The Ultimate Goal-Setting Guide
Setting goals is super important. It gives you a sense of direction, can improve your focus, and can ultimately help you accomplish some pretty awesome things. Class Tracker’s Ultimate Goal Setting Guide will walk you through all the stages of goal-setting, from outlining the importance of goals to staying motivated while achieving your goals. In Part 1, we’ll discuss why you should set goals. Part 2 will explain how to set goals and Part 3 will teach you about setting SMART goals. Once you’ve set your goals, Part 4 will help you actually get started on them, and Part 5 will keep you on track towards accomplishing them!
Part 1 – Why You Should Set Goals
It’s 3am on a Thursday night and you’re furiously typing up the last page of your massive sociology paper. The paper is due tomorrow (… or is it today?… when it’s this late/early, it’s hard to tell) and you’ve been frantically typing for hours now. As usual, you silently curse to yourself: this time was supposed to be different… I was supposed to follow the outline, stick to the class timeline, and get this done early… I hate that I’m a procrastinator.
We’ve all been there.
But it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, have to be this way. It’s time to set some goals. But why is this so important? How can goal setting help you overcome procrastination?
Setting goals increases motivation
Goal setting is a way to establish what you want the outcome of your actions to be. This alone can help increase your motivation to get things done. By setting a goal, you will automatically feel a sense of direction and will be motivated to reach that goal. If you’re writing a paper, set goals in increments. For example, let’s say your paper is due on a Friday, two weeks from now. Set a goal to finish the research and bibliography by Wednesday of the first week. Then, set goals based on word count or amount of pages. Every time you reach one of your goals, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and will feel more motivated to reach the final goal: turning in a polished paper.
Setting goals increases achievement
There’s plenty of evidence to show that setting goals increases the likelihood of your success. This ties back into motivation. You’re more likely to achieve and succeed if you set a goal for yourself to be successful. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the best kind. As you continue to reach your goals, you’ll be laying a strong foundation for achievements to come.
Setting goals leads to lifelong success
They say practice makes perfect. Learning to set goals now while you’re a student will translate into success when you’ve graduated and started your career. The more often you set goals, self-motivate, and achieve, the better at goal-setting you’ll become. This kind of skill will make you a successful student and eventually, the kind of worker that gets noticed and promoted for finishing high-quality projects on time.
I think we can agree that the last-minute panic that comes with procrastinating is unenjoyable. What’s worse, though, is the uncertainty that comes with it: Did I pull it off? I didn’t get to edit this draft… what if it isn’t actually finished? Could I have done better with more time? Setting goals can help you avoid unnecessary stress. Now we know exactly why you need to get your act together and set some goals!
Part 2 – How to Set Goals: A Beginner’s Guide
By now you’ve decided to avoid the mad dash that comes with procrastinating. You’re going to set some goals and get things done! But how? How do you learn to set goals? If you’re a procrastinator, this whole goal setting thing may not come naturally. That’s totally fine! Teach yourself how to set goals, by following the tips below:
Take the time to self-evaluate
This might be the hardest step towards learning to be a good goal setter. Being honest with yourself is tough, but necessary. Jot down some notes about how you feel when you procrastinate. Does it stress you out? Does it give you an adrenaline rush that makes you feel more effective? Why do you think you procrastinate? How and why do you hope to change?
Envision your success
Take the time to envision yourself three to four months from now, or at the end of your school year. Imagine that you’ve just had the most successful school year of your life. Now, figure out what would make your school year feel successful. Would it be earning straight As? Making the honor roll? Improving your GPA? Whatever success means to you, envisioning it can make the process of getting there far less daunting.
Ask yourself “why” and “how”
Now that you’ve envisioned your best possible school year, jot down some notes about why you’re setting goals and how you hope to achieve them. Once you’ve decided how you want to achieve your goals, commit to them. Make a promise to yourself to follow through. You deserve it and you owe it to yourself!
Write down your goals clearly
Setting clear, specific goals for yourself will make you more effective in your work and will prevent you from feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or disappointed if the first few tries don’t go as planned. Well-defined goals will help you figure out what strategies work for you, and which don’t. So, for example, if we’re talking about your sociology paper, set a goal to finish the concluding paragraph by 5pm on Thursday. This is clear, well-defined, and achievable. Don’t set a broad goal for yourself like, “be more productive”. This goal isn’t clear enough and won’t motivate you to finish the paper early.
Research shows that people who write down their goals are 40% more likely to achieve them. So make sure you track your goals in a notebook so you can set yourself up for success.
Don’t go too easy on yourself
Challenge yourself with your goals! If you set goals that are too easily achieved, you won’t feel motivated to finish them. Instead, you’ll let them pile up because you’ll fool yourself into thinking you have “plenty of time”. This is a trap so many of us fall into… it’s how you ended up procrastinating on this paper. Instead, really challenge yourself. You’ll be motivated to work hard and reach your goals and feel accomplished when you do. Setting a goal that feels challenging will keep your mind on the task of hand, instead of getting easily distracted by Snapchat or Netflix.
Part 3 – What Kind of Goals to Set: SMART Goals!
Well, now you know why you should set goals and how to actually do it. Congratulations! You’re on your way. But knowing what kind of goals you should set is also important. After all, anyone can say, “I’d like to do better this semester!” That kind of goal is too broad; how will you know exactly when you’ve achieved it?
This section will teach you how to set smart goals!
S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based.
Let’s break that down a little:
If you want to be successful, you need to make your goals specific. Goals are often too vague or loose, making it hard to know if you have actually achieved anything.
Bad example: Get better grades
Better example: Improve my GPA to 3.7 by the end of this semester
In addition, your goals need to be quantifiable so that you will be able to calculate whether or not you have achieved it. To make it measurable, be sure to include a quantity or percentage in your goal.
Bad example: Make an effort to meet new people
Better example: Eat one meal per week with someone new
Your goals need to be something that you can realistically achieve. If you need to get a 145% on your final exam to get an A in a class, then getting an A isn’t a realistic goal. What is achievable to one person may not be achievable for another, so make sure that you pick a goal that is possible but also pushes you beyond your comfort zone just a little bit!
Set goals that are important to you AND make sense with everything you have going on at the time. Let’s say you are taking four classes that require a ton of reading.
Bad example: Read 2 books for pleasure every month
Better example: Complete all assigned class readings before discussions in class
This goal still focuses on reading, but instead shifts it to something that supports your class load rather than distracts from your academic priorities.
Finally, your goal needs to have a deadline. Give yourself a deadline for completion so that you can create a sense of urgency for yourself.
Bad example: Do not procrastinate on senior paper
Better example: Write at least fifteen pages of senior paper before October 15
Finally, notice that the better examples all start with an action verb. When writing your goals make sure to include the specific action needed for success.
Part 4 – Getting Started on Your Goals
Setting goals is great, but at some point you’ll need to actually get started (which is often the hardest part). It’s easier to build momentum when you plan the first steps of your journey. Don’t forget the details! Make sure your plan provides a clear sense of who, what, when, where, and how. Let’s say that your goal is to read and take notes on 10 articles for your research paper in the next five days. If we break it down, here’s what it looks like:
You’re going to be the one who does the research, but you might need to reach out to someone else for help. This could be a reference librarian, your professor, maybe even a classmate. Anyone who can offer guidance on finding high quality articles might also be involved in this goal.
You’ve got that figured out - reading and note taking. Part one: find 10 articles. Part two: read and take notes.
When and how
Reading and taking notes on 10 articles seems like a lot of work all at once, so break up the work into a few different days.
- Sunday: Library from 1:00-3:00 researching and collecting ten articles
- Monday: Library from 5:00-6:30 read 3 articles + take notes
- Tuesday: Library from 4:00-5:30 read 4 articles + take notes
- Thursday: Library from 5:00-6:30 read 3 articles + take notes - DONE!
Pick a spot free from distractions where you can get your work done without interruption. Stay away from common areas such as the living room or kitchen. If you think you might get distracted in your room, work in the library. You should work wherever you’ll focus best.
Check out how this plan looks when you put it into a weekly calendar:
Part 5 – Getting on Track and Staying Motivated
We all know how hard it can be to actually follow through on our goals. Self-motivating is hard! Luckily, there are lots of tricks that help us remember and stay on top of our goals. Here are a few to stay on track!
Write it down (and put it somewhere you can see it!)
Researchers say that when we write things down, we become more committed to them. You’re also more likely to remember things better when you write them down. So, as you come up with goals for yourself, pull out a notebook, open up a Word doc, or make a recording on your smartphone. You can always go back and change your list, but take the time to record your thoughts - and then after you’ve made your list, be sure to put it somewhere where you can see it! The more frequently you review your goals, and the more often you think about them, and the more legitimate they’ll become. Before you know it, that list will become a reality.
Change your habits
To actually stick to your goals you might have to change your habits. New practices will eventually become second-nature, but it’s difficult to adopt them at first. But stick with it! For example, if you are trying to avoid writing down your assignments all at once after school, it might take awhile before you establish the habit of writing down your assignments everyday during class. Just like other muscles in your body, the brain needs some time to get in shape and develop “muscle memory.” Give yourself a month of practicing something new every day to make it a habit.
Tell a friend
Some people find it motivating to tell other people about their goals. This might be because sharing goals out loud makes them seem real, or because your friends will hold you accountable. Regardless, sharing your goal with someone else can make you more committed to it. If you tell your best friend that you’re applying for a scholarship, she’ll probably bring it up and ask how it’s going. You aren’t going to want to disappoint either yourself or her.
Have a back-up plan
While coming up with a plan is crucial to success, sometimes even the best plans need a Plan B. As you think about the steps along the way to achieving your goals, ask yourself, “Is there anything that could get in the way of me accomplishing this?” If there are some hurdles, take some time to come up with an alternative plan, just in case.
Visual reminders are great ways to encourage success. Pick a photo, create a collage, or draw an image that represents the long term goal of yours. It could be a brochure for the grad school you want to attend, an ad for the car you are saving up for, or maybe a flyer for a play you want to direct. If you’re not feeling creative, you could even start a Pinterest board to help you stay motivated.
Break it down
When a goal seems too big, break it down into smaller pieces so that you can track your progress. For example, you are writing a research paper and will ultimately need to turn in five to seven double-spaced pages to your professor. Of course, many tasks need to happen before you hand in your paper. Brainstorm a list of steps you need to take and put them in order. Write them down to help you remember the different parts and keep track of what you need to do next. Cross off accomplishments as you achieve them, and watch your list get smaller.
Chart your progress
It can be difficult to see how far you’ve come until you put it down on paper. Consider having a Be Your Best Self Notebook, an electronic document, or an app where you can record your progress. If you’re working on improving your test grades, record each test score of the semester so that you can see how you’re doing over time. This will also help you focus on your own progress instead of comparing yourself to others.
Pearson's Law: "That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially." - Karl Pearson
Sometimes the satisfaction of accomplishment is all the reward we need. But let’s be honest: a treat along with that mental satisfaction is pretty nice. Take time to celebrate your hard work and perseverance. Pick out an exciting activity or purchase ahead of time that you will enjoy once you’ve reached your goal. If it’s an activity with your friends, put their picture up where you can see it. If it’s something you want to buy yourself, put the money in an envelope and label it with the name of the completed goal.
That's it, Class Trackers! You're on your way to making some huge accomplishments. Share your goals and progress in the comments below to stay motivated.