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Last Updated on November 28, 2022

Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?

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Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?

The differences between the words “goal” and “objective” are sometimes misunderstood. They both talk about things that a person might want to do or get, but they may mean differently when it comes to context.

Only 20% of people set goals for themselves, and out of the 20% only about 30% of goal-setters really achieve their goals.[1]

While goals and objectives are both outcomes that an individual hopes to achieve via their efforts, they differ in terms of their intended duration, the characteristics they are designed to have, and the impact they will have.

Here are some of the key differences and ways to use them to help you achieve more in life.

Starting From Basics: Goals Vs. Objectives

If you want to get ahead in your job, you need to know the difference between goals and objectives. Here’s how to tell them apart, and use them to develop a successful career and happy life.

What’s a Goal?

A goal is a concise description of the final outcome you want to reach over a significant period of time, often three to five years. It is an all-encompassing claim that specifies no particular means by which the desired objective is to be achieved.

According to studies in neuroscience, goal-setting rewires our brains by biologically modifying, changing, and adapting to new behaviors that will help us reach our goals.[2]

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The SMART goal-setting methodology is widely considered to be the most effective method. A SMART goal should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

When someone creates a strategy with a specific goal in mind, they are laying out the steps necessary to get there. The components of the framework collaborate to provide a well-thought-out, realistic, and measurable goal.

People and businesses often doom themselves to failure by establishing too broad and unattainable objectives like “I want to be the best at X.” There is no clear direction or focus to this goal.

By being precise, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound, SMART goals increase the likelihood of success.

Goals set using the SMART method are more likely to be accomplished because they provide more challenge, provide clarity of purpose, and are more easily manageable.

Examples of goals:

  • Starting a business
  • Buying a house
  • Improving job performance
  • Increase savings
  • Losing weight

What’s an Objective?

Objectives are measurable, definable, and time-bound targets that should be accomplished in a year or less. The means by which a target is to be achieved are outlined in the form of objectives.

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A company that wants to increase its sales may set the following goal: “Add three additional services by the end of December this year.”

Objectives help define goals, find activities that conflict, guide parts of the decision-making process, and make sure that people in an organization are held accountable. Goal displacement is common when goals and supporting objectives are not clearly stated.

Michels first identified the phenomena of goal displacement in 1911, describing it as the replacement of an organization’s original, sometimes radical or idealistic aims with the more pragmatic, but less desirable, goals that are necessary to keep the organization running and its leadership in power.[3]

Examples of objectives:

  • Finish creating a business plan in Q1
  • Talk to my bank representative about applying for a home loan
  • Schedule quarterly meetings with my boss
  • Save an additional $10,000 in one year
  • Lose 10 lbs in six months.

The Key Differences Between a Goal and an Objective

Now that we understand the difference between goals and objectives, let’s break them down further based on scope, specificity, timeframe, actions, and measurement using examples.

Scope / Size

  • Goals are aspirational statements that are too general to be evaluated by any one measure.
  • Objectives are more detailed than goals and are typically outlined in terms of measures or actions to be taken.

Specificity

  • Goals are broad descriptions of what should be accomplished. As such, they offer no details on what must be done on your part to bring them to reality.
  • The opposite is true with objectives, which are specific activities to be completed within a certain time frame.

Timeframe

  • Goals are things you want to do over a long period of time and are typically broken down into a number of smaller objectives that are spread out over a number of different timelines.
  • Objectives are things you want to do in a shorter amount of time. Companies can create short-term objectives that are both realistic and inspiring to work toward.

Actions

  • A  goal has a general action, or even more precisely, an outcome, that we work toward achieving.
  • Objectives perform a certain action, and the aim contributes to the successful completion of the associated goal.

Measurement

  • Time might be used as a gauge to ensure the success of your goal. You may do this by making a schedule, which will tell you how long it will take to accomplish your goal, how many things you need to undertake, and how long each task will take.
  • Statements outlining the qualities of the most important services required, as well as the outcomes of those services, are examples of measurable objectives. Specifics on who will be doing what and when should be included in every objective.

