GoalsOnTrack Blog

A systematic approach to achieving goals and getting results.

3 Key Mistakes to Avoid in Setting Goals

By Robert Pagliarini

If you set goals for yourself or for others as part of your job, it is imperative you don’t make the goal-crushing mistakes discussed below. You already learned how positive fantasies hurt real-world success — namely, that when you imagine the positive result too vividly, you experience some of the joy and become less energized to actually do the work. But that’s just the beginning. Not all goals are created equally. According to research from Harvard Business School, you need to avoid these common errors in setting goals:

1. Goals that are too specific. One benefit of goal is that is focuses your attention. It forces you to focus all of your attention, resources, and energy on a single objective, rather than a range of disparate and even conflicting goal. That can be incredibly powerful. People without goals diffuse their energy across multiple objectives. But have them train their sights on something specific and you will begin to see results. That’s the good news.

The bad news? Goals can be too specific. The biggest problem is when you set the wrong goal. You decide to lose 15 pounds. Seems reasonable, but it may be too focused on a specific number and distract from what you really want — better health. Remember Enron? Their goal was laser-focused on hitting revenue targets — so much so that bonuses and other incentives were pegged to sales, when a much better goal would have been to target profits.

Another side-effect of excessively targeted goals is that you can become blind to important, but seemingly unrelated, issues. A tragic example of this is the Ford Pinto, which had a tendency to explode in rear-end collisions. The automaker’s goal was to bring the car to market, overriding safety concerns.

2. Too many goals. According to the Harvard report, “Individuals with multiple goals are prone to concentrate on only one goal.” But which one? Research shows that when we have both quantity and quality goals, we will focus on meeting the quantity goals because they are easier to achieve and measure. The lesson here is to strip away as many of your goals as possible and focus more intensively on a smaller number of objectives.

3. Inappropriate time horizon. We see this play out every quarter in the stock market. For many companies, it’s all about hitting this quarter’s earnings, even if if that harms long-term growth. It’s the kick-the-can approach to goal achievement. And if your time frame is off, your goals may act as a ceiling to performance.

Take an enduring question that the Harvard report addresses — why it is so hard to get a taxi on a rainy day. Too much people looking for a cab, right? Yes, but there is more to it than that. Cab drivers typically set daily fare goals — usually double the amount it costs them to rent their cabs for their shift. With rain comes more customers, so they hit their daily goal early and then go home early. In short, for cabbies the daily goal time-frame is not the most effective. If they set weekly or monthly targets, they could work longer hours when it rains and get off early on days when it is dryer (and slower).

What are your goals? Are they too focused? Do you have too many? Or do you have time limits that aren’t realistic? Review each of your goals so you don’t commit the mistakes above and to ensure your goals are designed for maximum success.

New Feature: Sample Goal Templates

You probably have noticed that we recently launched a new feature called Goal Templates. It allows you to convert your own goals into templates and reuse them for setting new goals.

In addition to this new feature, we have just added to the software 10 sample goal templates to help you get started with certain goals if you are not sure how to setup the similar goals. They are divided into five categories which are Family, Growth, Health, Money and Work.

With these sample templates, you can quickly setup your own goals by just customizing these template goals, instead of entering everything from scratch. Each template comes with a detailed action plan or steps that you can take to reach your goal.

These templates work the same way as your own templates under “My Templates”. The only difference is that they are read-only and can only be used to create your goals, but not editable.

We will be adding more templates like these in the coming weeks. Hope you will find them useful. If you have any preference for certain types of goal templates, please let us know.

Also if you find this useful, please send us some feedback or suggestions so that we can further improve.


Harry Che

How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

By Scott H Young

Have you ever noticed how some people seem to just get things done? They don’t need “productivity hacks” or GTD and procrastination is a foreign word to them. These people have a reliable work ethic.

A work ethic is a set of values based on the ideals of hard work and discipline. Building a reliable work ethic means training yourself to follow these values. Training yourself so that work becomes automatic instead of a struggle.

Constructing Habits

A work ethic is based on habits. Persistence, focus, “do it now,” and “do it right” are the key habits in building a dependable work ethic. Here are some steps for building those habits:

Forming the Persistence Habit

The first part of a reliable work ethic is persistence. If you quickly burn out after only a short period of work or you can’t stay focused on a task for long, you lack persistence. Building persistence is like building endurance for a race, slowly training yourself to work harder for longer periods of time.

Persistence should always be balanced with periods of rest. Working twelve hours straight won’t usually be the most effective strategy even if your work ethic is strong. But training yourself to work longer can help you if you need to and it makes working shorter periods of time easier.

Here are some tips:

Measure Yourself - Figure out how long you can work effectively. Measure how long it takes before you slow down or give up. Measurement can be a source for improvement.

Run a Burnout Day - Try working longer for one day, following it with a lighter day afterwards. By stretching your focus for longer periods once in a while you can boost your persistence for normal days.

Do an Extra 20% - When you feel like quitting, go an extra 20%. If you’ve been working intensely for three hours but are feeling the desire to stop, try another forty minutes before taking a break.

Forming the Focus Habit

Even more critical than persistence is focus. A car going 70 mph for one hour will go further than a car going 10 mph for six. Focusing all your energies for even a short period of time can be tiring, but combined with persistence it is a powerful ability to have.

Here are some tips for forming the focus habit:

Timebox - Give yourself 60-90 minutes to work on a particular task. During that time you can’t rest or engage in any distractions.

Accelerate - It can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes to build up a concentrated focus. Give yourself time to accelerate into a focused state.

Cut Distractions - Practice the habit of turning off all outside noise. Phones, e-mail, RSS, Twitter and visitors should be shut out while trying to focus.

Forming the “Do It Now” Habit

Don’t let yourself procrastinate. Having a strong work ethic means having the phrase “do it now” as a constant hum in the background. Time for leisure is fine, but if you are trying to work make sure the only thing you are doing is work. Don’t let yourself procrastinate when you still have an unfinished to-do list.

Do it Now for 30 Days - Kill the procrastination bug for good. For the next thirty days define periods of your day you want to devote to work or personal projects. During those periods of time, remind yourself of the “do it now” phrase and get working whenever you feel the urge to procrastinate.

Forming the “Do it Right” Habit

The final aspect of getting things done is doing them properly. Sloppy work, hastily finishing things or spending too little time working out details leads to poor quality. If you aren’t going to do something properly, it’s probably not a good idea to do it at all.

Perfectionism isn’t necessary for many tasks, but most things require a minimum standard of quality. Writing code without useful variable names or documentation. Graphics with merged layers. Articles filled with spelling and grammatical errors. The “do it right” habit means actively slowing yourself down slightly to fix problems before they occur.

Here are some tips:

Separate Creation and Criticism - Ideas require mess. Solving a programming problem or writing an article often requires that you first let go of your need for perfection. But once you’ve finished the idea, you should separate a specific time for clean-up afterwards.

Measure Twice, Cut Once - For tasks that don’t have an Undo feature, take extra care in doing them properly the first time.

Set Two Deadlines - Avoid analysis paralysis by setting two deadlines. One to complete the task, and another to review and polish the work. With two deadlines you won’t stumble into the trap of perfectionism, but you won’t hastily finish something that isn’t ready.

Sit on It - If you’ve hit a milestone in a task or project, take a few minutes to work on something else. When you come back you can use a fresh perspective to tweak problems.

Using the Habits

What’s the point of building a work ethic in the first place? I can’t comment on your job, but if you don’t feel a natural desire to get more done and work harder, you are probably in the wrong line of work. Doing the absolute minimum and laziness might seem like an ideal solution if your working at a job you hate. But if you are involved in a job or personal project you love, having a work ethic means you get to create, accomplish and provide even more.

20 Principles Of Success Not Taught In School

By Jen Groover

No matter what you do for a living, no matter how old you are, and regardless of where you grew up, we all share something in common–a desire to be successful. True success should be defined by you, specific to you and your goals. What success means to one, can be very different for another. Success to some may mean fancy cars and homes. Success to others may mean being a good parent, spouse, or friend. For others, it may be simply to be happy. Or it can be all of the above.

I believe true success begins with this core principle:

Your success, happiness–anything you truly want for your life–has to begin with unwavering, non-negotiable desire, commitment, and persistence. Without it, you cannot withstand and overcome the tests that will be put in your way, to not only see how badly you really want it, but to help you appreciate what you have once you get it. Because it is through the tests, that you discover yourself and your purpose, which is what you were really looking for to begin with.

Through my journey, and as I continue to write my own “story of success,” I have faced many obstacles and made many mistakes. The gift from those obstacles and mistakes are these principles, which I use as my guidelines–or should I say my way of life–to keep building my foundation stronger, and reaching higher to live to my fullest potential.

1. The only thing in life you have control over is your perspective. No matter what happens, YOU control what the meaning is, and what to do with the meaning you give to the circumstance.

2. Have more fear of regret than failure.

3. Failure is only part of the journey to success. There is not one success story out there that hasn’t experienced failure. The reason you are hearing about it as a success story is because those people saw failure as a tool to get it right.

4. It’s not about what you want to do for a living, it’s about you who want to be. What is your purpose and legacy? I believe the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is wrong. We need to be asking, “Who do you want to be? What footprint do you want to leave in this world?” From there, you will have your answer as to what you should “do.”

