How to Set Goals the Right Way in 2020

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People often wonder how to achieve goals but fail to set the right ones from the start. If you don't set correct goals, you risk pursuing something that isn't motivating, achievable, or even relevant. To set goals the right way, translate your long-term vision into shorter, actionable sprints created with SMART principles that build off each other and help achieve your ideal life.

All the information below comes from detailed research and personal experience.

1. Define Your "North Star" Vision

Your "North Star" is the overall vision for your life. It's the image you hold in your mind when you picture your ideal future. Where you live, who your friends and family are, the cars you drive, the house you live in and more are all part of your North Star vision. Make sure you're clear on your life vision before you start setting goals to ensure you're on the right track.

Starting with this step ensures you're thinking with the end in mind and that your shorter-term goals act in direct service of your longer-term aims. People who fail to think with the end in mind typically set goals that either don't relate to each other or take them on an unintended path away from their ideal future.

This is because the "R" in the SMART framework acronym (which we discuss in detail below) stands for "relevant." All goals need to be relevant to your overarching desires, otherwise they won't be motivating or won't get you where you actually want to go. By defining your life's North Star vision, you create a guiding light that can help you set the most relevant goals.

How to Identify Your North Star

You can create your North Star vision in any number of ways. Some like physical vision boards popularized by Jack Canfield, others create digital vision boards using Pinterest, while some do it simply with text on a whiteboard or in a journal. For me, I'm somewhat old school and prefer a 24x36" whiteboard I got off Amazon.

On it in the upper-left corner is a bullet-style list of my "life vision". I kept the list to eight bullets total, each outlining a specific area of my life and what I hope it looks like in the future. I then use these eight bullets as a constant reminder of where I want to go and why I want to get there so my shorter-term goals reflect these desires.

Personal North Star Example

personal north star vision

2. Create Buckets for Goal-Setting

The North Star vision for your life is most likely multifaceted. There probably isn't one long-term goal that'll achieve your ideal life alone. More often, your North Star requires a summation of multiple goals in different areas of your life to achieve. For this reason, the best way to set goals that work together is to translate your North Star into "buckets", each with their own goals.

You can think of a bucket as an area of life or a role in life you play. For example, part of your North Star is to remain healthy late into your years, "health" can become a bucket in which you set a goal or series of goals. If you see yourself becoming an amazing father or mother, then the role of "parent" can become a bucket for goal-setting.

Basically, the buckets you create break down your ideal life into its component parts. Each of these parts should then have its own independent goal that also benefits from goals in the other buckets, helping you pursue the singular vision of your North Star.

How to Create Goal-Setting Buckets

Your buckets may differ from those around you. This is ok, the buckets you identify should be unique to your life. However, your buckets should accurately represent your North Star vision and should also be life-areas in which you want to actually set goals.

For me, I like to identify the projects I'm working on as well as thinks like "health and happiness" and "personal network" as my buckets. Specifically, my buckets are as follows:

  • Business: This bucket is further broken down into the 2-3 business projects I typically work on at any one time.
  • Fiction Career: This encompasses my pursuits in screenwriting and novel-writing.
  • Nonfiction Career: This bucket represents my nonfiction writing endeavors, such as this blog and other projects.
  • Health & Happiness: I use this bucket to set a mental-health goal as well as a goal for my physical health.

As you can see, the summation of these four buckets directly relate to the North Star vision I outlined in the previous step. However, in addition, I often set a semi-unrelated annual goal. This year, my goal is to grow my network by attending one networking event per week (online if necessary).

Your buckets may look similar or totally different. The key, however, is that they should accurately represent your North Star vision and you should not have so many buckets that it overwhelms you and causes more pain than gain.

3. Set a Series of Annual Goals

Now that you've identified a clear life-vision and translated it into its component parts, the next step is to set an annual goal in each bucket that helps you get closer to your North Star vision. Most of the time, these goals will be independent of each other. Sometimes, however, you'll have a single goal that fits in two buckets or a goal that's dependent on another bucket.

Setting Annual Goals With the SMART Framework

When setting annual goals for each of your buckets, use the SMART goal-setting framework. "SMART" is an acronym used to set effective goals that are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound. If you've done everything correctly, relevancy should already be verified and the timeline is 12 months.

However, specificity, measurability, and actionability aren't guaranteed up to this point. It's up to you to ensure each annual goal in each bucket not only is relevant to your North Star as well as bound by time, but that it also reflects the other three SMART principles. If you need more information, check out my article on SMART goal-setting.

For example, my annual fiction goal is to "write two TV pilot scripts and pitch projects to 10x industry contacts within 12 months."

4. Turn Annual Goals into Quarterly Sprints

Once you've created an annual SMART goal in each of your identified buckets, translate those one-year goals into a series of quarterly sprints. This means that each annual goal should be broken down into four smaller goals (one each quarter) that build off each other and help achieve your annual goal within 12 months.

It's important here to start with the end in mind. So, when turning your annual goals into quarterly sprints, start at the end of the year with your annual goal. What do you need to do in the fourth quarter (Q4) to achieve your annual goal by the end of Q4? The answer to this question, written in the SMART goal-setting format, is your Q4 goal.

