Goal Setting Improves Productivity

Many people are either completely goal-less or goal-obsessed. People without goals tend to drift through life without being completely happy – and not knowing why. Goal-obsessed people are the ones who tend to be stressed out at all times and they may (or may not) achieve material success, but are seldom happy. It is important to find a happy medium when it comes to goal setting to achieve a sense of both happiness and balance in life.

This is the second article in our series about Productivity. In our first article we looked at an overview of the series and the topics we are going to be exploring over the course of the next 5 – 6 months, and this is the first article delving deeper into the subject of the importance of goal setting when it comes to improving productivity.

Some people feel happy by just having a certain “direction” in their lives, but this can often lead to impulsive and reactionary behaviour in the (often vain) hope that it will someday lead to a greater sense of satisfaction. However, what often happens is that these people will wake up one day late in their lives and feel that they’ve missed out on all of the good things. This is one of the dangers of the approach advocated by Stephen Shapiro in his book Goal-Free Living.

On the other hand, if you just focus on the goals alone, you will probably find that you’re the type of person who always find a new goal that has to drive you on and without a goal you feel restless and without a sense of purpose. No matter how many goals you achieve they will not make you any happier because “the grass is always greener” and you have to achieve the next milestone because you BELIEVE that will make you even happier. But you need to stop up and ask yourself: “When will I be TRULY HAPPY?” If you recognise this, then you’ll probably also be the type of person who never enjoys the journey or even celebrates a success by enjoying the here and now. They are already focused on the their next goal setting exercise and they never manage to enjoy the journey or the goal at the end. This is what happens to goal-obsessed people.

Productivity and Absence

You might be wondering why we, as an absence management service provider, are doing an article series on productivity. This is not as crazy as sounds. There is a very strong link between employee productivity and absence and implementing an absence management service has been proven to increase productivity. Absence management systems will help put the focus on your employees and their health and ensure that there is early intervention if needed to bring them back to work – and it’s at work you need them to be productive.

Through this series we will be showing you how you can improve your personal productivity and work with your colleagues to build a more productive and healthy working environment. Goal setting and attendance management are just two of the tools used for this and here at Honeydew Health/Absencehub.com we can help you with your absence management related goal setting.

Find out more about how our Engage software can help your organisation improve its attendance and manage employee absence.

Why is Goal Setting Important?

Goal setting is about not just setting a general direction for your life, but about giving you some milestones of achievement that will give you satisfaction both on the journey AND once you reach them! We are of the firm belief that goal setting improves productivity, thereby freeing up your time to make sure you can also do all of the other things, which help you lead a richer and fuller life.

In 1980 the largest survey ever undertaken of the link between goal setting and productivity was undertaken my researchers at the University of Maryland on behalf of the United States Office of Naval Research. Locke et al described in the abstract for the article:

“A review of both laboratory and field studies on the effect of setting goals when learning or performing a task found specific, challenging goals led to higher performance than easy goals, “do your best” goals or no goals.”

The results were overwhelming in terms of the results of the goal setting and it went on to state:

“The main mechanisms by which goals affect performance are by directing attention, mobilizing effort, increasing persistence and motivating strategy development.”

Key lesson:

If we learn to set goals and work towards achieving them – whether they are material or immaterial – early in life, our lives will be more rewarding and substantial… and it is NEVER too late to begin!


What is a Goal?

Before starting your goal setting exercise you need to understand what a goal really is.

A goal describes a situation (or state) that you would like to find yourself in. It is where YOU WANT TO BE after you have completed a number of tasks and activities.

Or, as Wikipedia defines it:

“A desired result a person or a system envisions, plans and commits to achieve a personal or organizational desired end-point in some sort of assumed development.

Visions, Missions and Goals

You will probably have heard people using the above terms without a clear understanding of what they actually mean by it – and this is probably down to the fact that most of them don’t even know themselves what they mean. Unfortunately there still seems to reign a fair amount of confusion as to how the concepts of a vision, a mission and a goal relate to each other – and what they are. Therefore we thought it would be beneficial to break them down into meaningful constituents.

Goals and visions are similar in that they both describe a desired state that we would like to find ourselves in, i.e. to have achieved something. A mission, on the other hand, is all about what we do and how we go about it so this is something, which describes our values and how we put them into action.

