Goals are great! They serve as remarkable little tools that help us articulate the vague, clarify our intentions and visualize ourselves leading the lives we want to live. Defining a goal is like typing a destination into your GPS. If the device doesn’t know where you’re going, how is it supposed to perform the calculations required to get you there? Your brain and your heart work like a GPS; if they don’t know your final destination, how can they do what needs to be done to move you forward? So, we all agree: Goals are terrific and useful, and setting them can be a vital part of success.

But some goals are more useful than others. And as it happens, inserting only the final destination (Win the Superbowl! Become a millionaire!) can bring less than perfect results. As you work to set functional goals, keep these tips in mind.

Create a supergoal, then break it down.

If you want to become a millionaire, write that down and consider it an overarching “supergoal.” Then fill in the timeline between here and there by breaking your supergoal down into five smaller goals. Then break each of those down into five that are even smaller. Keep doing this until the steps in front of you are so small and manageable you can complete them in a week, or even a day. Then get started!

Keep your subgoals reasonable and realistic.

Of course, your supergoal might feel like a dreamy longshot—that’s fine. If it doesn’t, you can probably reach higher. But each subgoal that lies closest to you should be achievable and manageable. If it isn’t, keep breaking down further subgoals, or change the one in front of you so it makes a little more sense.

Define and measure.

If one of your subgoals seems unmeasurable or subjective, make an adjustment. For example, “get better at painting” or “get a better performance review in December” can mean almost anything. If you know exactly what you mean, you can let your words stand (after all, your goal map is for you alone). But if you aren’t sure you’ll know when you arrive, change your goal to quantify it and make it measurable. (“Produce five paintings that make me proud” or “Earn seven out of ten stars on next year’s review.”)

Apply time limits.

If you want to “get better at painting,” quantify your subgoals, and then set a time limit on each as well. For example, your subgoal might be “Create five paintings that make me proud,” or “Sign up for a painting class.” But you’ll need to add “by this time next year” or “by the end of next week.”

Keep your goals specific, measurable and timely, then put one foot in front of the other and get started. Need help? Contact the Milwaukee career management experts at Extension.


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