Should You Put a Deadline on Your Goals?

When I was a youngster, I remember going to see a career development officer who asked me, amongst other things, if I had set any goals for myself? As it happens, all of my life I have been setting goals and I was very happy to share the goal that I was working on at that time with him. It was, as I recall, to get a book published.

He took one look at my written statement and told me that it was not a proper goal. Why? Simple, because it did not have a deadline associated with it. You will, I am sure, be already familiar with the idea of setting SMART goals. Goals, we have always been told (at least by most people who teach this stuff) should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timetabled.

Well, I have to tell you that my major goal at the time did not have any date attached to it and the reason for that was – possibly the opposite of what the guy might have thought – I was very serious about achieving it. It did not have a goal because I was determined to keep going for as long as necessary until I achieved the goal – simple as that.

As far as I was concerned, there would be no point putting a date on that goal simply because the outcome was not entirely within my sphere of control. What happens if you don’t achieve the goal within the stated time frame? Presumably, you have to rewrite the thing. It was not because I was not serious, but because I was serious that I felt the date was not necessary. One way or another, I was going to make that goal happen.

The same is true about my current major goal – to achieve a passive income equivalent to my old full time salary. I don’t have a time frame attached to that goal for the same reasons. I am serious about it and I am not going to stop putting the effort in until I get there – simple as that. There is a school of thought that says, however, that when we attach a date to our goal, we cause our brain to engage in a different kind of thinking about what would be necessary to achieve it within the stated time frame. Without a date, we can’t benefit from such thinking some would argue.

So what is it to be: deadline or no deadline? Well, let’s put that to one side for just a moment and consider another part of that same acronym – the achievable and realistic part. It was Jack Black that I heard first challenge that idea. He said that he has been privileged enough to be able to work with some of the world’s top athletes including people like Seve Ballesteros.

The thing that I remember is that he reported asking some of these top performers questions about how they set their goals. When he asked if they set goals, he got a unanimous ‘yes’ but when he asked them if they set ‘achievable’ and ‘realistic’ goals, they were united in telling him that they did not. Jack said that was a real clue as to what is wrong with the way goal-setting is often taught.

The fact is that we need to see the difference between having a vision or mission that is further away, on the distant horizon and, whilst we are serious about achieving it, we just don’t know how – that kind of goal – and the kind of goal that we just need to get on with. They are both valid types of goals, but for your vision and mission, don’t let the idea of ‘achievable’ and ‘realistic’ stand in your way or constrict your imagination.

Similarly, I would argue that the question of whether or not to put a date on a goal depends upon its proximity and whether or not the outcome can be produced entirely by your own effort. In short, if you are not dependent upon other people to some extent and if you can see what needs to be done, then yes, go ahead and put a date on your goal. However, if your goal is too big and/or complex for you to be able to set a date with certainty, then don’t worry. What really matters is that you are serious about it.

So don’t allow that old SMART acronym be a burden to you in goal-setting and don’t let people tell you that you don’t have goals just because you have refused to conform to their way of thinking about them.

One thought on “Should You Put a Deadline on Your Goals?

  1. Davis

    Thanks for sharing with us about goal setting. It takes more than just setting goals. Having a clear mindset on how to get things done, including the challenging ones is key to success. I have found that there is a difference between going by the book and achieving goals. The most important thing, though, is documenting what you want, and having a clear vision of where you are going. And sharing it with your mentor, or close friends. This will definitely keep you focused. You are right, “realistic” and “achievable” shouldn’t pull us back. Thanks for inspiring us with this article.

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