A vision can be said to be a goal on a grander scale, i.e. something which constitutes several goals which need to be achieved along the way in order to attain our vision. A vision could/should also inspire people as it is often shared in e.g. a company or a country.

One of the most famous and powerful visions of all time was put forth by John F. Kennedy in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress on Urgent National Needs on May 25, 1961, wherein he declared:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

 You can hear the speech here:

As described above, a mission is much more about what we do and the how (or why) we do it. This can be illustrated by the mission statement of the United Nations:


  • to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”

It is immediately clear that the mission statement is an expression of values and what they are working towards, but as you will see from the following section they are not goals.

Goal Setting – SMART Goals

In general management theory about goal setting it is commonly acknowledged that goals must be “SMART”, of which there are a number of variations:

S – specific, significant, stretching

M – measurable, meaningful, motivational

A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T – time-based, timely, tangible, trackable

Note: using the Kennedy example above you can see that it is all of the above, whereas the mission statement of the UN is only stretching, agreed upon and reasonable (based on the moral values of most of mankind). It is not specific, it is not measurable, highly doubtful that it is achievable, definitely not action oriented nor realistic and all of the Ts are out as well…

You can also distil it into four main criteria, which you should always keep in mind when doing your goal setting:

  1. The goal must be CLEARLY DEFINED
    The goal must describe a desired state or situation as clearly as possible. Wanting to “learn a language” is not a goal, whereas “be able to conduct a business meeting in French” is.
  2. The goal must be REALISTIC
    You have to be able to achieve your goal without drawing upon resources to which you not have access, i.e. you cannot do something that you know will take you 3 years of full-time dedication and application in 2 years while holding down a full-time job and raising a family.
  3. The goal must be CHALLENGING
    If it is something you can easily do with little dedication or application it is NOT a goal. You must see this as a challenge to which you must dedicate time and effort in order to overcome. Start by setting a goal that might seem slightly beyond what you believe you are capable of. It is important to ensure that there is a balance between the realism and the challenge, but you’ll find that if you put your mind to it you can DO MORE than you think.
  4. The goal must be MEANINGFUL
    It has to give you a sense of achievement to reach the goal and you must make the achieving of the goal a high priority.

The study by Locke et al found that:

“Goal setting is most likely to improve task performance when the goals are specific and sufficiently challenging; when the subjects have sufficient ability (and ability differences are controlled); when feedback is provided to show progress in relation to the goal; when rewards such as money are given for goal attainment; when the ex[p]erimenter manager is supportive; and when the assigned goals are actually accepted by the individual.”

What Goals Should I Set?

It is important to understand that you can set goals both small and large. If you only set large goals you will likely find yourself becoming disillusioned along the way – and even big goals can often get broken down into smaller segments, which means they become infinitely more attainable.

To take the example of having the goal of learning to conduct a negotiation in French you could take the goal setting exercise and break that down into several components: learning a vocabulary of X number of business terms and words per day/week/month; learning the cultural background of doing business in France and so on.

You can do your goal setting for different periods of time, e.g. a day; a week; a month; a year or; perhaps even, your life. This is what a lot of people do at the start of the New Year, but they lack the understanding of what is required to then break down that goal into its achievable components (something that will be covered in later articles) and therefore the risk of them giving up on it is high. Most people hate experiencing the failure of reaching a goal and would therefore rather do without them, but learning how to break a goal down into its constituent components. By doing so you can start allocating your time and skills to solve the various tasks and activities and this will mean that you are much more likely to succeed.

You might think that goal setting isn’t relevant to you because of your age, your current situation or some other explanation, but this is where you must realise that your age and experience play a very important role in terms of your life goals. Therefore, you should ensure that you re-align your life goals at least once a year.

Daruma – A Story about Goals and Goal Setting

Once upon a time… as every fairytale should start. Even though the story sounds like a fairytale it is, allegedly, true.

Several centuries ago a beautiful Prince lived in an enchanted kingdom in far away India. Here in the land of yoga, he grew up undertaking harsh physical exercises, which were supposed to lead to deep concentration, self control and spiritual insight. As a grown man he became famous as his self-discipline was astounding. Once, in later life, Daruma decided to settle in to a meditative position facing the wall in the Shorinji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. He sat there – without moving – for nine long years.

