Work smarter, not harder: Tips to help you reach your goals faster

Goals are a bit like opinions. Everyone has at least one. Even if your main objective in life is to have no goals, that’s still technically a goal! Goals, dreams, and aspirations come in an endless array of shapes and sizes. Some people want to be famous and influential, others would prefer their own tropical island and privacy. 

Career goals are no different. What looks like success to some may surprise others. Many want the corner office and stock options, while others want to be disruptors and co-founders. Alternatively, plenty of people prioritize personal passions or creativity over everything else. Whatever success looks like to you, chances are you’ll need to set a goal or two to get there. 

Our goals help us get from point A to point B, and that goes a long way toward manifesting a rewarding life and career. Famed genius and physicist Albert Einstein once said “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things,” and the same can largely be applied regarding a career. Larger goals supersede specific jobs, positions, and companies, and speak more to the overarching purpose of one’s chosen career path. The self-worth behind the work, or the substance behind the signature, if you will. 

When it comes time to actually accomplish one’s goals, many will be disappointed to read that there is no substitute for hard work. Cutting corners almost always leads to wrong turns and dead ends, and meaningful achievements rarely come easily. Still, there are certain strategies you can employ to help you reach your goals as efficiently as possible. If working hard pays off, working smart earns dividends. Here are just a few tips to help you reach your goals.

See yourself succeeding

It may sound cheesy, but if you can’t visualize your own success no one else will see it either. Someone can have all the skills in the world, but if they lack the self-confidence to make it out the front door, they’ll never achieve their goals. One fascinating study published in the scientific journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology found that providing college students with a vivid and detailed description of how their dream career may ideally play out provided a major confidence boost. These soon-to-be graduates already had all the technical skills needed to succeed, but as the saying goes, seeing is believing. 

Visualize what reaching your goal will look like, as well as the immediate celebration and aftermath. That mental image will serve you well during the inevitable setbacks and moments of self doubt you’ll encounter on your way to the mountaintop.

Get mad

This piece of advice may sound more like a mistake than anything else, as we all know cooler heads tend to prevail in most scenarios, but anger can actually be utilized in a productive manner if harnessed correctly. Recent research by the American Psychological Association tells us anger can also be a major motivator to both achieve new goals and persevere through difficult challenges. Happiness is perhaps life’s ultimate, universal goal, but contentment isn’t always conducive to getting things done. 

No one is suggesting you start yelling over the tiniest of inconveniences, but where there’s anger there’s passion, and that usually leads to more effort. Don’t force a smile on your face 24/7. Instead, use what annoys you as motivation or fuel for the fire of your goals. 

Take a step back

It’s much easier to look at a friend or co-worker’s life and diagnose areas in need of improvement than to do so for ourselves. Self-assessment is harder than it should be for a variety of reasons, and most of them involve ego and hubris. Research conducted at Cornell and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that wearing the shoes of a nearby observer can help tremendously in terms of objectively evaluating one’s progress towards a stated goal and what steps should be taken next.

In other words, get out of your own head and adopt a third-person perspective. What would you tell a friend, loved one, or even stranger with the same goals as yours? In all likelihood, you’d probably be more realistic and blunt with another person than yourself. Moreover, assessing your work thus far from a third-person perspective will also help you acknowledge just how far you’ve already come. When we’re in the thick of a project, it’s often tough to recognize accomplishments. For instance, you may not have finished your novel, but you did write two chapters last week. That’s progress worth celebrating to at least some degree.

Track your progress closely

The word “accountability” is thrown around so much in boardrooms and offices these days it’s almost lost all of its meaning, but there’s still something to be said for holding yourself accountable. Another study from the APA published in the Psychological Bulletin reports the more we monitor our progress toward a goal, the likelier we are to actually reach the finish line. And that’s not all: The odds of conquering your chosen goal rise even higher if you either physically record your progress or announce it publicly on a habitual basis. 

It may seem trivial at first, but habits as simple as starting up an Excel spreadsheet to track your progress or keeping a small group of friends abreast of your plans may mean the difference between goal achieved or objective failed.

Anger has benefits for attaining goals.
Third-person Perspective Is Helpful In Meeting Goals
Does monitoring goal progress promote goal attainment? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence.