Setting goals is hard. Achieving them is even harder.
The way to achieve big things in your life and career is to make small progress every single day on things that really matter. Sure, we all like a grand gesture or a huge push forward in progress, but those are the exception, not the rule.
Your life is made up of the work you do every single day.
So while you are setting your big yearly goals and monthly goals, don’t forget about the place where the real work happens — your daily life. When you can turn your big goals into achievable daily goals, you can accomplish amazing things.
First, you need to know how to separate the goals from the other necessary elements of life. Then, you can focus on making your goals happen every day.
What makes a good goal (that you’ll actually achieve)
Goals, when done well, are typically S.M.A.R.T. declarations that have a specific intent, outcome, and evaluative result. Here’s what a S.M.A.R.T. goal is, if you need a refresher:
S – Specific. State exactly what you mean to accomplish in one sentence, two at most. For example: Buy a house in Nashville in 2019.
M – Measurable. A goal should be measurable by one or more definitive elements, like selling $1000 worth of product or running 50 miles in a month.
A – Achievable. If your goal is to go to Mars by 2020, you’d better have Elon Musk on speed-dial. Your goals should be realistic in what it takes to accomplish them, including: resources, time, knowledge, network, effort.
R – Relevant. In business terms, you could set a goal to grow your social media following, but what you really need is cash flow, that goal isn’t totally on track. From a personal perspective, if your goal is to hike all fifty-three fourteeners (14,000 foot mountain peaks) in Colorado, but you live in Florida, this goal may not be relevant until you’re living in Colorado.
T – Time-bound. Accountability is key to accomplishing goals, because if there’s not a time limit to complete the goal, then completion could be put off indefinitely. Even better than just a deadline for your goal, give each of your incremental goals time-bound accountability along the way.
When framing a goal into declarative language, you are stating a fact. You needn’t write “I will” at the beginning of the statement because it is implied. You not only will complete this goal and meet the prescribed end result, it’s already in progress.
- Buy a house in 2019.
- Decrease my body fat percentage by 10%.
- Write and publish a book in the next 5 years.
- Start a photography business.
- Get married in 2020.
Declaring aspirational daily goals
It seems easier to set larger goals, since that what we’re used to (see: New Year’s resolutions). But you can create that same sense of aspiration with your daily declarations:
- Drink eight glasses of water.
- Run 3 miles before 8 am.
- Write 2,000 words in the novel.
- Publish a new blog post.
What makes up a good goal? There are a few elements.
While goals contain milestones, milestones are not always goals. Slightly informal in nature, milestones are like pins on a map. A milestone may look like: Earned my graduate degree. Ten-year wedding anniversary. Adopted a dog.
Milestones are like markers along the way; they are significant, but they don’t necessarily accomplish the bigger goals you have set out for your life.
Daily goals have milestones too. If you want to run 3 miles before work, getting out of bed on time might be a milestone; likewise, running 1 mile and deciding to keep going is another milestone!
In order for a goal to be actualized, one must typically create a plan of action.
For daily goals, the planning is much less intense than for the bigger goals we’re used to. You might barely notice it happening. Especially for straight-forward goals, you can keep most of the information in your head and go straight to the finish line.
Planning involves time-accountable projects and tasks that support the completion of the goal. These tasks are broken down over hours and days, often checked-off a list or project plan, which is a great tool for managing larger goals.
For example, you might plan out how you’ll drink 8 glasses of water today. You might decide to set an hourly reminder to fill your water glass at work, or plan to bring your favorite cup from home so you notice it and remember to sip.
Tasks are the little things. They are what add up to your goals being accomplished.
Let’s say your goal today is to finish scheduling the monthly editorial calendar for your team. Your tasks might include:
- Reviewing the list of potential blog topics
- Choosing 15 to assign to writers
- Selecting a writer for each blog post
- Inputting the blog posts and writer assignments to your team calendar software
- Emailing a link to the calendar and assignments to your writers
This might seem straightforward. But daily goals are easy to not complete because they are small — they usually seem like something that could get pushed to the next day.
