Self Improvement Web Culture

5 Critical Mistakes To Avoid When Setting Goals

Joel Lee 17-01-2012

setting goalsGoal setting is a great way to cut down on procrastination and boost productivity. If you don’t have goals, you don’t have direction. Without direction, it’s easy for you to feel lost and confused. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can keep track of your goals, whether you use an online goal tracker 5 Amazing Ways to Get Inspired and Motivated to Achieve Your Goals Get inspired. Inspiration is everywhere; you just have to look. Get motivated by looking at people around you or famous achievers. Cool Web Apps gives you five simple tools that help. Read More , an iPhone app, or even just a pocket notebook 5 Ways To Kick Your Moleskine Notebook Up A Notch Over the years, the Moleskine notebook has become a trademark staple for anyone dabbling in creative endeavors. In fact, the Moleskine is almost as iconic as the Apple laptop, the hipster glasses, and the daily... Read More . There are even web communities where the members help each other reach their goals How Social Networks Can Help Your Self-Improvement Goals We often think of self-improvement as a pretty solitary activity. But connecting it with other people can be hugely valuable. And of course, social networks are the easiest way to do that today. Read More .


But what if your problem is more fundamental? What if you aren’t setting effective and proper goals in the first place? If your goals are sub-optimal, you may be impeding your own advancement. Here are some mistakes you might be making and how to avoid them in the future.

Mistake 1 : Goals That Are Not Specific & Not Measurable

setting goals

Attend any seminar on goal-setting and often the very first thing you’ll hear is that goals must be quantifiable. In other words, measurable.

Your current goal might be to “lose weight”. How do you know when you’ve reached that goal? After you’ve lost 1 pound? 5 pounds? 85 pounds? Unspecific goals make it difficult to track progress. Without a sense of forward movement, you may lose motivation. And when you lose motivation, you stop trying.

The Fix: Whenever you set a goal, include hard numbers. Quantifiable goals give you a milestone or finish line towards which you can race.


Don’t just try to “lose weight”. Instead, “lose 25 pounds”. Want to run faster? No, you want to “run a 6-minute mile”. Aiming to “finish this coding project” is nebulous; “complete this program module by Saturday” is more measurable.

Mistake 2 : Goals That Are Unrealistic

So you’ve set a specific, measurable goal. Great! Now you must make sure that the goal is realistic. There is nothing that will kill your motivation quicker than an unrealistic goal.

Consider “I will read 1 book by Saturday”. Seems fine, right? The goal is measurable, and it is definitely attainable. You feel like you can do it, so you start on it.

Now consider “I will read 100 books by Saturday”. Instantly, you freeze. How are you going to read 100 books in such a short time? It’s too overwhelming, so you don’t even try. You procrastinate.


The Fix: It’s good to set goals that are challenging, but make sure they’re within reach. You know yourself better than anyone else does. You know your own limits, and you know how far you can push yourself.

Mistake 3 : Not Arranging Goals In Priority Order

tips on setting goals

Once you’ve started setting multiple goals, you have a decision to make – which of these goals am I going to tackle first?

Before you can answer that question, you’ll need to order your goals by priority. For some of you, this may seem elementary; for the rest of you, not doing this might be the reason why you don’t finish on time.


For example, is it more important to “fix the malfunctioning web server” or “fix the typo on the company website”? Obviously, one of those holds more importance. But even when the stakes aren’t so drastically different, prioritizing is important. It paves the way forward and prevents you from wasting too much time deciding on a task to tackle.

The Fix: So which goals should you prioritize? The most time-critical ones should be finished first. Always.

If deadlines aren’t an important issue for you right now, then you should prioritize core goals over peripheral goals. In other words, work on the things that will have a huge impact once completed before working on things that would be nice if completed but not entirely important.

Mistake 4 : Not Planning How To Accomplish Set Goals

Whether you have only one goal or a hundred goals, you should always have a plan on how you will accomplish them. Not having a plan leads to a state of mental paralysis where you don’t know what to do next – and that’s when you procrastinate.


It’s nice to set a goal to “read 10 chapters by midnight” but you won’t get around to it if you don’t set aside a chunk of time to actually read those chapters.

The Fix: Getting around this one is easy. When you set a goal, go ahead and set a bunch of “mini-goals” related to that one.

