Don’t Hit Goals—Build Habits

Productivity & Workflow

One of the best insights I’ve ever received (H/T Jason Fried) is that goals are, quite often, meaningless.

We set arbitrary goals, and one of two things happens:

  1. We hit the goal, then set a new one immediately.
  2. We fall short of the goal, and beat ourselves up.

This is a HUGE mindset shift for me, and departs from a lot of personal productivity teaching.

For example, most “gurus” teach that goals should follow the SMART framework: Specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, time-based.

To be clear, I think this definitely can work for some people.

But it does not seem to work for me. I find that specific goals often end up morphing due to the circumstances of life. Can you relate?

But if you’ve had to amend the goal 19 times by the time you reach it, in what sense can you say you’ve actually achieved the goal?

This is a version of what philosophers call the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Here’s Wikipedia:

The Texas sharpshooter fallacy is an informal fallacy which is committed when differences in data are ignored, but similarities are overemphasized. From this reasoning, a false conclusion is inferred. This fallacy is the philosophical or rhetorical application of the multiple comparisons problem and apophenia.

So in this context, the similarity (“I hit my goal”) is emphasized but the differences (“I changed the goal 19 times on the way to hitting it”) are ignored.

See the issue?

What Jason Fried mentions is the concept that work is an end in itself. Particularly, doing good work.

We also both agree that a general direction is probably good to have.

For example, a realistic goal might be something like “Stay in business for more than 20 years.” There is no moving goalpost there. You either do it, or you don’t. And the path to doing is paved with LOTS of good waypoints such as:

  • Provide great customer service
  • Make a good product or service people like
  • Treat people well
  • Weather the storms of business
  • ETC

In my personal life, I have some similar ideas. I would like to be a landlord by the time I am 35. Is that specific? To a degree…..but it’s actually quite vague.

It does not detail how I get there, only when. There’s a lot of flexibility in there and time for me to make meaningful progress on my own terms, without experiencing the defeat of missing milestones along the way.

Here’s my point: Make it work for you. If the SMART framework gets you going, do it!

But do. Take action. Make. Create. Shift. Go.

Don’t get hung up by little goals and targets that often bring disappointment (at least for me).

Feel free just to show up every day, do great work you can be proud of, and build habits that build you up for success over time.

“Write a book” is a LOT harder than “write for 1 hour each day.” That gives metrics to your short-term work that doesn’t require you to work for six months, fall short of your goal, and feel defeated.

It’s all so arbitrary. Build great habits in your work, and the results will follow.

About Me

 
Hey, I’m Steve Schramm. I write about marketing, design, business strategy, and productivity. This blog is my personal “cookbook” to help you design a healthier business through self-directed learning.

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