How to Set Effective Goals

I believe we all want to accomplish awesome things in life. No one wants to get to the end of their life and say, “Well, I guess I watched a lot of movies and worked my 40 hours every week”. The only problem with being productive is it’s rarely the convenient or natural thing to do. Rarely does one choose practicing guitar over watching the new season of New Girl on Netflix.

Part of the problem is that most people have dreams, not goals. Dreams are great. They help us smile through the slog of the every-day in the faith and hope that someday our dreams will be real.

The problem with this is dreams are never accomplished. Goals are accomplished. So it’s time to take your dreams and convert them into goals.

There are three major questions that can help us determine what your goals should be.

1. What Are My Dreams?

Dreams are important. They encapsulate our desires and the essence of who we want to be. We all have them. “I want to play my music in front of millions”, “I want to publish my own book”, and “I want to run a marathon” are all examples of dreams.

What do you fantasize about doing or being? Do you want to be an actor in a blockbuster movie? Do you want to run a business so successful that you own 5 yachts? Do you want to build your own house?

Don’t tell yourself any dreams are too big or too small. Dreams are meant for aiming high; even aiming impossible. Write down all the dreams you have. I don’t care if you think you can’t do them- write them down.

2. What Do I Love To Do?

We all have things we love to do. We might not do them as much as we’d like to and there are likely some passions we haven’t even discovered yet.

You need to figure out what you love to do. What are the things that keep you smiling ear to ear? What are the events you keep looking back on, wishing you were there again? When you’re staring out the window, what are you thinking about?

Now write down what you love to do in a separate list.

3. What Do I Actually Spend Time Doing?

Sometimes we don’t really like to do something we think we do. Sometimes we fancy ourselves liking to play the guitar but don’t spend any time playing, because video games always seem to be more fun.

What do you actually spend your free time on? Do you spend time reading or writing? Do you spend time carving or painting? Or do you spend a lot of free time gardening? Sometimes what we actually spend our time on can illuminate what we actually like to do. If we prioritize writing short stories over practicing guitar but say our dream is to be a musician, perhaps it is time to reevaluate.

In a third list, write down what you actually spend your free time doing.

Now it is time to look at our three lists, and see what matches up. If some of the things in your “Love to Do” and “Spend Time Doing” lists match up with items on your “Dreams” list, those should be the first dreams you convert into goals. If you think you love to do those things, make time to do them AND dream about being successful at them, clearly this is something you should go after. If you have some dreams you wrote down that don’t go along with anything in your other two lists, maybe it’s time to reevaluate if that dream is really worth going after. If you want to be a professional pianist but don’t like practicing the piano, maybe that isn’t a dream you actually want.

Whatever dreams have survived until now are what we are going to work off of to make Goals. We want to convert these dreams into S.M.A.R.T. goals, so we can work towards achieving them.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

S.M.A.R.T. goals are important, because a goal that isn’t S.M.A.R.T. is arguably still a dream and not a goal. S.M.A.R.T. goals are much easier to track and much easier to stick with. They also can be more motivating, as you can actively see the progress you’re making. So what is a S.M.A.R.T. goal?


Dreams are vague, goals are specific. A dream is “I want to be a pop star”, a goal specifies the next step to actually get there. What does a pop star really mean? How does one even begin accomplish that? A specific goal will specify how many shows it is you plan to play this year or how many songs you will release. Playing live and making music have to be the steps to the dream of being a pop star, right?


Goals are measurable. There is no debate on whether they have been achieved or not. “I want to be a good pianist” is impossible to clearly accomplish. What does “good” mean? Are you “good” once you learn to play that difficult piece you’ve been working on? Or is “good” when you can learn to improvise in any key? Or is “good” when you can sight-read most pieces?

A goal is worded in measurable ways. Like “I want to learn 10 new music pieces” or “I want to learn to improvise in all the major scales”. You could make a checklist of 10 new pieces and check them off as you go. A goal should have an obvious time to “check the box” on the goal or on the steps to accomplishing a goal. If you have to sit and think “Have I really accomplished this?” then your goal isn’t measurable.


What good is a goal if it can’t be reached? If your goal is to make the Ohio State Basketball team and the last time you played was in middle school, maybe you should re-evaluate.

It’s important to be attainable in the time span you give as well. So if your goal is to write and publish a book in the next 2 months, maybe you need to change the time on that.


Is this really a goal you care about? Is this the right time to go after this goal? If you’re about to have your first child, this may not be the right time to have a goal that will take up all your time. If you don’t really want to write, but said you wanted to write a book for the past 20 years, maybe this goal isn’t really for you.


A goal needs to have a distinct “due date”. You could set a goal to write and publish a Sci-Fi Novel but, without a date to complete it by, you might spend your whole life delaying your work. The point of a goal is to push you to accomplish something and, without being time-bound, a goal won’t do that.

Let’s put this all together and see what a well-crafted S.M.A.R.T. goal looks like and what a poorly crafted S.M.A.R.T. goal looks like.

Example 1:

Bad: I will create my own blog.

Not Good: I will create my own blog and write 10 blog posts.

Good: I will create my own blog and post 2 blog posts per month for the next year, releasing one on the 10th and 25th of each month.

Example 2:

Bad: I will better myself this month.

Not Good: I will read some self-help books this month.

Good: I will read 2 self-help books in the next 30 days.

Now you have some goals! You can kiss silly New Year’s resolutions goodbye, because you have real goals now. Something you care about and have an action path to complete. Awesome! Be sure to write these goals down where you will keep track of them. You can use an online tool, a list on your refrigerator, or whatever will work for you. There will be upcoming blog posts on how to accomplish your goals and productivity tools to help you out, so be sure to subscribe to our email list to be sure not to miss them.

What kind of goals have you set? What goals did you decide weren’t worth the effort? Let us know in the comments or tweet at me @josephNVadala or at us @EscapeTheBoxLab. If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe to our email list to stay up to date with our new content. Thank you so much for reading! If you found this helpful or know someone who would enjoy it, please like and share!

4 thoughts on “How to Set Effective Goals

  1. I am such a big supporter of having goals – SMART ones at that. This is a great explanation and should encourage many others to do the same. I’m always amazed when I assess how much time I spend on certain activities, how little I actually do to meet my goals if I don’t actually make a point of it! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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