How to set goals

Table of Contents


Have you ever wondered how to set goals on an Apple watch? You can set metrics you want to meet for standing, exercise, and movement. Your watch lets you know when you’ve met your goals, bugs you if you’re lagging behind, and can even announce checkpoints e.g. mileage markers while you’re running.

We’d love to be able to say that if you know how to set goals on an apple watch, you can set goals for a business. Wouldn’t that make life a lot easier?

While it’s not quite that easy, we do know a few strategies that can streamline the process.

In this piece we’ll be covering two essential goal setting frameworks. One for the type of goals you should set, and one for how to set those goals so that you set yourself up for achievement. Take note: the tips we’re covering today use language geared toward starting or running a business, but they are largely applicable to any big endeavor, personal or professional!

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How to set goals using the SMART framework

Setting the wrong type of goals is a recipe for consistent disappointment. On the other hand, setting the right type of goals is half the battle of achieving them!

So…what are the right kind of goals?

One of our favorite systems for setting goals is the SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, time-bound) framework. This is a widely recognized acronym in the business, entrepreneurship, and personal development worlds. While there is some variation to what the letters each stand for, we’ll cover the most common version (and the one we find most helpful) today.

Specific. This one is especially essential if you manage a team. You want your goals to leave no room for questions about what they mean and when they’ll be met. “Grow social media presence” is a good start, but what channels will you be using? Who will be in charge of it? What methods will you use? Clarify some objectives or steps along the way that will pave the way for achieving your goal. Try leveling up to “expand Instagram and LinkedIn presence with follower engagement, regular posting, and live video content.”

Measurable. Decide on the metrics by which you will track your progress and evaluate whether you’ve attained your goal. Take our social media growth example. If you get 10 new instagram followers over the course of a year, will you feel confident that you achieved your goal of social media growth? Will one LinkedIn post every two months suffice to grow your engagement? Probably not, so set a bar for yourself. For example, “expand Instagram and LinkedIn presence by 1000 new followers per month on each platform with weekly posts, bi-monthly live video streams, and monthly follower giveaways.”

Actionable. Different versions of the SMART acronym will call this one “achievable” or “attainable” but it comes down to the same concept. Setting a lofty goal that you don’t stand a chance to meet will do you disservice in the long run. Are your goals in line with your capacity, talents, and reality? Maybe you based your goals on a competitor’s performance, but haven’t taken into account that they have a much bigger team or budget. For example, gaining 1000 followers a month during the earliest stage of a social media strategy could be unreasonable. Changing that goal to increasing follower count by 2% per month would keep your goal actionable and commensurate with your expected growth. New goal: “expand Instagram and LinkedIn presence with 2% monthly follower increase on each platform with weekly posts, bi-monthly live video streams, and monthly follower giveaways.”

Relevant. Your goal needs a good “why” to keep you motivated. Is it meeting a timely need? Will it result in a tangible business benefit? Is it something that makes sense for your business at this stage? Add some context to keep you focused. Our social media growth might be an appropriate strategy in anticipation of launching a new product, podcast, or book. “Expand Instagram and LinkedIn presence with 2% monthly follower increase on each platform with weekly posts, bi-monthly live video streams, and monthly follower giveaways. Our first e-course will be launched on a livestream with a special discount code. Our social media engagement and expansion plan will build us an audience for that livestream & customer base for the course.” You’ll sometimes see the R of SMART goals used to represent “realistic” or “reasonable” which captures the same idea.

Time-bound. Achieving goals requires a deadline of some kind, even a “soft” deadline for progress check-ins. Especially if you’re working with a team, time-bound goals will help everybody stay on track. Make sure your timing is apropos to the scale of your goals…you might not have much to show for a five-year plan after a month, and you shouldn’t give yourself a whole year to meet a reasonable quarterly goal! “Expand Instagram and LinkedIn presence with 3% monthly follower increase on each platform with weekly posts, bi-monthly live video streams, and monthly follower giveaways. Our first e-course will be launched in six months on a livestream with a special discount code. Our social media engagement and expansion plan will have afforded us a minimum of X [depending on your starting numbers] new followers from which to build an audience for that livestream & customer base for the course.”

If your goal isn’t SMART, you probably have to re-evaluate. And if you’re wondering when and how you should get to work goal setting, keep reading!

