Goal Planning Template

People who set goals accomplish more and ultimately lead happier lives. For some, it comes easy. Others struggle at creating goals. Regardless of whether you’re a beginner goal setter, or have been setting and working on goals for years, this Goal Planning Template will help you get more out of each of your goals. Along with this template, we’ll share some specifics about what’s worked for us and what hasn’t. Setting, working on, and achieving goals is a dynamic process. Test different strategies to find out what works for you, drop the strategies that don’t.

Throughout the goal setting process, keep in mind your ultimate objective. Refer back to this objective along the way. Ensure your efforts are moving you closer this ultimate objective.

Goal Planning Template

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Goal Planning Template

5 Simple Steps to Setting a Goal:

  1. Define your vision – this will set the tone of your goals at a high level.
  2. Describe what you want – the simpler, the better.
  3. Understand the why behind the what – be honest with yourself.
  4. Write out your goal – make it SMART
  5. List out the specific steps to achieve the goal

This 5 step process is detailed out below.  Steps 2 – 4 are detailed in the Goal Setting Template.  Once you have your vision, this Template will help you get to the point where you list specific steps for forward progress.

Why Set SMART Goals?

SMART is a simple acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.  These are the attributes that take an abstract desire, and make it concrete.  It’s the foundation of forward progress.

Lately, there’s been a whole host of articles come up describing why you shouldn’t set goals.  These articles typically point out that setting goals can actually have you set limitations. They say it moves the focus to the outcome rather than the process ultimately leading to disappointment. Also, they might mention that goal setting can cause an increase in unethical behavior, or result in imbalances.

These are all legitimate, to a point.  These articles go on to say that instead of setting goals, people people should be primarily focusing on a theme or the process of life in the pursuit of a vision.  I agree that this is important, but don’t think this has to be in place of setting goals.  These can be incorporated into the goal setting/achieving process successfully.

There should also be balance to your life.  This should come through the vision.  If your vision is specific to your professional life, as opposed to life in general, then you’ll need to think through the other components of your life.  Friends & family, spiritual, health & wellbeing, mental, etc.

Having a vision or a theme as a starting point will actually help you set better goals.  When you break a vision down to small enough pieces, you can always get down to a level of actionable items.  Action is what yields success.  Directed action that is focused, designed to move closer to the vision, and is understandable (meaning it’s no longer abstract) is always better than action for the sake of action.

This is why it’s so important to break down the vision or the ultimate want into something that fits the SMART criteria.  These are just stepping stones.  The achievement of properly designed goals doesn’t result in happiness, rather, it puts you on the path of continual improvement.  The path of forward progression, the enjoyment of moving toward the vision is liberating.

There should be no end-game.  There will be significant milestones and decision points that will force decisions, but ultimately to continue to grow and improve you’ll want to bring it back to specifics. 

This is the point of having a Goal Setting Template.

5 Simple Steps to Setting a Goal – In Detail:

Before we get started, download the template above.  It’s free.  There are no macro’s or passwords.  Just a simple to use Excel Template.

Step 1 – Define your vision – this will set the tone of your goals at a high level.

Who are you now? Who do you want to be in the future?  What impact do you want to have?

These are examples of questions that should be answered by your overall vision.  It doesn’t really matter if your vision is so well written that it would look and sound good plastered on a billboard.  What matters is that the vision inspires you.  It should set the right tone for what you want.

There’s not a place to write your vision on the Goal Planning Template.  Write this down somewhere else.  Refer back to it often.  Use it as a gauge to evaluate individual goals.

Step 2 – Describe what you want – the simpler the better.

This is the first part of the Goal Planning Template.  In this section, describe in your own words what it is that you want.  Don’t worry about making it sound exactly like a goal.  It should be whatever it is that you truly want.  This can be very short and to the point, and shouldn’t be more than 3 or 4 sentences.

I’ve found it’s best to start with what you really want without trying to make it into a goal.  This captures your feelings.  There’s no right or wrong.  It’s your want.  After you get your want written out, the next few steps will refine the want into a SMART goal.

In this step, it’s okay to be in the abstract.  For example, I want to be a better father, or I want to be promoted at work.

Step 3 – Understand the why behind the what – be honest with yourself.

This is probably the most challenging step.  Why is it that you want what you want?  Usually, there’s a reason and then there’s a real reason.  A good example here is an expensive car.  At first glance, the reason might be – I enjoy driving, spend a lot of time in the car and work hard for my money, so this is a way for me to get enjoyment out of my efforts.  That’s all fine, unless at the same time you feel trapped by your job, and buying this car only tightens the noose.

Another example.  Let’s say you want to be a better parent to your children.  So, you set off on a goal to be self-employed.  This will allow you to set your own schedule.  It removes your boss, and provides you the freedom you’ve been longing for – you’ll use this freedom to spend more time with you family.

This can be successful; however, you have to consider the implications of being self-employed.  You’re responsible for all tasks now.  Are you starting from scratch or with a base?  I’ve seen several people who have set off to be self-employed only to realize after taxes, insurance and the extra time they have to spend on their business, they are making less money, have less flexibility and more stress.

There are unintended consequences in everything.  This shouldn’t prevent setting an exciting goal, just give careful consideration to the Why.

Step 4 – Write out your goal – make it SMART

Start by writing a draft goal.  Try to make it Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

After you have a draft goal, work though each of the SMART criteria to ensure the goal achieves each.

  • Specific – To make a goal specific, it has to be clear – remove generalities.  Address the 4 W’s below:
    – Who’s involved
    – What will be accomplished
    – Where it will happen
    – Which constraints are there and resources are needed
  • Measurable – How will this goal be measured?  What exactly can be quantified in order to evaluate both progress and success?  Ultimately, how will you know this goal is achieved?
  • Attainable – Is this a goal that can actually be obtained?  Are you the right person for it now or are there other skills you need first?  Is this goal realistic based on your reality?
  • Relevant – Is the goal relevant to your life, objectives, work, family, etc?  Does it make you/something better than before?  Is this goal in line with who you are and/or who you want to be?  Will the accomplishment of it be worth the effort?
  • Time-based – When will the goal be complete?  Is it too far out?  Does it need to be broken down into smaller goals?  Can you stay motivated during this time?  What’s the first step and by when?  Then the next…

It’s possible after you work through each of these, you might determine the goal is at too high of a level.  Bring it down to a more granular level so that it can better meet the criteria above.

After you feel good about where it stands, write out the final goal, incorporating each element of SMART.

Step 5 – List out the specific steps to achieve the goal

Now that you have a solid goal, what is the first step and how many steps can you think through?  List these out.  This will be the start of the action plan that will enable you to get on the path of continual improvement, taking measured steps toward your ultimate vision.

Leverage our Goal Planning Template for your future goals, and be sure to share it to help others set solid goals.

Goal Setting Resources:

Setting Personal Goals – a mindtools resource.

Perform a Personal SWOT Analysis to help identify where you might already have areas that need attention.

Wikipedia’s take on the SMART Criteria.

How to Set Goals – A Goal Setting Bible



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