It is by committing to the goal that you become someone who accomplishes things every day. Taking the time to identify the tasks you need to accomplish will help you set a realistic timeline for accomplishing your goal in the day, and make sure you get it done to perfection.
Pay close attention to the tasks you give yourself, making sure that they are:
- Clear – Be direct and short in stating exactly what needs to be done.
- Singular – One task at a time, so no plurals, add-ons, or multi-tasking.
- Incremental – Each task should build on the last and should move you closer to the goal (not to a side-project).
- Sequential – Keep your list in order of what needs doing, when. Add times and time-limits where appropriate.
- Attainable – A task list of twenty one-hour line-items is basically impossible in one day if you expect to eat and sleep. Be realistic in what is possible, and clearly state the timeline on your list.
From now on, format each of your long-term and short term goals with milestones, plans, and tasks.
When you set smart and thoughtful daily goals, it becomes effortless to select tasks or whole projects to complete in a single day, with a daily goal completed at the finish line.
Guide for setting daily goals for maximum success
Not sure what to work on? Planning your week and want to set your goals for each day ahead? Have a huge goal on your mind and aren’t sure how to tackle it?
Go top-down, then go bottom-up.
When choosing your daily goal, zoom out and look at your monthly or even yearly goals. What do you need to accomplish to push yourself closer to achieving those big picture wins?
What is the most important thing you could spend your time on today?
Once you’ve decided what the most important work you can achieve today is, now go to the very smallest details: think first about the tasks that make up your goal. How much time will they take?
Then think about planning. Given how much time each task will take, can you accomplish your goal in a day?
Finally, tackle the milestones. How will you know you are making progress along the way?
Questions to ask yourself before you set your daily goal:
- How much time do I have to devote to one or more daily goals?
- What is scheduled or what am I accountable for today in my existing plans, outside of this daily goal?
- Do I have the resources I need to meet my scheduled and accountable agreements? What resources am I missing, and can I acquire them in the time that I have today?
Make sure your daily goal is S.M.A.R.T. and that you give it serious weight by recording it in your calendar or in your phone with a timer, reminder, or alarm.
When your daily goals have little to do with larger projects…
Many of your daily goals will have to do with your career and moving your work to the next step. However, there are some days where big things need to happen that are out of the normal routine of your day-to-day.
Need to file your 2018 annual report for your small business? Re-organize your office or studio for an influx for incoming materials? Make sure your child’s family tree project is complete and ready to go for the following morning?
These tasks all need to be accomplished, but don’t easily fit in your normal to-do list. That makes them great candidates to be daily goals, as they need to get done and you’ll need to give them a little extra focus and planning to get them done.
For example, let’s organize your studio for the influx of incoming materials:
Re-organize studio and clear three shelves for 5 incoming shipments of yarn.
- Map out on paper where each of the items on the ‘to be cleared’ shelves will be moved to. [15 minutes]
- Collect three empty boxes from the garage to hold the items to be moved off of the ‘to be cleared’ shelves. [5 minutes]
- Clear off the ‘to be cleared’ shelves. [45 minutes]
- Sort items from the ‘to be cleared’ shelves: can any of these things be thrown away or donated? [30 minutes]
- Relocate the cleared items that will be staying. [45 minutes]
- Receive shipment of new materials at 3 pm [5 minutes]
- Organize received items on the three cleared shelves. [1 hour]
- Take donatable items from the ‘to be cleared’ shelves to local Goodwill before they close at 7pm. [45 minutes]
Adding up the outlined timeline, your daily goal will take around 5 hours to complete, and will require a lot of coordination. (More than you might have expected if you hadn’t planned this activity out like a true daily goal.)
By outlining your daily goal as clearly as you would a long-term goal, you’re creating your day for maximum success.
And when you have successful days with many completed goals, you will be making progress towards your bigger goals and the things that truly matter to you.