How to set and successfully achieve goals

Goals are crucial to success. If you don't have clear goals, you can never know when you've achieved success. In both business and personal life, goals determine what we want and whom we want to be.

In this article, we’re going to explore ways to use technology to set and meet your goals. While technology isn't a magic bullet to make your goals magically come true, it can help you stay motivated, track your progress, and measure your success.

Write down your goals

Everyone can benefit from writing down his or her goals. It's an activity that requires a bit of time, especially if you haven't done it in several years. Pick an hour during the week when you're uninterrupted – Saturday morning over coffee, a Monday evening in the tub, a Sunday afternoon in the park… wherever and whenever you do your best thinking.

Then, literally write down your goals as a brainstorming exercise.

Preparing for a presentation requires practicing aloud; think of writing down your goals in the same light. There is a major difference between what's going on in your head, and words and ideas that you have actually taken the time to articulate and write down.

Plenty of articles you’ll find on the web can provide specific tips on how to shape your goals, but the gist of it is – make them concrete, keep them attainable, and remember that goals should capture your vision rather than act as milestones along the journey (those are objectives) or specific tasks (those are to-do list items).

Where to save your goal list

Put your goals in a file on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Store it in an application that you use frequently (some examples might be Microsoft Word, or perhaps a note-taking app), and on the device you use most frequently. Label the file clearly, and write the date at the top.

The purpose of keeping your goals in an electronic document is twofold. First, you won't misplace it, as you could a slip of paper. Second, you can easily return to it and read it over and over again.

I remember a scene from some old sitcom in which a young girl wanted to lose weight. She taped magazine pages of bikini-clad models to the refrigerator so that she would remember she wanted to be thin before she grabbed something to eat. It was a silly and intentionally exaggerated act, but the point of it always stuck with me. To achieve a goal, you need tactics for keeping the goal fresh in your mind. That's how you find the daily motivation to stay on target and continue working toward your goals.

Automate, disseminate, schedule

When thinking about how to use technology for typically non-technological things (like personal betterment, which is kind of how I see goal-setting), I always like to remind myself what technology can and can't do. In and of itself, technology can't achieve your goals for you. But what technology can do is automate, disseminate information, and schedule, three things that you can leverage to help you work on your goals.

Automate

If there are small tasks that you can automate with technology, do it! Whether you can do so largely depends on your specific goals, of course. Say you have a business goal of making better use of data you collect to inform decisions. You might be able to automate a weekly report of the metrics you want. When that report pops up in your inbox, it'll remind you to make use of the data. If your goal is to save money for retirement, you can automate a direct deposit into your savings account. Ask yourself whether there are routine functions involved in reaching your goals that you can automate – then use technology to your advantage.

Disseminate information

Some people are more motivated to reach their goals when they tell others about them. It makes them feel accountable. If this statement applies to you, use technology to disseminate your list of goals to others. Email your closest friends, share your goals on a social network, or you could even join an online community of people sharing the same goal who can provide support. The goal-sharing website 43things is another option.

Schedule

Earlier, I mentioned that goals are meant to be your vision, while objectives are milestones along the way, and tasks are daily to-do list items. Each builds upon the other, and that's easiest to see when you actually map it out on a schedule. Reverse-engineer your goals by breaking them into objectives, and assign a due date. What steps do you need to take to reach your goal, and when should each one occur to keep you on target? You could use full-on project management software for scheduling, but that's overkill for most people's personal goals. However, do put your objectives on your calendar. Use features like appointments and reminders so that you'll get an automated message when an objective's deadline is approaching to help you remember. Again, it's best to take advantage of apps you already use, rather than try to adopt something new. I'd guess that most people use the calendars in Outlook, Google, and their smartphones. If a paper diary has proven to be the most effective for you, use that.

It's also not a bad idea to have a monthly appointment that simply reads: "Review goals." That's when you open your goal file and re-read what you wrote. If you've achieved an objective en route to the goal, note it in the file and mark the date you completed it. As time passes and you see real activity logged on the file, you'll know you're actually making progress. Otherwise, it's very easy to lose sight of your goals and not recognise how far you've come.

Recognise and celebrate

The best part about using technology to set, track, and meet your goals is you know when you've hit an accomplishment. Too often in life we get bogged down with what we haven't done and as a result don't celebrate the things we have done. When you reach a goal, don't delete it from that ever-present file of yours. Keep it there, bold it, and add a date to remind yourself how far you've come.