How to Set Smarter, Faster, and Better Goals

Strange as this might sound, lately I’ve grown to really enjoy writing the odd article for Linkedin. A Life of Productivity will always be my home on the internet, but I’ve found LinkedIn a great way to reach new people with what I write (especially for topics I’ve written about before on here).

A few posts I’ve cranked out recently:

This week I published a brand new one, about setting better goals. To save you a minute, I’ve pasted it below! Enjoy.

Just last week, Charles Duhigg released a worthy followup to his first book, The Power of Habit.

Titled Smarter Faster Better, it’s a wildly entertaining read—I couldn’t put it down. As someone who has read an incredible number of productivity books, this book easily takes the cake as the most entertaining; chock full of stories and anecdotes that draw you in and keep you coming back for more.

The book takes a unique approach to exploring productivity that explores the overall subject mostly within organizations and teams, rather than personal productivity. So when you’re reading the book, I would recommend “pairing” some of Duhigg’s broader ideas with a few specific productivity tactics, in order to jumpstart your own productivity efforts.

The chapter of the book I selected to zero in on in this piece is goal setting. In my view, productivity isn’t about how much we produce—it’s about how much we accomplish, and setting goals ensures that we spend our time on the right things.

In Smarter Faster Better, Duhigg recommends that we set two types of goals:

  • Stretch Goals: Big, overarching goals that sound improbable on the surface, but not so impossible that they become discouraging when we think about them (e.g. running a marathon in six months).
  • SMART Goals: SMART goals bring our Stretch Goals down to reality so we can act toward achieving them. SMART is acronym for Specific (e.g. running exactly five miles by the end of the week), Measurable (measuring your distance through an app on your phone), Achievable (detailing a plan to work your way up to 5k), Realistic (scheduling all of your runs), and on a Timeline (building your way up to a 5k over six weeks).

These two types of goals become especially powerful when we pair them up.

And there are countless tactical things we can do every day to achieve the goals we set. If you decide to set both Stretch and SMART goals—and I’d argue you should—here are few additional tactics to take those goals even further, to invest in your personal productivity, and work toward them every day:

  • Spend less time on your important goals. This sounds like counterintuitive advice, but when you limit how much time you spend on your most important goals—for example, if you schedule two hours in the afternoon to work on a report, rather than the entire afternoon—you force yourself to expend more energy over that shorter amount of time to get it done. And you also prevent the task from expanding to fit how much time you have available—which bold, bold projects tend to do. This tactic works hand-in-hand with setting stretch goals: stretch goals make your goal bigger, and spending less time on these goals helps you bring even more energy to them in a more concentrated way.
  • Work when you have the most energy. As I wrote in a previous LinkedIn post, our energy-per-hour isn’t consistent, and therefore our productivity isn’t, either. When we step back to take stock of when we naturally, consistently have the most energy, we can bring even more energy and focus to our goals, instead of simply spending more time on them.
  • Set three daily intentions. While setting a new SMART goal for each day might be tedious—I like to set them every couple of weeks when working on a big project—one of the best ways to work more intentionally every day is the Rule of 3. Here’s the rule: at the start of each day, you fast-forward to the end of the day, and ask what three things you’ll want to have accomplished by the time the day is done. The rule is deceivingly simple: it helps you filter what’s important from what isn’t; helps you consider your daily constraints; only takes a minute; and helps you work more intentionally toward your goals every day.
  • Disconnect from the internet. The internet is likely integral to your work—but one study found that we spend an average of 47% of our time online procrastinating. Since bigger, more intimidating goals are more likely to push us to procrastinate, when we totally disconnect from the internet while we’re working on them, we reclaim a ton of our time and attention. Busyness is no different from laziness when it doesn’t lead us to accomplish anything—and this is especially true for the busywork we often do while online.

Because productivity is such a broad-ranging topic, it’s impossible for any one book to cover all the best practices and tools out there. If you pick up a copy of Smarter Faster Better, I highly recommend these simple but effective tactics as a pairing to go with it!

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