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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

15 Ways to Set Professional Goals (Examples Included)

15 Ways to Set Professional Goals (Examples Included)
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It’s hard to describe the frustration you feel when your professional goals keep falling flat. You’re floundering and you’re not where you want to be professionally, which bleeds into your personal life and causes you to get upset and sad easily.

You need a system, a way to set goals that makes them attainable 100 percent of the time. When you establish your system, it takes the guesswork out of goal achievement and makes it a matter of completing specific steps.

Where would you be right now in your life if you had followed such a system from the beginning of your professional career and stuck with it? Would you be owning and running your own business, would you be working for a company you love, or would you be independently creating great work that keeps you in high demand?

This is where it gets good. The following tips will cover the most actionable ways to set professional goals (with professional goals examples included). If you follow these tips and do your absolute best each step of the way, you’ll have no choice but to launch into a new, exciting period in your professional life.

Start with tip number 1 — this tip is essential to any and all of the other tips on this list. Although you’re starting with 1, this is not a linear list. You can take each tip by itself and run with it, or you can implement as many as possible — the choice is yours. That said, the more action you take, the closer you are to making tip 1 a reality.

Ready to grasp the very essence of what it is to succeed? Keep reading.

1. Identify What You Love — and Make a Statement

This is it — the single most important word is not career, it’s love. Your primary, overarching, life-defining career goal must center around what you love.

You figured out what you love when you were young, and then somewhere along the way you lost it in the noise, the pressure, and the clutter of everyday life.

Billions of people exist on this Earth, and things aren’t what we wish they could be because we succumb to fear instead of doing what we love.

How can you take what you love and serve this love with your career?

  • Create a statement, a single sentence that encapsulates your overarching career goal. Make it specific.
  • Write the love-of your-life career goal sentence down and pin it to the wall where you’ll see it every day.
  • Make sure this sentence informs all your other objectives.
  • Make sure your primary career goal is the result of what you love to do.

Example:

“Be a successful nonfiction author: Write nonfiction content — books, poems, essays, blog posts — to help people realize the priceless importance of love and the imagination, and get your content published.”

2. Don’t Just Create SMART Objectives — Be Ultra-SMART

Now that you have your ultimate career goal nailed to the wall, it’s time to get SMART. That is, use the SMART acronym to create objectives:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timed

Your SMART objectives are micro-goals that fit all of the above criteria. They are not nebulous, vague, and tough to complete. They are daily objectives you know you can handle, and they’re necessary.

You have to complete SMART objectives in order to meet other, tougher goals, which ultimately contribute to your main goal.

So how do you make your SMART objectives ultra-SMART? Push yourself. Don’t settle for the same level of output every day. Don’t hold yourself to low standards. Think about quality and do your absolute best.

Example:

SMART: “Today I will write 500 words about the power of love between 10am and 2pm.”

Ultra-SMART: “Today I will write 500 words about the power of love between 10am and 2pm, and will find 3 accredited, scientific sources to backup my argument.”

Note that “Ultra-SMART” is not about writing more — more isn’t necessarily better, and if you’re just starting out, may not be achievable; rather, ultra-SMART is about focusing on quality within a reasonable framework.

3. Identify an Absolutely Essential Stepping Stone and Step to It

No one realizes their ultimate goal without finding a job that will push them in that direction. Jobs pay, and you need money to survive, but you don’t want a job that has nothing to do with your career goal. Pinpoint a job that is like an apprenticeship for what you ultimately want to do.

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Example:

When famous author Neil Gaiman delivered his commencement address[1] — which, by the way, is phenomenal — to University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he said something that makes perfect sense:

“I wanted to write comics and novels and stories and films, so I became a journalist, because journalists are allowed to ask questions, and to simply go and find out how the world works, and besides, to do those things I needed to write and to write well, and I was being paid to learn how to write economically, crisply, sometimes under adverse conditions, and on time.”

Note that Gaiman’s goal was to be a creative writer, but he took a position in journalism, which isn’t creative writing; it’s about facts, writing them well, and having discipline. For Gaiman, journalism was a stepping stone towards achieving his overarching goal.

4. Get Really, Really Good at Crafting Your Resume

You’re not going to settle, and there are multiple stepping stones towards your final destination. But here’s the clincher:

Crafting a great resume is about more than landing a job.

Crafting a great resume is about learning how to think from someone else’s perspective. If you can imagine what someone else wants to see in a great resume, you can view other things from their perspective too, and that’s important in the professional world.

To do a resume the right way, consider the mistakes you should avoid:[2]

  • Avoid disorganization: Provide your name, work experience and corresponding titles, education, relevant skills.
  • Avoid irrelevant information: Consider the position you’re applying for carefully and focus on information relevant to it.
  • Avoid length: A one page resume with just the right wording is a thing of wonder.
  • Avoid showy fonts and words: Be basic but let your personality shine through.
  • Avoid sloppiness: Check for typos, misspelling, and grammatical mistakes.

Example: Here’s a great resume example, courtesy of Shayanne Gal from Business Insider:[3]

    5. Ask Yourself the Most In-Depth Questions

    Throughout your educational career, you heard teachers say, “There are no bad questions” or something to that effect.

    It’s true; however, this mantra ignored the fact that some questions are better than others.

    Asking, “How can I do x in a unique and interesting way?” is better than asking “How can I do x?”

    You can set professional goals that you might accomplish, or you can set professional goals you’re highly likely to accomplish because you went in-depth with your questions. This goes very well with SMART goals. Specificity and detail are the hallmarks of achievable goals.

    Example:

    Say, for instance, you’re at the point where you feel you can start your own business from home. The Hartford offers pertinent questions you should ask before doing so:[4]

    • Will your house accommodate your business?
    • Can you find work-life balance?
    • When you interact with customers, how will you showcase a professional image?
    • Are there city zoning ordinances you need to consider?
    • Do you have the insurance and tax liabilities covered?

    6. Use a Digital Assistant to be Insanely Efficient

    Executives and bosses have personal assistants to help them with scheduling, organization, and other time-consuming tasks.

    You may not be at the point in your career where you can afford to hire somebody, which is why it helps to have a productivity assistant to help you be more efficient.

    Use an app to keep track of mundane scheduling and other minute details so you can free up your mind for creativity.

    Example:

    See this list of task management apps . Out of all of them, Any.do has one of the best interfaces, and it will give you the reminders you need to stay on task.

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      7. Create a Vivid Mental Picture

      Discouragement can and will happen — it’s a part of life, whether professional or personal. Don’t wait until you get discouraged to visualize yourself doing well.

      Practice your mental picture of success even at the times when everything is going so well it’s unbelievable, but you’re not quite at the end-point yet.

      When things aren’t going well, it’ll be the much easier to remain in a positive mind-state because you practiced being there.

      Example:

      Social scientist Frank Niles provides a perfect example of goal visualization:[5]

      “Former NBA great Jerry West is a great example of how this works. Known for hitting shots at the buzzer, he acquired the nickname ‘Mr. Clutch.’ When asked what accounted for his ability to make the big shots, West explained that he had rehearsed making those same shots countless times in his mind.”

      Note that West visualized sinking the exact shots; again, specificity matters.

      8. Express Your Professional Goals Positively

      This goes directly with the visualization process. Goals can seem like chores, which is why it’s important to use positive, proactive wording when you’re vocalizing or writing things down.

      Through positive expression, you’re training your brain to take a certain path whenever you think about your professional goals. This translates into forward, positive momentum whenever you take action.

      You’re more likely to take action if you associate that action with positive thoughts and feelings.

      Example:

      Instead of, “It isn’t that hard to type 500 words in 4 hours,” say, “I like taking advantage of the time I set aside to zone in and really have fun with what I’m doing.”

      Note that the specific goal — 500 words in 4 hours — is implied because you already know it.

      The point of this statement is to associate a feeling of enjoyment with commitment and focus.

      9. Build Your Network with Passion and Purpose

      A professional network will help you hit those stepping stones necessary to achieving your ultimate goal. But you don’t want to network with just anyone.

      Build a network with other people who share your passion, build it based around your specialty, but also look for people from outside your usual sphere who can help you gain a different perspective.

      Demonstrate your passion by helping other people, and listen more than you talk.

      Example:

      Find a mentor — it’s perhaps the most critical networking move you can make. MileIQ provides some examples of where to start:[6]

      • The SCORE Business Learning Center
      • Small Business Development Centers
      • Women’s Business Centers
      • Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers
      • Minority Business Development Agency
      • A trade association through your SBA district office

      10. Benchmark a Competitor Like a Boss

      If you’re freelancing or running your own business, this one is particularly applicable to you.

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      Is there an exemplary freelancer or small business owner with whom you’re impressed? Analyze what this person has done to get where they are, find a metric to serve as a benchmark of their success, and aim to do better.

      Example:

      Benchmark social metrics — say, for example, you’re writing an article on cryptocurrency for a finance website. Buzzsumo[7] provides a tool you can use to benchmark the number of social shares a competitor has earned for this topic:

        11. Master Time Management

        Here’s the thing about professional goals:

        You must master time management to accomplish them. Understand how much time to set aside for each objective; and when you’re working on objectives, use your time not just efficiently, but mindfully.

        That means immersing yourself in the activities that are essential to completing objectives. Focus on what works best to achieve your desired outcome.

        Example:

        Life and business strategist Tony Robbins recommends “chunking your goals,” otherwise known as compartmentalization:

        • Write down tasks you need to get done during the week.
        • Group different tasks together based on their categories, e.g. “Consult SCORE about a mentor” and “talk to Ted about job opportunities” would be categorized under “Networking.”
        • Set aside time for each category.
        • Work on the tasks for a single category during a specific chunk of time.

        12. Identify Your Strengths and Weaknesses — and Get Strategic

        As you move toward accomplishing your primary career goal, you’ll note that different objectives fit into different categories, and you’re better at some categories than you are others.

        Once you know what you’re good at, focus on it. Spend as much time as you can concentrating on your strong-points.

        When it comes to your weaknesses, ask for help.

        Forbes contributor Elana Lynn Gross reveals that asking for help the right way can advance your career. “Ask targeted questions that will allow you to set your strategy,” Gross says.[8]

        Within any category, work on what you’re good at first, and then ask your network for help with blind spots.

        Example:

        Christine Wallace, VP of Branding and Marketing at Startup Institute, told Fast Company how she ended up dropping her first venture:[9]

        “I took a train from the Valley up to San Francisco and met with two mentors, who agreed that it was the end of the road for Quincy [Apparel]. After it was all over I spent three weeks straight in bed. Then after 21 days of sleeping, crying, I put on my big girl pants and rejoined the world.”

        In Wallace’s case, she needed to ask her mentors for help to understand when to move on.

        Don’t be afraid to ask for advice when something isn’t working.

        13. Take Advantage of Awesome Resources at Your Disposal

        When it comes to setting professional goals, tunnel-vision and short-sightedness are big problems for many of us.

        We think there’s only one way to complete an objective. The truth is there are multiple ways to approach any problem.

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        This implies taking a moment to step back, view your objective from a distance, and survey your options. Think differently, use your imagination, and do a thorough search — online and off — for resources.

        Example:

        Get a library card, scour the shelves, AND crowdsource ideas from social media — you may find something unexpected.

        14. Be a Brand That Stands Out

        Believe it or not, your brand is a very important part of your overall career goal. There are two aspects here:

        • How you appear via any published format
        • How you appear in person

        It’s more important to have a quality brand than it is to be prolific, so don’t publish anything — on social media or elsewhere — that you will regret.

        You will make mistakes in your endeavors, and in fact it’s important to take risks and make mistakes.

        There are good mistakes. Good mistakes are the screw-ups that show you’re striving toward your goal. Anytime you set an objective, think about how it aligns with brand and overall goal. In other words, know when to say “no” to projects that don’t compliment your brand and overall mission.

        Example:

        View yourself as a thought leader, be one, and make content that showcases your thought leadership:[10]

        • Videos: Post on YouTube, your website, and social media
        • Podcasts: Learn how to start podcasting.[11]
        • Workshops or meetups: Look for a community space and invite others to join you in discussion.
        • Blog posts and newspaper op-eds: Share your knowledge and opinions.

        15. Steal Ideas from Your Competitors

        This is the one truth that’s hard to stomach. Great ideas come to those who steal. You may not be sure of your next step, your next objective, and time is precious.

        Observe what other great professionals are doing, capture the core of their objectives, make them your own, and craft them into something new.

        Example:

        Steve Jobs, the visionary behind Apple, fully endorsed the Picasso quote, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”[12]

        In 1989, Xerox sued Apple for stealing ideas and incorporating them in the Macintosh and Lisa computers, but lost the lawsuit. That’s because Apple made something new.

        Here’s a simple way to go about this. Say you’re writing about freelancing, and the Freelancers Union blog is one of your top competitors. Pop the URL into Buzzsumo. You’ll see that the top articles are about taxes:

          In that case, you can write a “Definitive Guide to Taxes for Freelancers” or “Definitive Guide to Tax Breaks for Freelancers.”

          It’s About Passion and Practicality Combined

          Your primary career goal must be about what you love to do. Otherwise, why would you want to do it?

          To reach your goal, you must make small, practical steps. Don’t expect everything to go perfectly along the way, and don’t eschew hard work that isn’t exactly exciting.

          Too often, we get caught up in the excitement of the dream, and when the step-by-step isn’t nearly as exciting, we quit.

          Learn how to do the boring, rote tasks with joy because you’re doing them to achieve greatness.

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          Always remember why you set out on a mission to begin with, and let your brain follow your heart.

          More Tips for Setting Professional Goals

          Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

          Reference

          More by this author

          Dan Matthews, CPRP

          A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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          Last Updated on July 25, 2021

          A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success

          A Complete Guide to Goal Setting for Personal Success
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          If there was a rule book of life, there would be one particular page that was highlighted, underlined, and titled as most important. It would be the one which told you that you need to master effective goal setting and have an aim in mind before you get on with the process. While there may not be an actual rule book of life, we do have this helpful goal setting guide to offer.

          Yes, goal setting is important. In fact, it’s more important than achieving the goal itself. This is because it is the sense of direction that is needed for you to fulfill any task in life.

          You don’t have to feel overwhelmed if this sounds new to you, as all the following information has you covered.

          Today, you’ll find out all about the importance of goal setting, types of goals, and tips to define realistic goals for yourself!

          What Are Goals?

          To kick off our goal setting guide, you need to first recognize what goals are and how they are different from objectives, dreams, and expectations.

          A goal is essentially your aim for the long-term future. It is the bigger umbrella, the main focus.

          Objectives, on the other hand, fall under the umbrella of goals. They are the stepping stones that help you achieve your goals[1].

          Objects vs goals for goal setting tips

            For example, you may decide you want to learn a new language. Your goal is to be fluent in the new language. Everything you do to achieve this goal, such as the daily tasks and monthly learning aims, are the objectives.

            Similarly, your expectations, visions, and dreams are not your goals. If you wish to learn a new language someday, that is your dream. If you see yourself fluently speaking multiple foreign languages, that is your vision. If you think you’re capable of learning a new language, that is your expectation.

            However, if you aim to fulfill these visions, dreams, and expectations practically, that is your goal.

            Why Is Goal Setting Important?

            Why should you bother with goal setting at all? Wouldn’t it be more convenient to just get on with your daily objectives, follow a dream or vision, and let life take you wherever?

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            While that road can feel exciting and spontaneous, if you actually want to tick off things from your list of goals to achieve, learning how to set goals is necessary.

            Being committed to a goal puts your brain to work in one specific direction. Believe it or not, by having a defined goal, your brain does its magic unconsciously, 24/7, with full efficiency, to achieve the desired results[2].

            Goal setting is important to shift your focus, boost your motivation, and give you a sense of direction. Without formally defining a particular aim that you want to reach, you won’t be able to keep your objectives in line.

            Hence, this one tiny step can end up saving you a lot of hassle and time while also encouraging your productivity.

            Types of Goals

            Before we move onto the technique of setting effective goals, we need to first take a look at all types of goals in this goal setting tips.

            These categories will not just help you brainstorm new one for yourself, but it will also guide you to list them down in the right way.

            Time-Based

            One of the two broad categories of goals is based on time. These goals define how far in the future you want to achieve them.

            Daily

            There are certain smaller goals that you can easily achieve in a day or two. In fact, some of these daily goals can be recurring, too. For example, you may want to run for an hour every morning.

            Now, these daily goals can also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. You may be running every day because, in the long-term, you want to increase your stamina.

            Daily goals are highly effective for people who want to improve their mental wellbeing, time management skills, and stress management.

            Short-Term

            Next in line are short-term goals. As you would have already guessed, goal setting in this area is aimed at the near future.

            The great thing about these is that they are generally easier to achieve. This is because short-term goals are set for the foreseeable future. You are aware of the circumstances and have a general idea of how much the situation can change.

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            Just like daily goals, short-term goals may also serve as objectives for a long-term goal. Your short-term goal may be to lose 5 pounds in one month. That could be a goal in itself, or maybe it is just one objective to fulfill your goal to adopt a healthy lifestyle in the next two years.

            Another example of a short-term goal is to fulfill the checklist for promotion within the next 6 months. Or, you may want to reduce your screen time within the coming week.

            Long-Term

            Lastly, we have long-term goals that are meant to be completed over a stretched period.

            Whatever you want to achieve in a later stage of life is a long-term goal. An insurance plan, for example, is a long-term goal.

            Some long-term goals don’t have any time frame at all. They are goals that you want to accomplish at some point in your life. So, something like traveling the whole world is a lifelong goal with no specific time constraint at all.

