Set Yourself Up For Success: 7 Tips For Setting Goals

It’s kind of cheesy, but I have always liked the saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Especially when it comes to long-term goals, I believe that this is definitely true. Goals help us spend our time intentionally, stay focused and motivated, and measure our growth and successes.

If you’re an English major, maybe you aspire to write a novel. Maybe you dream of having an awesome career, or maybe your goal is to read more books this year. Whatever it is—whether big or small—it’s important that you set yourself up for success. These seven tips will help you set goals that are measurable, attainable, and realistic... and accomplish them!

1. Make sure your goals are measurable.

In order to know how to accomplish your goals and whether or not you were ultimately successful in achieving your goals, it’s important to set measureable goals. This means being specific about what you hope to achieve. This means saying “I will read 50 books this year” instead of saying “I will read more this year.”

But what about things that are a bit harder to quantify? Maybe you want to become a better writer this year. Well, first you'll need to figure out what "being a better writer" looks like to you. Does it mean having a poem published in your favorite literary magazine? Then maybe you take steps to work towards that. Maybe this means devoting a certain number of hours each week to writing poetry, maybe this means taking a couple of evening classes, or maybe you join a workshop group (or all of the above!). These things will certainly help you become a better writer, but it gives you a way to measure your progress and accomplish concrete goals you've set for yourself. 

2. Write your goals down, and keep them visible.

If you have more than one or two goals, you probably won’t remember them for very long. Write your (measurable!) goals down in a place that you look often. Maybe it’s a page in your planner with a bookmark, or maybe it’s a list of goals in fancy handwriting that you hang on a bulletin board by your desk. Whatever it is, you need to have your goals in a place that you can reference over and over again throughout the year.

It's also important to write down goals so you can come back to them at the end of the year and see how much progress you've made. If you've been working towards a few goals all year long but haven't written anything down, it can be easy to get to the end of the year and wonder what you've accomplished. Being able to reference written goals and see that you actually achieved a few of them is a pretty cool feeling! 

3. Set specific time frames for your goals.

It can be easy to set goals and then think, "Well, I have a long time to accomplish these. I'll get started next month when I have more time." But before you know it, you're caught up in life, forget about your goals, and then it's December again and you haven't made any progress.

To avoid this, consider breaking up the year into quarters, months, or even weeks. Saying “I’m going to write and revise 70,000 words of a novel this year” makes it easy to put off until November or December (and by then you’ve probably forgotten about the goal altogether). Instead, consider writing down something like this:

  • Quarter 1: Write 35,000 words
  • Quarter 2: Write 35,000 words
  • Quarter 3: Revise first half of novel
  • Quarter 4: Revise second half of novel

If it’s helpful for you, consider breaking it down even more. Say how many words you’ll write per month, or week, or even day. Write down deadlines in a calendar and set aside time to work towards your mini goals. 

4. Identify a long-term goal and what you can do this year to get one step closer to achieving it. 

If you’re a sophomore in college and your goal is to work as an editor at a publishing house one day, that might seem like an unrealistic or unattainable goal right now. As a result, you might push it aside and not think about it, or you might decide that you’ll just figure it out later. But why not start working towards that goal now?

Set up smaller goals for yourself, and choose action items that you can do this year. These action items might include things like working on your college’s literary magazine, working as an editor at your college’s newspaper, making an appointment with your college’s career center for help and advice… the list goes on! 

5. Your goals should be realistic... but not too easy.

It’s important not to set goals that are too far out of reach, otherwise you won’t end up reaching them because they were impossible from the get-go. Saying you’re going to “publish your first best-selling novel” or “become fluent in French” this year are probably not very realistic goals. But what about completing a novel and sending it out to test readers? Now, that’s a big goal, but it’s definitely possible in a year! Or let's say you want to become fluent in French; that’s also probably unrealistic, but maybe you set a goal of reading a certain book in French. Each modified goal still presents a challenge and is certainly not easy, but each goal is still realistic and achievable. 

6. Have a way to be held accountable. 

You don’t have to do this alone! Find a friend (or a group) who is just as driven as you are and agree to share your goals with each other. Establish check-ins throughout the year where you can share progress (or lack of progress) with each other and stay motivated and inspired. It could be as simple as a Facebook group, or you could make it more fun and meet up for happy hour. Sharing your goals and being held accountable to someone other than just yourself can be a huge motivator for some people. Know thyself! 

7. Have an incentive.

Accomplishing the goal itself is definitely a reward, but if it’s something you know you need to do but don’t really want to do, then make up an extra incentive! Maybe you and a friend agree that if you accomplish all of your goals that year, you’ll both take a trip together. Or maybe it’s something smaller, like buying yourself a new book you’ve been wanting. If you’re a part of an accountability group, maybe the group gets to do something special if everyone accomplishes their goals for that month or quarter. Having an extra incentive can be a huge motivator for some people! 


Alyssa W. Christensen is the founder of and the owner and managing editor of Home Scribe Creative, a business that provides writing, editing, and marketing services to real estate agents. Alyssa lives in Seattle, WA with her husband and their dog Bella. She loves trying out new restaurants, traveling, playing violin and guitar, painting, and lettering.


Posted on December 28, 2016 and filed under Articles, Featured Articles.