Professional development goals help you advance in your career and become more successful. Besides giving your work a direction and purpose, setting goals helps you decide where you want to go and the steps you need to take to get there.
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“My time spent on revenue-generating projects has increased by ~10% each week and time in meetings decreased by about 1-2 meeting per week.” – Angela Morisette, SVP Business Operations at Scratch Financial
That is why setting professional development goals is so important: it is an opportunity to intentionally decide what you want and how you will get there whilst being motivated and having something to work for.
If you wish to become the best professional you can be, it’s interesting to really understand what work goals are and the weight they have on your long-term motivation.
Therefore, let’s dive a little deeper into the true meaning and importance of setting smart career goals to achieve professional development, and we’ll give you some examples.
Work goals, aka professional goals, are mental targets or milestones that keep you focused and on track to succeed in your career.
Work goals come in many shapes and forms, from hitting a performance target or having a specific role on a project team to learning a valuable skill or earning a promotion. Also, goals can be short-term or long-term, depending on what you wish to accomplish.
Speaking of time spaces, short-term goals typically can be accomplished within a few months, while long-term goals take longer to achieve, requiring at least six months or up to several years.
To better understand this, let us give two examples: a short-term goal could be taking a course on leadership, and a long-term goal could be becoming a team leader. Long-term career goals provide a north star to work towards in the long run, while short-term goals break up the work into more immediate and actionable steps.
But why is setting professional goals important? What are the benefits? Let’s find out!
Setting career goals is vital for professional development because they help you find a purpose and achieve a direction.
Creating clear goals prompts you to think about what you want, so you can pursue a position or career that truly makes you happy.
Professional goals give your work direction and purpose because when you set them, you know you have an action plan and are working towards something you truly want to achieve. Basically, work goals help you to become a high performer.
Here are the main reasons why setting work goals is so important:
By setting goals, you can quantify or evaluate your growth a lot easier.
The SMART goal method (which we will talk about later) is one of many ways to track how you’re doing and where you might need to improve. Without measuring, you won’t know if you’re meeting the goals you set for yourself or falling short.
Measurable goals allow you to see when you need to reduce them into steps to make them more attainable.
Most people have a list of daily, weekly, and monthly goals, especially at the beginning of new cycles, like a new year or a new month. But life is messy, and your goals can be easily forgotten or pushed aside by external factors.
To stay focused on your goals, try using a whiteboard or online platform to outline your goals and have them always present.
If you set goals, you’ll achieve your dreams. That’s bigger than completing the bare minimum responsibilities, and people will notice. Plus, when you hit your goals, you’ll be more confident and feel much better.
When psychologists tested the impact of different motivational techniques on group performance, they found goal setting was one of the most effective. Over 1,000 studies have consistently shown that setting high and specific goals is linked to increased task performance, persistence, and motivation.
Now that you understand the importance of setting realistic work goals for yourself see some examples of work goals.
- Boost your time management skills
- Find new challenges in your role
- Learn a new skill
- Improve your work-life balance
- Take on leadership responsibilities
- Become an expert in the latest tech and tools
- Learn from your managers
- Go above and beyond with your deliverables
- Avoid time wasters
- Be vocal about your goals. Don’t be shy!
- Identify your weaknesses
- Help your teammates and improve processes
- Improve communication skills
- Express your opinions openly and audibly
- Give positive feedback
If you feel stuck, here are 15 different types of achievable goals to consider, plus specific examples for each, to help you out.
Long-term: Incorporate up to four hours of sustained focus work per day over the next six months.
Short-term: This month, set aside 90 minutes of dedicated focus time each morning. Getting one of the best time-tracking apps out there, such as the Timeular app, immediately helps you accurately track your time and organize your time in the best way possible.
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Long-term: Manage a new project or process this year.
Short-term: In the next five weeks, discuss this possibility with your manager and take a project management course if you get the green light.
Long-term: This year, set clear boundaries between your work and home life.
Short-term: This week, sign off completely every day by 5:30 pm.
Long-term: Over the next year, coordinate monthly webinars for members of your organization.
Short-term: Volunteer to give a 30-minute presentation to your team about an area of your field this month.
Long-term: Learn one new tool a month for six months.
Short-term: Try a tool you’ve never used before on your next project and see if it has a positive impact.
Long-term: Over the next months, study how team members in roles above yours work and identify one characteristic per person that you want to emulate in your next project.
Short-term: This month, set up a casual meeting with one higher-up in your organization and ask for tips on how to progress in your career.
Long-term: Deliver your work at least 2 business days before it’s due.
Short-term: The next time your manager asks for help, offer to assist, even if it’s not something you’d typically work on. Show initiative and be proactive.
Long-term: Invest in good time-tracking software and track your time each day to get a better sense of where your time is going and not being wasted.
Short-term: Turn off notifications on your phone during the workday every day this week.
Identify and eliminate the tasks that are wasting your time
Long-term: This year, share your work goals with your team and manager, and be honest about how you see yourself in the company.
Short-term: Tell your manager what your aspirations are and ask for their advice on how to get there in your next 1:1.
Long-term: Over the next six months, volunteer yourself to work on at least two projects that require professional skills that you’re weaker at and challenge yourself.
Short-term: Identify one hard or soft skill you need to improve and dedicate a week to improving it. Ask your teammates for help if necessary.
