking about for 3 years, you’re ready to ask for that raise or promotion you’ve been working towards, or you’re finally going to start the business you’ve been dreaming of. Let us be the first to say congratulations!
But wait–you haven’t actually done anything yet. Setting a goal is just the first step on a long road ahead of you to accomplish it. And while you’re still pumped up about your goal, there’s extensive research showing that instead of jumping right in, you’re better off channeling that energy into creating an action plan that makes it easier to follow through on the days when you have less energy.
We all love to dream big and stretch ourselves, as we set goals that feel challenging to achieve. And that’s exactly why we’re here to help you create effective goals and break them down into actionable plans that make the impossible, well, possible. This is a step-by-step, no nonsense guide to achieving and exceeding your goals, backed by behavioral science and research.
Research suggests that by simply writing down your goal, you can increase your likelihood of achieving it by 33%. Whereas if you share your goals with another person, you can increase your likelihood of success by up to 95%.
So that’s where we’ll start. Take a moment to think about what you want to achieve and write it down, right now. Maybe you need to set your goals for the rest of the year, this month, or even just today. Let these goals take whatever form they come to you in, allowing these ideas to organically flow onto the page as you dream your biggest dreams.
Now take a step back and think through what you’ve just written. Maybe you’ve decided to “make more money” or “travel more.” Great! Those are admirable goals that anyone would be happy to achieve. But truly effective goals are ones that are specific and measurable. So rather than wishing you could secure the bag, set a goal for yourself to “generate $5K/month recurring revenue by December”.
Typically, there are three types of effective goals that help with this process:
Goals can and should fall into more than one category! So your “generate $5K/month recurring revenue by December” goal is both a time goal and a topic goal, as it is restricted to a certain time frame and aspect of your life.
Now that you have a clear goal in mind, it’s time to take your goals to the next level.
Organizational psychologists Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham built the gold-standard framework for Goal Setting Theory, based on robust research centered on improving performance across task-types. To this end, “goal setting experiments have been conducted with 88 different tasks,” across 40,000 subjects, “including bargaining, driving, faculty research, health promoting behaviors, logging, maintenance and technical work, managerial work, management training, and safety.”
Via this research, Locke and Latham determined that the factors that lead to higher performance through goal-setting include:
To start, in order to achieve your goals, you need to be determined to reach them. Locke and Latham found that the stronger the commitment, the higher performing the subjects were in accomplishing the goal. So if you’re passionate about your goal, you’re more likely to do what you say you will do.
(from Locke and Lantham: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232501090_A_Theory_of_Goal_Setting_Task_Performance)
With lower commitment, performance is capped. Thus, higher goal levels become impossible to pull off. Whereas the higher your commitment level, the harder the goals you can attain.
Typically, commitment levels are influenced by the perceived desirability of the goal and the perceived ability of achieving it. As you seek to establish these elements in your goals, it’s important to find a goal that is convincingly “important or appropriate.” Alternatively, goals require a certain level of self-efficacy, referring to “task-specific confidence,” in which someone feels strongly that they can do any given task. The following factors of Goal Setting Theory will help you create goals that are both desirable and doable.
The second factor of high-performing goal setting is clarity. We’ve already discussed how it’s important to create goals that are specific and measurable, rather than reaching for generalized statements. The specificity of your goals is tied directly to the motivation you have to achieve them.
Locke and Latham found that vague goals led to lower outcomes. If you say that you want to make more money, you might do so, but you most likely won’t be rich. Whereas if you say you want to create $5K/month in recurring revenue by December, chances are that you could exceed your goal, reaching your very best potential. This sort of clarity makes it easy to understand exactly what it takes and set a course to reach your goal.
In tandem with clarity, your goals should be challenging, yet attainable. Let’s say you’ve decided to up the stakes and reach for $10K/month in recurring revenue. This comes with a whole slew of tasks that lead up to reaching your goal. You have to assess the value you’re offering, decide whether to expand or focus, create the sales pipeline, manage the product or offering, manage business development and customer relations, etc. The list may seem daunting, but we’ll get into how to make a vivid action plan that will keep you on track shortly. The trick here is to make sure your goal is challenging enough that you’ll be excited and proud to achieve it, but not so crazy that it feels out of reach. With the extra $5K in play, you’re challenging yourself even more, which has a direct impact on your performance levels.
(from Locke and Lantham: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232501090_A_Theory_of_Goal_Setting_Task_Performance)
In fact, “performance is a linear function of goal difficulty.” With all that it takes to make $10K/month, you’re more likely to work harder to get the coin. And when you do, you’ll have an increased sense of self-satisfaction as you relish in all that you’ve achieved.
Let’s be real, though: adding $5K to your recurring revenue goal might increase your plan’s complexity enough to be the “make or break” factor of completion. Maybe it adds a dozen new types of activity to manage, or has you constantly balancing and compromising between priorities. Be careful that you don’t make your goals too overwhelming, as this decreases productivity and motivation.
The timescale and tasks for a goal must be realistic. Even just increasing the amount of time you give yourself can decrease the perceived complexity. So rather than reaching for $10K/month recurring revenue by December, try giving yourself more time if you’re constantly overwhelmed. Ultimately, you need to strike a balance between your goals’ difficulty and complexity.
