Goal Setting 101

Business Writing CoachIn my career as a business writing coach and a coach about the business of writing, I’ve come across some interesting statistics about setting goals:

  • 78% of Americans wish they were more productive
  • People who set goals are 13% more productive than those who don’t
  • People who write down their goals are 1000% as productive as those who don’t

And perhaps most interesting…

  • Only 4% of Americans explicitly define and write down their goals. 

Short version? Setting goals is important. Writing them down is even more important. Writing them down in a way that helps you meet them is even more important than that. Here are three key rules to doing just that.

Have Perspective

Dave Kovar, a mentor and hero of mine, once told me that most people set their short-term goals to large and their long-term goals too small.

In the short term, we fall into a cycle of excitement. When we set goals, we’re excited and motivated. We feel full of energy and we’re usually in a space where we have a little extra time (otherwise we wouldn’t be taking time to examine our goals, we’d be working on other projects). The end result is overcommitting on our short-term goals. We promise ourselves we’ll write ten new books in three months, lose 10 pounds a week, build a whole second story onto the house, and other impossible tasks.

The result of promising ourselves the impossible is failing to keep those promises. We only write two books, only lose 1 pound a week, only buy the lumber for the home improvement project. Because the realities of our time, attention, and energy mean our excited and inspired goals were unrealistic.

After a couple of repetitions, we become discouraged about our ability to meet goals at all.  After all, we failed to accomplish the goals we set. That leads to the second half of this problem.

In the long term, we lose sight of the power of doing small things every day over time. Remember: if you write a page a day, you’ll have a complete novel in one year. Another mentor of mine, Tom Callos, has made me do 55,000 pushups and run 1,000 miles per year for a total of three years. That’s possible because I don’t try to do it all in the first month. I spread the load out over an entire year, making the task manageable.

You can still write ten books, lose 50 pounds, build a whole new wing on your house. You just have to make realistic space for it in your timeline.

When you set goals for your writing, keep both of these common mistakes in mind and review your plan to make sure you avoid them. With my business writing coaching clients, it’s part of the process.

Use SMART Goalsetting

smart goal setting for business writing coach You’ll find different definitions of the SMART acronym for goal-setting, but this is my favorite for the small businesses that most writing operations are.

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.

This rule helps you to form and express your goals in a way that makes them more likely to actually turn them into reality.


  • Specific goals clearly define what success looks like using unambiguous language and exact detail. If you can’t attach a number to it somewhere, your goal probably isn’t specific enough.
  • Measurable goals attach definitions, and metrics whenever possible, to make it clear when progress is being made. If you can’t track your progress on a spreadsheet, it isn’t sufficiently measurable.
  • Achievable goals are possible to complete with the time and resources available. This pings back to the issue I mentioned above. If you find you’re stressing out about getting it done week after week, you might want to retool and make it more achievable.
  • Relevant goals are checked to make sure that the success condition actually brings you closer to your definition of success. They’re also relevant to your emotional motivation. If the end result doesn’t get you excited, it’s likely not relevant enough.
  • Time-Bound goals set a finish date, with large goals setting benchmarks for defined points of partial completion. If you lack a deadline, your goal is not time-bound.

Bad Example: “Be more active on social media”

Good Example: “Post ten times each week on Google+ for the next three months.”

One point about how the good example is achievable. Note how it says “post ten times each week” instead of “post twice every day.” The reason for that is you’re going to have a bad day at least once in the next quarter. If you promise yourself you’ll post every day, you have failed in your goal when that bad day happens and you don’t post. Promising ten posts a week means you can double up your posts the day after something goes wrong.

Outsource Accountability

You can set all the goals in the world, but if you don’t actually do the work on them you won’t achieve anything. A (very) few of us are put-together enough to actually hold ourselves accountable to our progress toward goals every day.

I’m not one of those people. If you’re not, what I recommend is finding out outside source to hold you accountable in the grind. A few I’ve tried, or heard worked for others:

  • Find peer to meet with once a week, and to harass and be harassed by daily via text or social media. If you run a small business, find another small business owner. If you’re a stay-at-home parent working on a novel, find a buddy in a similar situation.
  • A few apps exist that are basically role-playing games that give you experience and items for completing your daily goals. Assuming you don’t lie to the program, these are surprisingly motivating for many people.
  • Create — or join — a Facebook group where people share and hold one another accountable to their goals. I have one right here, and you’re welcome to join us. You can also just post your goals on your general feed and use the pressure of potential embarrassment to push you forward.
  • You can also hire a coach to keep you moving toward your goals. It’s more expensive than these other options, but can also be well worth the investment.

What are your experiences with, advice about, best successes, and cautionary tales about goalsetting?



One thought on “Goal Setting 101

  1. I have considerable issues with knowing what I want. To the point where I fail at my goals simply because I decide I don’t want to complete them and I’m often worried about putting my effort into things as I don’t trust myself on whether I really want it.

    It’s killing me, you got a cure?


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