Long-term: This year, identify a process in your organization that could use a refresh and create a plan for how to improve it.
Short-term: In your next 1:1 with your manager, ask how you can make their job easier or how you can help a teammate.
Long-term: Take a presentation course and lead one all-team presentation by the end of this year.
Short-term: Next time you send an email, read it a few times or ask someone else to read it and check if it needs improvements.
Long-term: Be comfortable with your opinions and share some aspects of your industry on LinkedIn occasionally.
Short-term: Offer your opinion about something that might be annoying you at your next team meeting or brainstorm.
Long-term: By giving positive feedback, you’ll see how everyone feels a lot better about themselves, and you’re encouraging others to do the same.
Short-term: Share one piece of positive feedback during your next 1:1 meeting with your manager or teammates.
To set the best goals, you first need to reflect on what you want. First things first: there’s no right or wrong way to set and achieve your goals.
It all depends on your preferences and what works best for you. Regardless, clearly outlining what you’re striving toward is a great start.
Here’s how to narrow down your career aspirations and decide which objectives you wish to pursue.
In the crazy world we live in, basing your professional development goals on your core values helps you feel more fulfilled and less stressed on a day-to-day basis.
When your goals and values are aligned, you’re less likely to get burned out, feel overwhelmed, and more likely to stay motivated, as you’re doing something important to you.
To identify your values, you must ask yourself what’s most important to you and what type of work has fulfilled you most in the past.
Be honest and try to separate your values from what you “should” want or what you think would look best on a performance review. Be true to yourself and you’ll see how easy it is.
After identifying your core values, you can now start to think more specifically about how they could manifest in your career to make it better and more suited for you. To start, try asking yourself these types of questions:
- What do you want to do more of?
- What do you want to do less of?
- What type of work fulfills you the most?
- What does an ideal workday look like to you?
- Where do you excel?
- What makes you the happiest at the end of the day?
Give yourself time to think this through. It’s important to stay true to yourself and not rush things.
It’s normal for you (and your goals) to change over time, so remember you will have to answer these same questions several times over time.
After really understanding what works for you and doing all that internal work, it should feel a lot easier to set your career goals.
You now have a sense of what you value and how those values might apply to your professional career. Now let’s turn that knowledge into long-term and short-term goals and see where it takes us!
Plan to set your long-term goals first, then break them up into more immediately attainable short-term goals, it makes it a lot easier.
Think of your long-term goals as the direction you’re heading in, and your short-term career goals as the stepping stones you need to get there.
To help you understand, here’s a simple example: if you value honesty and interpersonal connection, your long-term goal might be to become an excellent team leader whom people can rely on and trust. In the short term, that might mean taking a course on people management or exploring leadership opportunities at your company.
However, whether your objectives are immediate or further out, make sure they’re SMART. Not in the savvy sense, but rather aligned with the SMART goal acronym and framework that we mentioned previously.
SMART is an acronym, with each letter representing an aspect that helps set your professional goals.
- S – Specific: You want to make your goals, individual or group, as specific as possible.
- M – Measurable: Determine how to assess your goals and keep track of your progress. Will you check items off a to-do list? Will you have team meetings to discuss your accomplishments and KPIs?
- A – Attainable: Although pushing yourself to do better isn’t bad, your goals should be achievable, and realistic. Developing plans too far out of reach isn’t healthy and can stir up negative feelings and have a really bad impact on your motivation. Setting goals should keep you inspired and working hard for yourself or your team, not discourage you.
- R – Relevant: Your ambitions should be purposeful and suitable to your career and professional environment. If what you want to achieve isn’t in line with what you can achieve, maybe you need a career change.
- T – Time-bound: Establishing a time frame to achieve your goals will help you have a “deadline” and work harder and smarter. This will allow you to see results a lot quicker as well. Also, it gives you a marker on the calendar so you can access whether you’ve achieved a goal or not.
Looking back at what you’ve already accomplished can serve as a good source of motivation as you consider your SMART goals.
If you still have difficulties understanding what professional goals look like, check again the list of 15 examples of work goals we gave you before.
There are three types of goals: process, performance, and outcome goals.
Process goals are specific actions or ‘processes’ of performing. For example, aiming to study for 2 hours after dinner every day. Process goals are 100% controllable by the individual.
Performance goals are based on a personal standard. For example, aiming to achieve a 3.5 GPA. Personal goals are mostly controllable.
Outcome goals are based on winning. For a college student, this could look like landing a job in your field or landing a job at a particular place of employment you wanted. Outcome goals are very difficult to control because of other outside influences.
SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Therefore, a SMART goal incorporates all of these criteria to help focus your efforts and increase the chances of achieving your goal.
Having realistic goals helps you get to your objectives faster, keeping you motivated and focused. It builds confidence and self-esteem and opens a world of new opportunities that can be life-changing on so many levels.
The truth is that goals come in many shapes and forms and differ from person to person. There’s no right or wrong.
We can and should have goals for all areas of our lives, both professional and personal, to stay motivated and feel like we have a purpose in life. Just make sure that they are realistic and can be accomplished.
Having realistic goals increases the chances of success and motivates us to do better and better every time. Additionally, it allows us to work on new skills and realize new abilities we didn’t know we had, and become the best version of ourselves!
So it’s time to pull out a pen and write down your big ambitions. Dream high, but not so high that you can’t get there.
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