Five Tips for Setting (and Achieving) Goals

It feels like there are a lot of givens in December – family celebrations for the holidays, colder weather for us to snuggle up by the fireplace, and the annual tradition of thinking about New Year’s resolutions. The questions that many of us ask ourselves are how do you balance personal and work goals, are goals even worth it if you only stick with them for a month or two, and how do you pick your top goals? 

According to the University of Scranton, 92 percent of people who set New Year’s goals never actually achieve them. That leaves a disappointing 8 percent of people who do achieve their goals. What separates successful achievers from those who fall short? Is it possible that some of these goals don’t even belong on the list? 

For those that are committed to making a lasting impact and doing things differently in 2023, what are the best ways to take the necessary steps to make the big or small changes you seek to be more fulfilled? How do you move from thinking about reading 12 books this year to doing it or losing 20 pounds that the pandemic helped your accumulate or does finding more work/life balance make your list for the fifth year in a row with little progress with each passing year?

I don’t claim to have a special secret to help everyone achieve their goals, but here is some proactive advice I have followed from experts that I’ve seen work for me and others.   

  1. Warren Buffet’s 25/5 Rule

Less is more according to the legendary investor, Warren Buffet. There is a debate if this rule is real or an urban legend, but I think it is brilliant advice. The story goes that Buffet’s pilot asked for his advice for setting and achieving goals. Buffet suggested he write down his 25 goals, which the pilot did. Then Buffet said to think hard and circle your top five goals, to which the pilot complied. And finally, Buffet said to forget about the 20 goals you crossed out since they were only distractions and put your focus on the top five. Being overwhelmed by too many items on our to-do list gets us distracted. Stay focused on the top couple of the most meaningful items that can have the biggest impact on your life.

Annual planning for a company is usually a massive undertaking. At one company where I worked, I’ve seen OKRs last only one quarter since they were too numerous and not all C-level execs were bought off on them. So we stopped reporting on them after the Q1 QBR and All-Hands. Bottom line, focus, focus, focus.   

  1. Create SMART Goals

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. If you are missing any one of these aspects of goal setting, you merely have ideas in your head or wishes you would like to achieve, but you don’t have the plan to see them through. There is a fine balance between setting SMART goals in terms of being time-bound. It takes practice to set stretch goals over a reasonable period of time rather than impossible goals that leave you frustrated. Finding that sweet spot takes practice, so don’t expect to get all your goals 100% correct right out of the gate. 

At one of my previous companies, my boss had the Marketing team align our “what matters” goals each quarter. These goals were all SMART goals, but most critically they were all actionable. These smart goals were shared in a Google Doc with everyone in Marketing. The biggest mistake someone would make with their goals was to highlight words and phrases not related to a measurable goal such as – I am going to set up a meeting with a cross-function team to brainstorm and build a collaborative plan. Instead, focus on measurable outcomes that are aligned with the business. People were rewarded for setting lofty goals and falling short as opposed to focusing on incremental improvement that was easy to achieve and didn’t help the bottom line. 

  1. Determine the why behind your goals 

Use a simple approach to not just write down SMART goals, but also answer the following question –  “I want to _________ so that I can _______.” Channel your inner Simon Sinek and answer the question “why” can be very motivating and help you think about things like getting healthy, learning a new language, or discovering a new hobby. Share both your goals and why you are focused on those areas with friends and family, so they can help keep you motivated on your journey. Making a commitment to yourself and to others reinforces your desire to achieve these goals. These people will be your biggest cheerleaders in good times and support systems when you need someone. 

One of the biggest BHAG goals a previous team had was to create an industry analyst evaluation for each of our six major product areas. We knew the “what” was to create the evaluations and we knew the “why” was because they were our top lead generation tool. We started off with just two of the six having analyst reports. While it took about 18 months to achieve this feat, we achieved the goal. These reports were so critical that each year our CEO hung them up in his office as each new report came out. 

  1. Set lofty goals, but start with little habits

While it is okay to think big, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with unrealistic goals. Break down your goals into chunks. Make small changes daily and weekly that can lead to dramatic changes over the long term. Write your goals down and do regular check-ins. Celebrate successes. Don’t fret over missteps. Remember the goal is progress, not perfection. The book Atomic Habits is one of the best reads on this topic. 

This summer I told my husband I wanted to write a leadership book to share what I’ve learned during nearly 25 years in the tech industry. While he was supportive of my writing a book, he suggested I start with a blog, which was the advent of It felt more manageable to start with a weekly blog series rather than sit down and start writing a book. One day writing a book will make the top five list!

  1. Trust the process

As we anything in life, the mindset that you bring to these goals will make all the difference. When you are setting goals, you know there is a different outcome you want in your life. And the actions that you apply to achieve these goals move you to the desired outcome. At the same time, you need to accept where you are today. Don’t beat yourself up, and don’t be demotivated. Just accept, especially those things that are out of our control – unforeseen events happen in our, timing can be off, and there are situations where people are just unlucky. Move forward with those things you can control and change. Disappointment can occur when an outcome is different from what we expected. So I would ask you to let go of expectations and focus on concrete actions that you can impact.  

The question many ask is when do I start? The right day is the one that you are truly committed to moving forward on the path of leading the life you want. Focus on your five goals and why you want to make these changes in your life and that will drive you forward. Remember you just need to show up every day and try to improve something, even if it is just small strides. Fully embrace what a better version of yourself can look like. I hope that 2023 is a year of focus and positive steps forward to the person you are meant to be.

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