Take the chapter reading example above. Here are some possible mini-goals you could have:

  • Finish the dishes by 7pm.
  • Read from 7pm to 9pm.
  • Relax from 9pm to 10pm.
  • Read from 10pm to midnight.

Mistake 5 : Not Evaluating Progress On Current Goals

setting goals

As you work towards reaching your goals, you must be careful not to fall into the mindset of “set it and forget it”. Every once in a while – not too often, not too infrequently – you need to evaluate your progress.

Are your plans and actions bringing you closer to reaching your goals? Are you any closer today than you were when you first started? Are your goals as measurable, realistic, and clear as you once thought? If not, then something isn’t working, and that calls for change.

The Fix: Set a frequency at which you can evaluate your progress in relation to your objectives. If you have weekly deadlines, you may want to evaluate daily. If your deadlines are months apart, then you may only need to review once a month.

Be diligent with your self-assessments and don’t be afraid to switch up your goals.

Do you set goals? If so, what sorts of problems do you run into? Do you have any tips and tricks that help motivate towards reaching goals? Share them with us!

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  1. BeenJammin
    January 2, 2019 at 8:50 am

    Good informative read.
    I like how this focused on the negative aspects of goal setting. I have been guilty of making these mistakes as well, sometimes unaware of the impending procrastination that follows. Specifically because whatever goals I "set" for myself were unrealistic and poorly thought out.
    As I read through this article I realized that you were describing , what I knew as:
    S.M.A.R.T. Goals.
    S- Specific . M- Measurable. A- Achievable. R- Relevant & T- Time-bound

  2. Madhusree Basu
    December 24, 2017 at 6:35 am

    Excellent article Joel.
    "Mistake 3 : Not Arranging Goals In Priority Order" is very obvious but I've not found it to be discussed anywhere. If we cannot prioritize we cannot finish. Also, is there any effective way to do prioritization?

  3. Ghastly Raiderr
    June 13, 2017 at 11:58 am

    The problem with my goal planning is i can't achieve it in the given time that i have alloted to it. Bcz of this time problem it discourages me to set goals.
    Plz guide me through this issue.

  4. Marie Wetmore
    January 25, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Hey, good idea to post pitfalls and things to avoid. That something we don't always think about, and maybe I'll respond in my blog. Anyway, another thing to think about is what you should do to knock your goal right out of the park. Here's a goal setting template/worksheet that might help other readers – maybe I'll add some points about what to avoid (inspired by you)

    • Joel Lee
      February 1, 2012 at 10:03 pm

      Wow! That goal setting worksheet is really detailed and thorough. Did you make it? If so, great job!

      It's definitely an asset for those who have trouble setting and keeping their goals. Thanks for sharing.

      • Marie Wetmore
        February 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm

        Yeah, I sure did.  I do a lot of helping people with goal development and some things we talk about so much that I decided to get it out on paper, so people have a tool to use on their own.  Let's stay in touch, man

  5. Hotrao
    January 22, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    The article is set on personal goals, but in some way applies also to setting goals for your people at corporate/business level.
    My points follow:
    Setting goals that are not specific and not measurable: I definitely agree on this point. Though it can cost some time in taking the right measurement work and defining really significant goals, it's definitely the point for having no discussions when you review the results. A number is not questionable, because is either reached or not. My suggestion for those using this principle for corporate objectives is not to have an on-off situation, rather to give progressive intervals that can help people have some degrees of freedom in reaching a goal. Setting unrealistic goals: this is another real point. Setting challenging goals is something that make people strive for obtaining them up to the last day of every year. Setting unrealistic goals works once, after which people do not believe anymore in goals you setNot arranging goals in priority: On a personal point of view, priority stands for the "order" in which you dedicate energy to reach the goals. On a business POV you should give a weight to each goal to give the people the emphasis on how much they should care for this objectiveNot planning how to reach goals: If you assign goals and do not have a clear vision on how to reach them, you can only expect to fail. And so either if you're planning for yourself or for others, be sure to have a clear vision of how to reach your goals and be sure to help your resources to set a meaningful planNot evaluating progress: if you don't track you cannot react

    • Tina
      February 1, 2012 at 9:41 pm

      Thank you for the insight, Hotrao!

  6. toot
    January 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Good stuff as a reminder when doing the goal settings.

    • Joel Lee
      January 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm