What Exactly are Goals and Why Do We Need Them?

Many of us do not have clear, thought-out goals. That always comes as a surprise to us. When we ask people at our speaking seminars if they have written goals, maybe half of the group raises their hand. If we ask if they have unwritten goals, a few timid hands go up. These people are usually shy about volunteering this information because they themselves are wondering if their goals are less valuable because they are not written.

Why don’t we all have goals, written or not written? Most people think of goals as large and aspirational and beyond their reach. Here’s an example of a lofty goal — the type that people often think of when they say they have goals: “I will grow my company to become an industry leader in three years.” This goal is long-term, hard to reach, and substantive. Many people find this type of goal beyond their frame of reference. It may be. These types of goals are often created by teams of executives who spend days, even weeks, formulating them. We are often put off by this type of elaborate goal setting process and may decide that goals aren’t for me.

Instead of eliminating all goals, we are suggesting another way to view them. We are all capable of establishing and reaching goals. Admittedly, goals on the top end such as becoming an industry leader, overlap with aspirations – they’re far-reaching business goals. But, at the bottom end of the goal spectrum, they often overlap with to-do’s (they may feel like to-do’s but are not). When you walk into the office wanting to achieve three goals for the day, there are often several steps – to-do’s — needed to accomplish each goal. Even if they do not feel “important” enough, big enough or worthwhile enough, many of the things we do during the day fall under the goals category. Smaller, short-term goals can be just as worthy and important as larger, more esteemed goals and can get you where you want to go. Did you accomplish three goals before leaving the office today? Then you were productive. That’s a reason to celebrate.

When we discuss goals, we include aspirational goals with the ordinary goals we choose every day to get our work done. Goals are intensely personal and there are no rules or restrictions. People have their own goals and their own ways of reaching them whether they are short-term or long-term. Both types have merit and count.

Why do we need goals? They give us purpose and focus and help us plan. We function better knowing that we have met important goals we personally set. Small or large … it does not matter.

Goals help prioritize tasks. We are often asked by overwhelmed clients which tasks should be done first. It can be very confusing looking at a long list and wondering in what order they should be handled. This is when having goals is really helpful. Referring back to your goals will help you determine what tasks on your to-do list should be done first.

Goals give us an end point which can be used for measuring progress. It allows us to break up a larger process into smaller, doable chunks that we know we are capable of handling. If our goal is to move from being a general accountant to an accountant specializing in forensics, there are a number of steps necessary to accomplish the goal, such as speaking to forensic accountants about their experiences (one step) and taking classes (another step). Once those two steps are complete, then we can move to the next action (as David Allen in Getting Things Done refers to it).

Goals require that we be specific vs. day dreaming or resorting to ‘someday maybe’. Just wanting a promotion at work or improving our skill sets will not happen without action. Goals turn a vision into a reality. By clarifying a goal, we understand exactly what it will take to reach it. We create criteria that will help move us farther along in our careers and achieve what we consider important. Many of us use S.M.A.R.T. goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable,   Realistic, and Timely) when we first establish a goal. However, it is important to monitor the goal at all times, not just at the beginning. (Watch for tips in a future blog on how to stay focused throughout the life of the goal,)

Achieving a goal is a satisfying experience. It takes effort, organization and focus to accomplish it. Relish the feeling that you did it. It will boost your self-confidence and prepare you for the next one. No matter what the challenge, even if it is harder, you know you are capable and up for it.

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