Finally, we’ve got tons of data on how important accountability is, and Locke and Latham emphasize that immediate feedback is key to effective goals. By implementing accountability and feedback, it allows us to reassess our strategies and improve progress.
On the one hand, goals that are given to you by authority influence your personal goals, often carrying over to when you set your own goals. On the other, simply “agreeing publicly to strive for a goal can enhance commitment as compared with agreeing to it only in private.”
As you’re working towards your $10K MRR, you can announce it to your entire team (or any industry peers you might have) so that everyone is on the same page, holding each other accountable. You should also set up feedback processes along the way–such as measuring increases, profit margins, and team efficiency–to see if you’re making the progress needed to hit the July deadline.
So take some time and evaluate your goals on each of these principals. Ask yourself:
If the answer is no to any of these questions, take some time to reevaluate. At Order In, we often rewrite our goals 5 or more times. Once you’re ready, it’s time to pour your current energy and excitement for your goal into creating a rock solid action plan.
So you’ve decided to run a marathon by the end of the year. You’re feeling fired up and ready to go running right now! But unless you’re already in excellent shape and you’ve been training for months, you likely aren’t going to run a marathon tomorrow. Which means now is the perfect time to act—by creating a plan for how you’re going to get your medal by January 1st.
Rather than rushing out the door to get a few miles in, use the energy you currently have to make a realistic and specific plan for the coming months of training and preparation. And here’s the kicker: you’re going to want to pay extra attention to your less motivated days (because who wants to run in the snow? Brrrr) and figure out what you’re going to do about it.
The first step in creating this action plan is to break your goal down into more intermediate goals. This step is crucial for several reasons. First, intermediate goals significantly improve task performance. By breaking down your big goal into smaller, more achievable goals, the tasks along the way don’t feel so daunting. The second is that these smaller goals help you feel motivated and successful throughout the process. Rather than waiting for months for some payoff at the end of the road, you have milestones along the way that encourage you and remind you why you got started in the first place. And finally, intermediate goals help motivate you to persist in activities over time. If your main goal requires a year’s worth of work and effort, you have a greater chance of dropping off without incentives to continue to persist the whole year.
So, if you know you have 6 months to prepare for the marathon, begin to make a plan month by month, week by week, and day by day, if necessary. We recommend doing this backwards! Start with crossing the finish line, and work your way to the beginning. What do you need to do the day before the marathon? How about the week before? And the month before? As you do this, make sure to set your intermediate goals and find the milestones that will keep you going to the end. And don’t forget to think through your potential blockers and tough days.
Make your way backwards, all the way up until your very first task. For this, make sure you make a very specific plan. Maybe you’re going to do some research on what marathon you’re going to run and actually sign yourself up, or else figure out when you’re going to get started in your training. Writing out several key tasks to get started could also help, as you’ll start feeling the momentum right from the get-go.
After you’ve done all of this, take some time to go back through your plan. We like to implement a practice called “Vivid Planning,” which is our way of imagining what it will actually be like to achieve these tasks. Exactly when and where will you do these things? What does that look like to you? What do you need? What is it going to feel like? Allow yourself to close your eyes and visualize these processes so you know exactly what you’re in for.
And finally, you have to give yourself an ice-water reality check. We’re all susceptible to planning fallacy,” a concept from behavioral economics which lays out how we all overestimate what we can accomplish in any given amount of time. It might take you a couple of weeks to find a marathon that works for you, or it might take you longer than expected to increase your mileage. Revise your plan to account for these things by giving yourself MORE time and resources than you think you need. Taking the time to be realistic upfront reduces the likelihood that you’ll get frustrated and give up—and if you need to revise your plan to be more realistic as you go along, that’s totally normal.
As you think through your plan, ask yourself for the next few steps: is there anything that could get in your way? What is it? What can you do about it?
After you’ve gone through these steps and feel like you have a solid plan of action in place, you’re just about ready to get started!
However, there’s one last thing that will be essential to achieving your biggest goals. Accountability and feedback work wonders in pushing us towards success. Luckily, if you’re running a marathon, there’s already some clear methods to try. But these examples can apply to many different goals and tasks. Don’t feel shy about reaching out to friends to get some help, and asking people to hold you accountable.
And these are just a few easy ideas to help implement accountability into your goal setting. With accountability and feedback in place, you’re ready to start powering through your goals.
We’ll be honest with you: achieving your biggest goals is hard. If you’ve set a truly ambitious goal, you’ll have to leave it all on the floor to get it done. But from your smallest goal to your biggest goal, we know for a fact that being clear and deliberate will help you every time.
To recap, here’s the 4 steps to higher goal achievement:
Now that you've got the tools, it’s time to go out and get it done.
Here at Order In, we integrate goal setting into the fabric of what we do. Via our Slack channel and in our Morning Motivation Sessions and Deep Work Sprints, we encourage our members to both write their goals down and share them out loud with others. If you need an extra push to achieve your goals, we’re here for you. You can read our story here, or you can learn more about us here.