How to set goals you can actually achieve

Setting goals can be a valuable exercise for your working life. Goals can provide a sense of purpose and something to aim for.

And ultimately, they can help you find a job, career change or way of working that’s fulfilling and rewarding. They also give you something positive to focus on when times are tough.

It’s great to aim big. But if a goal isn’t realistic, all too often it’s impossible to stick to, which can make you feel like you’ve failed. But a realistic goal can help you reach what you’re aiming for and enjoy that rewarding feeling of doing so.

Of course, what’s realistic depends on what’s happening around you. When there are extra challenges – such as the impact of COVID-19 – it’s even more important to focus on making your goals truly achievable, even if it means starting small.

Leah Lambart is a career coach with Relaunch Me and an expert when it comes to achieving career goals. Here are her five key tactics for setting realistic, achievable goals for your working life.

1. Be ready and willing to change

Achieving a goal takes time, energy and sustained commitment. So, before you commit to your goal, think about why it’s important to you, Lambart says.

“If you decide this is something you want to do, find an accountability buddy to keep you on track,” she adds. “This could be a friend, colleague, fellow career-changer or a career coach. You could also think about creating a vision board of what you hope your life will look like once you complete the change. This will keep you more focused, even when there are a few hiccups along the way.”

2. Think about what you value

The change you’re craving might not simply be a different role, but greater flexibility, better work-life balance, a higher income, more meaningful work, or more creative work, Lambart says. Assessing your values can help you find the work that suits you best.

To help you stick to your goal, focus on the positive change the goal could bring to your life as well. “It could be more time spent with family, less weekend work or overseas travel, greater work satisfaction, more energy to play with the kids, or more time to take up hobbies,” she says. You’ll be more likely to achieve your career goals if you have more meaning and value attached to them.

For many of us, COVID-19 has led to rethinking what we want from work. If that’s you, speaking with your boss about the ways you want to work differently now could be one step in achieving your goal.

3. Be specific with your goals

“An effective change usually requires a number of steps, so it’s easy to become overwhelmed by what’s involved. If you break the change down into baby steps and make them more specific, then the change process will feel less overwhelming and you’ll be more likely to commit to it long-term,” Lambart says.

If you have a goal in mind, try using the SMART method. Look at your goal then ask yourself, is it:

  • Specific – what do I want to accomplish, why, and how?
  • Measurable – what evidence is going to show that I’m making progress?
  • Achievable – is it something I can reasonably do, or do I need to break it down further?
  • Relevant – does the goal really matter to me? Is it the right time?
  • Time-bound – when can I achieve it by? What deadlines can I break it down into?

This approach can help you revise your goals. For example, if you want to become Sales Manager this year, but you’ve just joined the company as a Junior Sales Associate, you may be putting too tight a time limit on yourself – it might take three years.

Or if you want to own your own catering business in eight months but haven’t worked in that industry, you might make a goal to get hands-on experience first before moving toward that ultimate goal.

4. Have a timeframe in mind

“Attaching dates to each step will keep you more accountable and will allow you to focus on the tasks at hand, rather than being overwhelmed by the enormity of a change,” Lambart says. “Talk to others who have made a similar change, to understand the time you may need to allow for each step.” The important thing is to be realistic with your timeframes.

Here’s an example from Lambart of what specific goals attached to dates might look like, if a career change is what you’re after:

  • February: Complete a career test to get an idea of suitable careers that fit my personality, strengths and interests
  • June: Research possible career options thoroughly by the end of the month
  • July/August: Speak to two people in these industries to get further information
  • September/October: Apply for courses
  • February the following year: Start study and tailor my resume for my new career
  • March: Start the search for part-time work to complement my studies

Keep this timeline somewhere you see it often so you’re reminded to stick to it. But when things are uncertain, give yourself flexibility to adjust. This might mean putting one step on hold if it’s not possible now, changing a step – for example, studying remotely. Or it might mean bringing a step forward if it becomes an option again. 

5. Make it real

Tell people about your aspirations. Sharing your goals with supportive people who can encourage you helps to make those goals a reality, Lambart says.

“Surrounding yourself with some cheerleaders will ensure that you have the support you need when things don’t go smoothly,” she explains. “Ask them to motivate you and keep you focused on your dream when things are a bit tough.”

Having a professional network can also provide support in seeing through your goals – there are plenty of ways you can build and grow your network online.

If there’s something you want to achieve in your career, or a job you’ve always dreamed about, setting goals could help you to get there. And by following these five strategies, you’ll be able to set the kind of goals you can see through.

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