5. Stay focused on your race within. When you are too busy looking behind and around you, people are passing you by.

6. True leadership comes from good energy. Worry more about what your energy is like than the firmness your handshake.

7. Life will give you the same challenges/problems over and over again until you learn your lesson.

8. Until you jump over your inner roadblocks, your outer ones will stay firmly in place. We spend so much time focused on all the exterior obstacles around us, letting them be our excuses. But the more clear and aware we are of our internal roadblocks, and dissolve them, the external roadblocks will begin to disappear, too.

9. The most successful people are the ones that work on themselves first.

10. Do not judge–be inspired. If you are too busy judging everyone and everything around you, you are not remaining open to find inspiration in everyone and everything around you.

11. You are not allowed to complain about something unless you are going to do something about it.

12. Surround yourself with people you want to be like.

13. Learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. The more fears you face, the more you will grow.

14. Always ask, “What if?” and, “Why Not?” Instead of thinking, “What if I fail?” ask, “What if I succeed?”

15. Creativity is your unlimited capital. Understand and harness its power.

16. “I only have good days.” If you start off everyday with this mindset, even when challenges emerge, your positive mindset will help you overcome them more readily.

17. Create your own footprint. You do not need to do what others have done before you.

18. Hit the “mental reset button.” When you are thinking negative thoughts, envision hitting the “delete” button in your mind and begin to rewrite a better story.

19. Abundance is everywhere. You must choose to see it and believe it in order to fully experience it.

20. There is a lesson in everything that happens to us–wisdom to be gained and gratitude to be given. Begin with gratitude and everything else will reveal itself.

The beauty of success is that it can have many layers. Success doesn’t need to be limited to one aspect of life–but as many aspects as we desire to succeed in. The critical part of being successful is to be aware of what you want. Define it, write it down, and reflect, every day, on which steps are necessary to write your own story of success.

How to Have More Self-discipline

By Penelope Trunk

For a while I have been fascinated by the research about happiness. Some of my favorite research is from Sonja Lyumbomirsky, psychology professor at University of California Riverside. (She’s great at listing really small things you can do to impact your happiness.) And from Dan Gilbert’s Hedonic Psychology Lab at Harvard. (I follow PhD students from that lab like other people follow favorite quarterbacks.)

But something I’ve noticed in the last year is that most of our happiness is actually dependent on our self-discipline. For example, we are happier if we exercise, but the barriers to getting to the gym are so high that it takes a lot more than missives from the Hedonic Psychology Lab to get us there. Also, Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University, has studied self-esteem for decades, and finds that when it comes to success, self-discipline is much more important than self-esteem.

So I have started tracking my own self-discipline rather than my happiness. And I think that the process is making me happier, because I am teaching myself how to bounce back quickly when my self-discipline falls apart. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Self-discipline is about small things paving the way for very big things.

My favorite piece of research from all the happiness research I’ve read is that self-discipline snowballs. That is, if you can work hard to have self-discipline in one, small area, you create self-discipline almost effortlessly in other areas. The most famous study about this phenomena is from Baumeister, who found that students who walked with a book on their head to fix their posture ended up eating better, studying harder, and sleeping more. Without even noticing they were making those changes.

(One of the more recent things to come from the Hedonic Psychology Lab is an iPhone application by Matthew Killingsworth that lets you add your own happiness data to the lab’s research. Ironically, the data entry for this application requires a level of self-discipline that will surely qualify as the type that snowballs into other areas of your life and increases your level of happiness. So maybe we should all participate.)

The key to self-discipline is finding an easy re-entry point.

I used to tell myself that if I would just get back on my daily workout schedule, the rest of my self-disciplined life would fall back into place. This is true. But it’s too hard. When everything has fallen apart for me in the self-discipline arena it usually looks like this: I am eating poorly, behind in answering emails, and I’m biting my nails. Then I start hiding from people because I feel too discombobulated to connect.

Fixing any one of those problems is big for me. So I go to something easier: push-ups in the morning, noon and night. I do it on the floor - any floor — and it takes 30 seconds because I only do five so that I won’t dread doing them. The act of doing the push-ups is like wearing a book on my head. It restarts my self-discipline after just a few days.

You need to give up perfectionism in order to get anywhere.

Perfection is the enemy of self-discipline. If you are aiming for perfection, you are never going to get yourself to do what you need to do. No one is perfect, and if you tell yourself you need to be perfect, then everything is too hard to start. Here’s a self-discipline issue I have: I want to keep up with my reading pile and not let it get so high on the kitchen counter that it falls over.

This goal requires me to read things immediately, as they pass in front of me. I’m great at doing this online, but not offline. I realized, though, that the trick is to read fast and if I can’t, I throw it out. There is no harm in doing a bad job of going through a reading pile, and there is more harm in setting the goal “to keep the pile low” and not meeting it.

Self-discipline is mental, but only because it’s about believing in yourself.

