Thinking about your goals is not enough

I’ve had some time over the past couple of weeks to think about setting some specific goals for my professional and business development. This is something I generally see the potential benefits of, but which also gets my ‘bullshitometer’ whirring into life.

Outside of the corporate matrix and away from line managers, is goal setting actually a thing freelancers should consider doing? And if so, how best to go about it?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is worthwhile, as I think goal setting can be a key part of our role as ‘self-managers’; helping us focus on our progress as professionals.

I know of the SMART goal-setting strategy, but is that actually the most effective approach?

640px-SMART-goals
By Dungdm93 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54290689

Looking online, there’s a LOT of related content on this subject. But some of it is questionable, to say the least.

I came across a post on LinkedIn that extolled the virtues of goal setting, using an infographic with some stats to support the efficacy of goal setting.

However… (slight digression)…

Recently, I shared a post on Twitter about the need to be careful to check up on facts, stats and quotes shared in online publications.

With this fresh in my mind, I’m pleased to say this triggered a critical warning response, but brief bit of research sorted this out.

At first glance, the infographic makes sense.

Maybe, like me, you keep an eye on blog posts and articles related to freelancing and professional development. In a number of these posts, I’ve seen reference to this alleged fact that only 3% of professionals/adults/people write down their goals and those people are the highest achievers.

But where do these stats come from and are they reliable?

A quick search online (No, I didn’t ‘G**gle it’. But Duck Duck Go doesn’t seem have to have inspired the coining of a verb just yet) put me on to this post which seems to have cleared things up.

So these stats are a load of crap.

But goal setting for professional development is ubiquitous in the majority of businesses these days. And there are loads of people who swear by written goals.

So is goal setting actually effective even if these stats are rubbish and those studies never existed?

Well, it would appear so, from anecdotal evidence and according to at least one small-scale piece of research.

A study that does exist1, as referenced in the post I linked to above, notes that:

“The positive effect of written goals was supported.”

But that’s not the end of it. It also concluded that:

“The positive effect of accountability was supported.”

and

“There was support for the role of public commitment“.

This would suggest I should not only write down my goals, but I should share my goals and details of my progress towards meeting this goals.

Sort of like a regular meeting with a line manager about professional development targets then.

Hmm.

So as a freelancer, how does one go about writing goals that include accountability and public commitment?

I have some ideas, but there’s more research and thinking to be done, so watch this space.

Any thoughts are very welcome in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Download research summary pdf | Note: “only 149 participants completed the study” so a lot more research is needed to really support these claims. ↩︎
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One thought on “Thinking about your goals is not enough

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  1. Dani and I were talking yesterday about accountability and feeling the lack of a manager… its certainly one if the tough things about working for yourself and having no boss! And there’s no-one yo blame neither! 😉

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