Many people wished to learn from this master of self-discipline, but Daruma refused disciples. Finally, a young man managed to convince Daruma that his willpower was strong enough to become a disciple – by cutting off an arm and throwing it into Daruma’s chamber.

As time passed by and Daruma grew older, he left India to explore Japan. Here he quickly gained fame, respect and admiration. He was almost seen as a symbol of happiness because of his bright and positive outlook on life. All the way to China, the rumour spread about this harbinger of happiness. “Nana korobi yaoki” was a saying that both Japanese and Chinese Daruma disciples would say to each other. It was a famous expression of Daruma, which means “You can get up 8 times, after having fallen 7 times.” Daruma wished to teach us that we all have the ability to “come back”. Even if we experience defeat, we will always have the chance to start over.

Daruma passed away aged 130, but his name was never forgotten. A temple was built in his honour, Shorinzan Daruma-ji. There was even a rumour that the high priest who founded the temple was in possession of a potion, which protected anyone from tragedies.

The ninth high priest in the temple once created a wooden doll. It wasn’t really a doll, but a wooden shape, which was meant to help the local farmers from Toyooka craft Daruma dolls out of paper (or papier mache). The dolls were called “Mame Daruma” (meaning eyeless Daruma) – or “Kigan Daruma” (the bringer of happiness, Daruma).
Goal Setting - Daruma doll sai2011
The eyes were meant to be drawn onto the dolls by the owners, but only one at a time! The first when you set yourself a goal and the second the day you achieve your goal. In the meantime the missing eye of Daruma would remind you that action is required to reach your goals – and that way the Daruma doll was also a harbinger of happiness… because happiness is achieving the goals you set in life.


Goal Setting – Types of Goals

We all have different types of goals, but in general they can be organised into the following categories:

  • Health and wellbeing
  • Education and skills
  • Work and career
  • Economy and material wealth
  • Relationships
  • Attitudes and values
  • Use of your time

When doing your goal setting you should determine, which are the most important to you so you can also start prioritising (more on this in a later article in this series) your goals – and therefore help you to find out how to spend your time effectively (the topic of another article later in the series).

You can try this little goal setting exercise by answering the following questions:

  1. What would I like to achieve at work this year?
  2. What would I like to learn this year?
  3. What would I like to achieve in my personal life this year?
  4. How would I like my relationships to develop?
  5. What do I want to do with my time?

These simple questions should help you on your way in your goal setting and you can then start looking at whether or not these goals are stand alone goals, or whether they are so big that they can be broken down into several smaller goals along the way.

Going back to the example of wanting to learn French well enough to be able to conduct a business negotiation, there are several steps along the way – particularly if you are starting from scratch. The first goal could be to learn enough French to be able to order a cup of coffee and a croissant – and be able to ask for the bill afterwards! The next goal might be to be able to conduct a simple conversation with somebody about the weather. From here you might want to progress onto: building your vocabulary to a certain point by a set time and learning enough grammar to be able to construct more complex sentences. The list goes on, but it is also a very difficult goal and one that will take years to attain if starting from scratch and this is where the goal setting is so important. If you don’t break the big goal into smaller goals it can seem so insurmountable that it will never get done. On the other hand, if you break it down into smaller and more easily attainable goals, chances are you will succeed. This is also a topic we will be returning to later in this series.

Helping You Achieve Your Goals

There are some very simple rules that you can follow in order to help you attain your goals. These rules will dramatically increase the likelihood of you achieving the goals that you have set:

  1. Record your goals (on your computer or on paper)
  2. Determine the tasks and activities that you need to complete in order to achieve them
  3. Set deadlines for the tasks and activities
  4. Expend your time AND your energy on the tasks and activities that you have defined

In the following articles we will be giving you much more of a toolbox to help you plan, prioritise, and take action to reach your goals, achieve a better work-life balance and lead a healthier and happier life.

You will get tips on how goal setting works in practice through to how you use Outlook to manage your tasks and activities effectively and prioritise your time to avoid time wasters and get things done.

Happy Goal Setting!

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