Take, for example, the person who stops going to the gym for a month. A person who thinks of himself as someone who goes to the gym is more likely to start going again than someone who thinks of himself as a non-gym type. And this is true in a more broad sense: If you think of yourself as someone with high self-discipline then when you are not having self-discipline, you expect to start having it again, and you do. Also, self-discipline is like a muscle so you need to practice to get stronger with it, and part of practicing is talking with yourself about who you are: a person who has self-control.

The moment of regaining self-discipline feels triumphant.

I have not blogged in more than a week. For most people, it wouldn’t matter that much. But blogging is a job for me. So I really need to be doing it. Also, blogging keeps the rest of my life on track and I feel connected to a community, I think in a more critical way, and when I write a good blog post, I have self-confidence that I will do other things well, too.

So I am telling you that the moment today, when I finally sat down to write, and I could feel that I’d start blogging again, felt so good, and so secure, that I hope it will remind you to put aside an hour today to do the thing you have wanted to do for weeks, or months, to get yourself back on track. It won’t just change that hour, or that day, it will change your life.

What’s the Difference in Goals, Tasks, Habits?

When you first start using GoalsOnTrack to setup goals, some of you seem to be uncertain about whether to use goals, tasks, or habits to setup the things you want to accomplish. Here is a quick explanation on what each of these concepts is modeled in the software.

A goal is usually something that requires a different set of tasks to accomplish, or you must reach that goal via a series of action steps.

A subgoal is just a smaller goal that further breaks down a bigger goal. It can be a milestone or a project that can help you reach the main goal.

A task is something you can actually do. In the system, a task is best defined as something you can complete within a few hours. Completing tasks is the main way to make progress on a goal.

A habit is something you want to do repeatedly. It may not directly make progress on a goal, but it helps you make changes in yourself, such as in personality, character, skills, knowledge, or discipline etc., which is often required by certain goals.

This is a general way to use the system. But it’s designed to be flexible and it’s really up to you to decide how you want to set it up. Personally, I would use Goals if something I want to do is very important to me, even if it may be simply just forming a habit. Because when setup as a goal, I can do more with it, such as breaking it down, giving it deadline, making it measurable, and tracking progress etc.

Hope this helps and let me know if you have further comments or questions.

6 Small Things You Can Do When You Lack Discipline

By Leo Babauta

One of the biggest problems people face is the lack of discipline — they have goals or habits they want to achieve, but lack that discipline needed to stick with it.

Then we beat ourselves up about it. We feel crappy because we can’t stick with it.

And that leads to more failure, because we’re forming a mindset that we don’t have the necessary discipline.

Here’s what to do when you face a situation like this:

1. Forgive yourself.

You aren’t perfect. No one is. Realize that beating yourself up will only make things worse. Take a few slow, deep breaths and let it go. Forgive yourself. And move on.

2. Realize that discipline is an illusion.

While discipline is a common concept, it doesn’t actually exist. It’s not a thing you can actually do. Think about it: people say discipline is pushing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. But how do you do that? What skill is required? There isn’t a skill — it’s just forcing yourself to do something you don’t want to do. And that requires … some kind of motivation. Without motivation, you won’t be able to force yourself to do anything. So motivation is the key concept — and this is something that’s real, that you can actually learn how to do.

3. Focus on motivation.

What’s your motivation for pursuing the goal or habit? How will you sustain the motivation when you struggle? Have very strong motivations for doing something, and write them down. Commit publicly. When things get tough, remind yourself of your motivation. Focus on it. It’ll pull you along — that’s more powerful than trying to focus on the push of discipline.

4. Make it easy.

Discipline is tough because whatever the task or habit you’re trying to do is tough. Instead, make it easy. Remove barriers. Having a hard time exercising? Make it ridiculously easy, by only exercising for 5 minutes. What use is exercising for 5 minutes? You’re creating the habit, not getting yourself into shape overnight. The 5 minutes of exercise will have only a tiny impact on your health, but it makes exercise super easy. If you can do that 30 days in a row, you now have an exercise habit. Hate waking up early to go to the gym? Do it at home. Do it during lunch or after work.

5. Focus on enjoyment.

It’s hard to push yourself — to have discipline — when you hate doing something. So find something enjoyable about the activity. If you don’t look forward to exercise, find some good music, or a workout partner who you can have a nice conversation with, or a peaceful setting in nature that is just beautiful. And focus on that enjoyable aspect. Hate doing your paperwork? Find a peaceful sanctuary where you can do the paperwork and enjoy yourself. Maybe have a nice cup of tea or coffee, play some nice music. And focus on the enjoyment.

6. Repeat.

You’ll almost inevitably slip up sometime, no matter how good you are. Unfortunately, people often take this to mean they don’t have discipline, and they just beat themselves up and give up. Well, it’s just a bump in the road. Get up, dust yourself off, and get going again. Start from Step 1 and start all over.