How to set goals using the 5 step goal–setting process

So you’ve figured out what the right type of goals is. Now you have to work on setting and achieving those goals. But how do you carve out the time? How do you know you’re in the right headspace for properly evaluating things like relevance and actionability?

Lucky for you, we’ve got a five-step process for setting goals that, while not infallible, will significantly maximize your efforts. Our TSL podcast co-hosts Grant and Erick go over this process here in more detail.

Step 1: Plan a mini-retreat. Spending time outside your usual environment to focus on what you want to accomplish can be a game-changer, whether you do it once a year, once a quarter, or even more frequently. This short sabbatical for thinking over how to set goals and achieve them can take many forms depending on the time you have available. Here’s one idea:

  • Spend one day meeting with mentors/coaches or with a mastermind group to discuss your ideas.
  • Take another day or two to reflect on their advice and input, sleep on it, and and think of the key areas of your business and life that you want to work on (steps 2 and 3).
  • Finally, spend a couple days formulating and finalizing what your year will look like (steps 4 and 5).

Of course, you can divy this up by hours instead of days if you can’t carve out a long weekend (though we are big proponents of making big investments in yourself and your business). The key is to allow yourself time to “marinate” between stages. That way, you come into the goal setting process from a meditative, introspective place state of mind rather than a state of hurry.

Step 2: Acknowledge your hurts and celebrate your wins. While you’re in this reflective state of mind, get comfortable with life’s realities. You know, realities like failure and disappointment. Pause and acknowledge the times you bombed and the people who have hurt you with a focus on what you can learn from these experiences. But don’t stop there! Far more importantly, take a long hard look at how far you’ve come. Celebrate all the times you’ve “won,” whether personal accomplishments or big career milestones. Too often we let negativity win when in reality, we have a lot to celebrate.

Think about what all those wins had in common and how you can replicate them for the future. Then contemplate the wins and the hurts together with an eye to the future. Where can you adjust things to have more wins? How do the paths you have chosen in the past shed light on the best path into the future? This step will help you a lot with the “actionable” part of SMART goals–knowing what you are capable of and acknowledging your limits at the same time.

Step 3: Clarify these three things. Too cryptic? What three things? Why are they important!? Basically, there are three aspects of your business that you need to get clear on before you get into what your goals are. (Again, this can apply to many aspects of personal improvement, not just business.)

  1. What business are you in?
  2. What’s the vision for your business?
  3. What is the mission of your business?

This combination of clarity, purpose, and passion will give you fuel to set the right type of goals.

Step 4: Identify three primary business goals for the year. Three might not sound like a lot, but over-goal-setting usually leads to under-achieving. Unless you don’t sleep, don’t eat, and have no family or friends, you already have other demands on your time. The freedom to focus is essential to your success, so don’t stress yourself out by filling the time dedicated to your business with an endless to-do list.

This step is where SMART comes into play. If your three goals align with the SMART framework, they should include enough specific objectives and performance metrics that you will have your hands full.

Step 5: Write your goals down and refer to them often. Well you’ve learned how to set goals, how do you achieve them? Your business (or life) isn’t an Apple watch, you can’t set it and forget it. Writing down your goals (which includes communicating them to your team) and following up is the key. Keep your goals readily accessible and available as a reminder of what you’re working toward. For year-end, quarterly reassessment at a minimum is a must. We highly recommend even more frequent check-ins to see how you’re making progress toward the next objective or performance measure.

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Sure, the most well-intentioned plans can easily fall apart. But if you set SMART goals using our five-step process, you’ll find yourself making more progress toward your goals than you ever realized was possible! Nothing compares to the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the year when you find yourself perfectly on track or even ahead of schedule!

While SMART goals and our five-step process might sound like a complicated system for something so simple as setting goals for your business, remember: systematic goal setting is a long-term strategy.

If you have an annual check-in with yourself, your business, or your team, that is a natural time to implement this process. That does not mean you should shelve these ideas until New Years Day! If you’ve been floundering, feel like you consistently fall short of your goals, or just need a refresh, now is a great time to re-align. Even just starting out with a mini-retreat to evaluate whether your current goals are SMART could work wonders.

Start implementing methods as you can carve out the time. Work out what you can do on a consistent basis and prioritize accordingly. Eventually you might be taking five-day retreats with your team every year…and celebrating your wins together when you hit all your targets.


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