How Many Goals Are You Chasing Right Now (And Do You Have Too Many)?

Are you going after too many different goals right now? Do you have a long list of projects that you rarely make any progress on?

There’s no “perfect” number of goals … but, generally, the fewer goals you have, the higher your chances of succeeding with each.

Two Approaches to Goal-Setting

Imagine two people, Alice and Bob. They’re a couple; they have two kids, and they both have day jobs.

Alice has one big goal: to run a marathon in a year’s time.

Every evening, she goes out for a short run; on Saturdays, she trains in the morning while her husband Bob takes care of the kids (they swap in the afternoon). After a year, she runs that marathon and achieves a very respectable time. She also raises more than a thousand dollars for charity.

Bob has five big goals.

He wants to (1) write a novel, (2) lose weight, (3) decorate the spare room, (4) get good at public speaking and (5) switch careers. After working on these goals for a year, he’s written two chapters of his novel, gained five pounds, stripped the wallpaper in the spare room, attended one Toastmasters meeting, and spent a lot of time daydreaming about his potential new career.

Alice ends the year happy and fulfilled; Bob ends it frustrated with himself. Every January, he resolves to work harder and to be more focused – and it lasts a few days. But he never seems to follow through on any of his goals.

Your turn: Write down all the goals that you have on your mind right now. These might be things that you’ve made active progress towards recently – or things that you keep talking about doing, but never quite seem to get around to.

Cutting Down Your Goals

If your life looks more like Bob’s than Alice’s, you need to cut down on your list of goals. That doesn’t mean you need to pick just one single goal … but you do need to make sure that your goals are compatible.

Bob’s problem is that he has five big goals that take time and energy. If he’s writing his novel, he’s not decorating the spare room; if he’s at a Toastmasters meeting, he’s not exercising to lose weight.

What’s your most important goal? If you could only achieve one thing this year, what would it be?

For Bob, that goal is switching careers. His day job is boring, and not very well paid. He knows he has the skills to do something better, but he doesn’t feel very confident.

Once you know your most important goal, you can see whether any of your other goals are supporting it.

Bob’s goals of “losing weight” and “getting good at public speaking” will both help him gain confidence (and may also help him make a good impression at interviews). Losing weight doesn’t take up a lot of extra time – it mostly means making different food choices. And while preparing speeches and attending Toastmasters meetings does take time, he may meet useful professional contacts at these meetings.

Bob decides that his novel can wait until he’s made that career switch. So can decorating the spare room.

Your turn: Look at your list of goals. Which is the most important to you? Do any of your other goals support that one?

Completing Your Goals

The goals that you cut from your list aren’t ones that you’ve abandoned forever: they’re just not ones you’re working on right now. You can start them up again in a few months – once you’ve finished your current goal.

Get into the habit of completing one goal before starting on the next: you’ll make much faster progress that way. Plus, you may find yourself more motivated to work hard on your current goal, so that you can move on to something new.

You might want to keep a record of progress made each month, and goals achieved each year. (Adjust the time frames to suit your own goal – some obviously take longer than others!) This is a great way to stay motivated, and to see how far you’ve come.

Your turn: This month, sit down every Saturday and write down what you’ve done towards your goal during the previous week.

If you’d like to share your current goals with us, or if you have a great tip on goal-setting and goal-achieving, just pop a comment below!

Photo credit: ‘Goal Keeper‘ by Big Stock


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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