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Why Is It Important to Set Realistic Goals?

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Professional goals should give you something to work towards and look forward to. They provide a sense of purpose, ownership, and pride when they're realistic. However, many professionals fall into the trap of setting goals at work that are not achievable.

Often, this happens when we feel the pressure to impress our boss, stand out from the crowd, or even redeem ourselves after a serious mistake or period of poor performance. It can even happen if we do not know the benchmark or average.

To avoid such a situation and set yourself up for success, follow the tips below. If you do, you’ll be one step closer to setting goals that are engaging and motivating rather than disheartening and frustrating. 


Make your goals a reality with the editable templates and worksheets in our  Goal Setting Workbook.


5 Tips for Setting Realistic Goals at Work

  1. Decide what type of goals you're setting
  2. Follow the SMART goals technique and write your goals down
  3. Ask your leader, mentor, or colleague for a second opinion
  4. Set up an action plan
  5. Use a goal tracker to evaluate your progress

Setting Realistic Goals at Work - Niagara Institute (1)


Decide What Type of Goals You’re Setting

To set realistic goals for yourself, you need to know what type of goals you are setting. Typically, the three main types of goals professionals set are:

  • Immediate Goals: Something you want to accomplish in the next few days or weeks.
  • Short-Term Goals: Something you want to accomplish in the next six months to a year.
  • Long-Term Goals: Something you want to accomplish in the next several years.

Once you know this, it will help you conduct the rest of the goal-setting process realistically and manage the expectations others may have of you, as well as the expectations you might have of yourself.


Follow the SMART Goals Technique and Write Your Goals Down

Do you have goals you’re mentally aware of that are not written down but that you’re keen to achieve? If so, researchers have made a good case for putting these goals into writing. According to one study, those who vividly describe their goals in written form were found to be 1.4 times more likely to achieve said goals.

Though before you jump straight into writing down your goals, think about the SMART goals technique, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. The benefit of using this technique is that it encourages you to think about your goals from all angles and write goal statements that are thorough, detailed, and realistic. 

SMART Goals Technique

Ask Your Leader, Mentor, or Colleague for a Second Opinion

If you want to know if the goals you have set for yourself are realistic or not, run them by someone you trust, who has been in your shoes before, or who will play some role in making them a reality. For most people, this will be your direct leader, mentor, or even a trusted and experienced colleague. When you ask them for a second opinion, you may be surprised by the insight or perspective they can bring that you may not have otherwise considered.


Set Up an Action Plan

When setting up an action plan for your professional goals, consider the skills, training, people, resources, and funding you need to make it happen. Also, take some time to contemplate any potential problems, challenges, or obstacles that you might encounter along the way. Creating an action plan is a final check and balance to ensure the goals you’re setting are achievable within the resource confines you face.

You can then use this information to break down your goal into more manageable steps using an action plan template for your goals, like the one below that is also featured in our goal-setting workbook.

Action Plan Template for Professional Goals


Use a Goal Tracker to Evaluate Your Progress

Once you jump into the tactics of making your goal a reality, it is essential to establish checkpoints where you evaluate the progress being made. While this may prove to reassure you that the goals you have set are realistic, there is also the chance that you will realize circumstances have changed and the goal you once believed to be realistic is no longer so. This often happens as personnel turns over, change initiatives are introduced, and leaders change. As a result, you may need to revise your goals according to the SMART goals technique to ensure they are optimally relevant and realistic.


Conclusion: Set Realistic Goals with the Help of Niagara Institute

It is not always easy to set realistic goals for yourself at work, but it’s entirely possible with the right tools and a trusted leader or mentor who will help you at every step of the process. We recommend using the Professional Goals Workbook, as it outlines a four-step goal-setting process and includes several fully editable worksheets and templates. With it, you’ll be one step closer to setting goals that are not only realistic but motivating too.

Professional Goals Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide With Editable Worksheets