Goal setting and tracking

Published on: February 21, 2017

Tags: goals and personal improvement

We’re almost two months down in 2017. How are those New Year’s resolutions going? I’ll fully admit that I’m terrible about keeping up with things like that. But I’m working at getting better. This framework has helped me stay on target for a few things at work and in my personal life, I hope it helps you too!

What’s a medium- to long-term aspiration?

To start with, you need something big to work towards. Maybe you want to get promoted. Or you’d like to start a new business. Perhaps you’re looking to become a great public speaker. Or something else altogether.

Whatever it is this aspiration is something you’ve been thinking about for a while and you’re ready to make some serious strides in that direction.

For the purposes of this exercise I’m going to assume your aspiration is something along the lines of “become a better developer.” But the general steps will hold for even quite unrelated topics (like become a yoga instructor - one of my aspirations).

How do you stack up?

Where are you now vs. where you do you want to be? You should know which areas you need to improve in before you can start intentionally improving. Take some time to realistically assess where you think your weaknesses are. How do you honestly think you stack up?

After you’ve done that, get some outside opinions by talking to people:

How can you level up?

There are a bunch of ways to get better at programming. There’s a long discussion about it on StackExchagne: What is the single most effective thing you did to improve your programming skills?. This is the highest voted question under “self-improvement” so it’s clearly a topic people have put a lot of thought into. Here are a few of my suggestions:

Hopefully that’s enough to get you started, but you should come up with a few ideas on your own as well.

Once you’ve got a good list to choose from pick the top four or five most impactful actions to improve. Don’t try to do everything, instead focus your time where you’ll get the most value.

Set some goals

Goals should be SMART:

Let’s break these down:

So “be a better developer” is a badly worded goal, but “Read book about X by Y date, and publish a blog post about it with a summary and personal insights and examples a week after” is a SMART goal.

  1. Look over the “top four or five most impactful actions to improve” from you came up with from the previous section. Convert each of these actions into a SMART goal.
  2. It’s probably not attainable for you to do all five of those goals. Instead pick 1-3 of your SMART goals to work on over the next month. The time frame is flexible, but give yourself a hard deadline, ideally shorter rather than longer.
  3. During the month check to see how you’re doing with each of your goals. At the end of the month review, repeat, and adjust as needed.

Stay accountable

There are a few ways to do this:

The important thing is to notice when you’re not meeting your goals and ask why: Was the goal too big? (not attainable) Do you feel the goal won’t ultimately help you reach your long term goal? (not meaningful) etc.

Ask yourself what needs to change for you to continue towards your aspiration. Keep coming back to these questions as you work on your goals. Remember, you’re using goals as stepping stones towards your aspiration. It doesn’t matter if the goals change, so long as you’re making progress.

General tips

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