How Many Goals Do You Have?

Right now, how many goals do you have? How many big projects and ventures are you involved with? Whether they’re related to your career, your family, your community activities or your personal life, have a quick think through them.

If you’re like most people, chances are you have too many goals – and you’re not going to see as much success as you’d like. In general, the fewer goals you have at any one time, the more likely you are to succeed in meeting them all.

Limit Your Goals – Don’t Limit Your Potential

Most of us have been through times when we’ve tried to do it all at once. Sometimes, this actually works: a health scare encourages us to turn our life around – everything from our eating habits to our career. (Jonathan Fields shares his story in Career Renegade about how a dramatic wake-up call from his heart got him to ditch his high-paying law career to start up a yoga studio.)

Usually, though, having a long list of goals means we’re unlikely to meet any of them. Millions of people experience this every January 1st. They set ambitious resolutions … but get overwhelmed by the amount of work before them.

By limiting your goals, you’re making yourself more likely to meet up to your potential.

Deciding Between Your Goals

So what do you do when you have lots of goals you’d love to accomplish? You need to think about your priorities and decide on a few goals to truly focus on.

The way I do this is to ask if I could only do one thing this year, what would it be? And then, if I could only do one more thing, what would it be?

I’m not going to give you a hard-and-fast rule on exactly how many goals you should have. It depends on your other commitments, and on how much time and energy each goal demands. In general, I’d suggest that having one to three big goals is a good rule of thumb.

If you’re finding it hard to decide between goals, try asking these questions:

  • Is this goal mine, or do I feel pressured into it by someone else? (Going to medical school just because your parents want you to isn’t a good idea.)
  • Does this goal support or hinder my other goals? (For example, training for a marathon supports the goal of losing weight, but it hinders the goal of spending more time with your kids.)
  • Will I be more or less able to achieve this goal if I delay starting on it for a year? (You might have more time to work on your goal right now … or you might gain expertise during the coming year that will help you.)

Staying Focused On Your Chosen Goals

Once you’ve selected perhaps one to three key goals, you need to commit to them and stay focused. I have a separate column in my daily planner for my two big goals (my novel and my blog Aliventures), and this helps me make sure I’m dedicating time to these goals each day.

You could try:

  • Writing your goals on the back of a business card, and keeping them in your wallet
  • Using words or images related to your goals as your screen saver or desktop
  • Setting aside fifteen minutes each week to review your progress towards your goals
  • Having coffee with a friend on a regular basis, to ask each other about what you’ve achieved since you last met

Our most important goals tend to be ones which take time and dedication to meet. Perhaps you’re aiming to lose weight, to write a book, to start a successful business, or to raise happy children. There will inevitably be times when you get distracted or disheartened: by having a daily or weekly routine of focusing on your goals, you’re more likely to stay on track.

Making Other Goals Wait

You may have reluctantly set aside some goals that are important to you. Perhaps this year, you want to get fit and get out of debt … trying to switch careers as well is just too much.

But you don’t need to give up on that goal. You just need to let it sit on hold for a while. Something I’ve found helpful is to write down your future goals, with a future start date. For example, I want to improve my public speaking skills, but I know that committing to this at the moment will dilute my focus on my current goals. I’ve set a start date of September 2010 –  the end of my postgraduate course – to make a start on the public speaking goal.

How many goals do you currently have? Are you making real progress with them … or are you feeling overwhelmed by them all? Do you have any tips or stories to share in the comments?

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Related Articles:

Setting Goals For Your Present, Not Your Future

How To Choose The Right Goals For You


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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