How to Achieve What You Want With Goals And Objectives

Goals and objective go hand-in-hand. When you set goals, you are essentially putting a plan in place for what you want to achieve. But accomplishing your goals can be tricky, and even more difficult if you don’t have a specific plan of action.

That’s where objectives come in. Objectives can help you break down your goals into smaller, more manageable tasks that you can complete on your way to achieving your ultimate goal.

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One of the main benefits of using objectives is that they help keep you focused. When your goal is clear in your mind, it’s easy to become distracted and lose sight of what’s important.

Following the creation of company goals, they can be further broken down into more specific objectives. This method may be used to ensure responsibility at all levels of a team, from upper management to individual contributors.[4] But when you have specific objectives to complete, you’re more likely to stay on track since completing them will bring you one step closer to reaching your goal.

Another thing to keep in mind is that objectives should always be achievable. If they’re not, then you’ll quickly become discouraged and give up. Celebrating smalls wins and accomplishment along the way can help you stay motivated until you reach your final goal.

Setting and achieving objectives can be an extremely helpful way to achieve your goals. By breaking down your goals into smaller tasks and focusing on what’s important, you’ll find it easier to stay on track and reach your desired outcome.

5 Steps to Achieve What You Want

If you’re looking for ways to achieve your dreams without getting overwhelmed by all of the details, setting goals and objectives is a great way to start. Here are some tips for setting effective goals and objectives that will help you reach your desired outcome:

1. Start with Small and Achievable Goals

The most important thing when it comes to goal setting is starting small. This makes it easier to work up toward larger ones over time. With smaller and achieveable goals,

Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?

Action Item

1 Action
Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?
Break down your main goal into actionable items that you can tackle on a daily or weekly basis. This will keep you motivated and help ensure that progress is made in the right direction. 

2. Set Realistic Timelines

Setting rigid timelines can be counterproductive and make it harder to achieve your goals. Instead, set yourself reasonable deadlines that allow you to plan out and complete each step without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

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Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?

Action Item

1 Action
Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?
Work Backwards: Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This will help you stay focused and break down tasks, especially if projects can go on indefinitely.

3. Take Regular Breaks

Taking regular breaks allows you to come back with a fresh perspective and refocus on the goal at hand. It also prevents burnout, which can lead to procrastination and an inability to stay motivated toward achieving your goals.

Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?

Action Item

1 Action
Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?
Take a Lunch Time Walk: While trying to cram through your workload during lunch seems productive, taking a stroll outside instead. Taking lunch breaks has been proven to improve concentration.

4. Celebrate Small Victories

Achieving any kind of success is worth celebrating! Don’t forget to take time to enjoy your successes as you move closer to achieving your larger goals and objectives.

Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?

Action Item

1 Action
Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?
Go out and reward yourself guilt-free. Whether it’s treating yourself to a nice cup of coffee or going out to the movies, use these small celebrations to boost your energy to tackle the next thing.

5. Keep Track of Your Progress

Keeping track of your progress is essential to staying motivated and on track with your goals. You can do this in a variety of ways, from using a physical planner or calendar to creating spreadsheets and tracking systems online.

Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?

Action Item

1 Action
Goals vs. Objectives: What Are the Key Differences?
Get an accountability partner to help you stay on track. Whether its a monthly or a quarterly check in, this is a different type of motivation to help you stay focused on your goals.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to setting goals and objectives, it’s important to remember that the two are different. Goals should be aspirational and something you’re working towards, while objectives should be specific and measurable so you can track your progress.

By understanding the difference between the two, you’ll be able to set more effective goals and make sure you’re on track to reaching them. In terms of setting goals and objectives, it’s important to have an action plan in place. This should include clear steps and timelines for each stage.

It should also include milestones so you can measure success along the way. This kind of plan will help ensure that you stay on track with your goals and objectives, and make them achievable.

Featured photo credit: Smart via unsplash.com

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Reference

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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