Do this for each quarter until you have four bite-sized goals that are expressed in the SMART framework, with each building off each other so you achieve your annual goal by years-end. For these quarterly goals, each goal should be dependent on the previous one so that you can't achieve your second quarter (Q2) goal until you complete your first quarter (Q1) goal, and so on.

Example of Quarterly Sprints Resulting in Annual Goals

If you remember from the previous step, my annual fiction goal is to write two TV pilot scripts and pitch them to 10x industry contacts within 12 months. In order to break down that annual goal into four smaller, quarterly sprints, I might set the following three-month goals:

  • Q4 goal: In order to achieve my annual goal, I need to pitch 10x industry contacts within the fourth quarter. My Q4 goal is therefore to set and attend 10 pitch meetings.
  • Q3 goal: In order to set 10 pitch meetings in the fourth quarter, I need to have a warm list of contacts ready to go before Q4 starts. Therefore, my Q3 goal is to create and refine a list of warm contacts to set pitch meetings.
  • Q2 goal: If I plan on compiling a list of warm contacts by Q3, I need to have both my scripts written and ready to pitch by the end of Q2. Therefore, my Q2 goal is to write one pilot script.
  • Q1 goal: If I'm writing one of two scripts in Q2, I need to write another script in Q1 to get everything ready for the leads in Q3 and Q4. Therefore, my Q1 goal is to write a script.

Starting with the end in mind is especially helpful for verifying that you have enough time to complete all the necessary components of your annual goal. It also ensures everything you do is in service of your longer-term goals.

For me, I like to write all of this down on my whiteboard. However, you can use a digital tool or something entirely different. The important thing is you write these annual and quarterly goals down where they are easily viewable on a daily basis.

Do it the best way it works for you, but you can check out an example of my whiteboard below. On it, you'll see my life-vision in the upper-left, my annual goals in the upper-right (albeit probably only legible to me), my buckets below and each of my quarterly goals written on a timeline that spans roughly 12 months. Again, it doesn't have to look this way for you.

full life goals board

5. Review Weekly Progress & Adjust Accordingly

By now, you should've been able to define your North Star vision, break down that vision into separate buckets, create an annual goal for each bucket using the SMART framework, and translate each of those annual SMART goals into smaller quarterly goals. The next step is to focus on your Q1 goals and start!

However, rarely does everything go according to plan. There will undoubtedly be times when you need to course-correct, adjust your goal, or even change it entirely. Because of this, make sure you take your quarterly goals and break them down even further into weekly to-do lists.

At the end of each week, reflect on what you accomplished and what you learned and verify that the goals you're pursuing are still the correct ones. If they aren't, adjust accordingly by starting back at step one and going through the process again.

Top Goal-Setting Tips & Best Practices

Following the steps above will give you the foundation you need to set the right goals. That said, there's no shortage of goal-setting tips and goal-setting best practices that can help you set the best goals possible. To help, I've included a list of the top tips and best practices for goal-setting.

  • Write Your Goals Down: All of your goals, even your life vision, should be written down and easily viewable. This way, it's much easier to keep your goals top of mind and ensures all your actions support your ultimate desires.
  • Review Your Goals Regularly: Goals that sound good today might be wrong tomorrow. Other times, the right goal is set with the wrong timeframe. There is a multitude of reasons why you might need to re-adjust your goals over time. For this reason, review your goals regularly and verify they're still the right ones to go after. If not, don't be afraid to adjust.
  • Start With the End in Mind: When setting goals, it's typically best to start at the end and work your way back to the beginning. This ensures each of your shorter goals builds on each other to help achieve your higher-level and longer-term goals.
  • Follow the SMART Framework: Every goal you create should be specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound. If not, then you're not setting effective goals.

If you have any more goal-setting tips and best practices, I'd love to hear about them in the comments section.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a Goal?

A goal represents a specific thing someone is trying to achieve. Typically, it is an aim, object, or result achieved by someone's ambition or effort. Goals are used to incentivize individuals or groups of people.

How Do You Achieve Goals Successfully?

There are many ways to successfully achieve goals. However, it all starts with a goal constructed using the SMART framework. From there, enlisting accountability partners, being flexible to change, tying your goal to a strong "why" and more can all help achieve goals successfully.

What Are the Different Types of Goals?

There are many types of goals that are unique to the individual. That said, most goal-types are categorized by the area of life it relates to as well as the length of time or the way in which success is measured. For more information, check out my article on the top types of goals.

What Are Some Examples of Personal Goals?

Personal goals come in a variety of forms and are unique to the person. Common personal goals include things like financial, health, career, and family-related goals, among others. Losing 10 pounds, for example, is a personal goal because it only affects and can only be achieved by the individual.

Conclusion: How to Set Goals

Hopefully you found this information helpful. If you did, I'd love to hear from you with your personal experiences in the comments section. Remember that when setting goals, start with the end in mind and work your way back to the beginning, using the SMART goal-setting framework along the way.

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