            There’s one thing about long-term goals that isn’t great.

            They are the hardest to keep up with since you’re not seeing any huge achievements regularly. This may take a toll on your motivation. To tackle this problem, it is best to divide a long-term goal into various, short-term and daily objectives so that you’re always tracking the progress you’re making.

            Life-Based

            Moving forward, you can also start goal setting based on the results you want to achieve instead of the time period.

            Career

            Like most people, you will likely want to succeed and excel in your career. Anything that has to do with this intention, regardless of the time frame, is a career goal. These are usually measurable goals, such as receiving a promotion within two years, finding a job at a certain company within the next six months, etc.

            You can learn more about how to set successful career goals here.

            Personal

            The past few years have all been about emphasizing your personal health. So, when it comes to goals, how can we forget the ones that have to do with our personal gains?

            From health to finances to relationships, everything that brings you happiness and composure as a person is a personal goal. It’s important that these are realistic and attainable goals for your life.

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            Whether you want to get rid of your debt, quit smoking, start a side hustle, have children, or travel the world, all of these goals are personal and very important to have on your list.

            How to Set Goals

            The best way to guarantee the fulfillment of goals is to set them the right way.

            1. Use SMART Goals

            Every goal you define has to be SMART[3].

            SMART stands for:

            • Specific
            • Measurable
            • Attainable
            • Relevant
            • Time-Bound

            In summary, your specific goals should be very well defined. They shouldn’t be generic or broad, and every detail should be clarified as you’re goal setting. 

            If you want to start running, how often do you want to do it? How long will each session be? For how long will you continue this habit?

            There has to be a connection between your goals and beliefs or you’ll never be able to achieve the results you want. Most importantly, do not be unrealistic. You cannot learn to fly, and forcing yourself to try is only going to demotivate and stress you out.

            2. Prioritize Your Goals

            As you’re looking into how to write goals for the next month or year, it’s likely you’ll come up with more than one. In this case, it’s important to prioritize which are the most important or the ones that have the tightest deadline. This is going to be subjective, as only you know which goals will have the most impact on your life.

            3. Think of Those Around You

            As you’re working on goal setting, keep your loved ones in mind. You may have a partner, children, or employees that depend on you, and you should take them into consideration with your goals. For example, if you set a goal to travel to 10 different countries in the next two years, how will this affect your children?

            If you want to lose 30 pounds this year, is there something your partner can do to support you? S/he will need to be made aware of this before you set off on your weight loss journey.

            4. Take Action

            Setting goals is the first step, but in order to be successful, you have to follow this with action. If you set goals but never act on them, they become dreams. Create an action plan laying out the steps you need to take each day or week in order to achieve your big and small goals.

            You can also check out Lifehack’s free guide: The Dreamers’ Guide for Taking Action and Making Goals Happen. This helpful guide will push you to take action on your goals, so check it out today!

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            5. Don’t Forget the Bigger Picture

            Most people refer to the big picture as their vision. Whether it is the long-term result or the connection of the goal with your desire, keep it in mind to keep yourself from getting distracted.

            You can learn more about creating a vision for your life here.

            I also recommend you to watch this video to learn 7 strategies to set goals effectively:

            How to Reach Your Goals

            You can ensure your progress by following some foolproof tactics. The use of relevant helpful tools can also keep you on the right track.

            Tactics

            One rookie mistake that most people make is that they work on too many goals simultaneously. Create an action plan and focus on one thing at a time.

            Divide your goal into smaller, easily achievable tasks. Taking it one step at a time makes it much easier. However, do not break them down too much. For example, for long-term goals, you should go for weekly checkpoints instead of daily ones.

            Also, keep track of your progress. This will keep you motivated to work harder.

            Tools

            With so many categories of goals and so many aims, it is almost impossible to remember, let alone work, on all of them.

            Luckily, numerous goal tracker apps will help you keep track of your goals, as well as your plan to achieve every single one. Have at least one installed in your smartphone so that your plan is always within reach.

            The Bottom Line

            In conclusion, using a goal setting tips guide is not rocket science. All that it takes is strong will power along with all the knowledge that you’ve learned so far.

            Try out the tactics and goals setting tips mentioned above to be able to set successful goals so that you can achieve the life that you want!

            More Tips on Achieving Success

            Featured photo credit: Danielle MacInnes via unsplash.com

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            Reference

            [1] Smart Insights: The difference between marketing objectives and marketing goals?
            [2] Confluence: Goal Setting Theory
            [3] University of California: SMART Goals: A How-To Guide

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