The Importance of Setting Goals

A good friend told me that within the last couple of weeks the most depressing day of the year pops up.  Some say it falls on the Monday, some say it falls on a specific day; the bottom line is that it falls somewhere in there.  So if you’re feeling a little low around that time, now you know why.

But I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: it doesn’t have to be that way.

Some say the reason that this time of year leads to a lack of fulfillment is because many have let their resolutions that they made only a few weeks before fall by the wayside.  The dull weather plays a part, too.  Oh, and let’s not forget the post-holiday credit card bills that fill your mailbox….and empty your wallet.

What does this all have to do with goal-setting?  Well, it has a lot do with it.  How you feel about your overall development and well-being will have a significant impact on how you perform at the office.  The trick to avoiding the pitfalls of “feeling less than” or “unaccomplished” can be remedied with an approach to goal-setting that is not only idealistic – but realistic as well.

Think Big

I just started to watch a movie called Frequently Asked Questions About time Travel, and one of the characters asked the protagonist the following:

If you could have any job, what would it be?

His first few responses elicited this follow-up:

That’s all well and good, but if you could have ANY job, what would it be?

He then told him he’d want to be a professional time traveler.  Now that’s dreaming big – and since it was a film, he got to do just that.

(I have no idea how good the entire film is or how it ends; I just started watching it.  It is a British comedy, though, and I usually enjoy those.  Fair warning, people.)

When you’re setting goals, you owe it to yourself to put it all out there.  On paper, out on the web, wherever…just get it down.  Call it “Your Ideal List.”  Nothing is too big.  Give yourself the freedom to “go big.”  The process of doing that alone will make you feel great.

Get Real

So you’ve captured everything in terms of things you’d love to do.  Now let’s pare it down to things that you are definitely achievable.

I’m not talking about throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.  You shouldn’t dispose of your list of dream goals; you may want to refer to it down the road.  After all, what seems unreal now may be incredibly real in the future.  What you should do is take those items from your “Ideal List” that you can work towards in the coming months and put them on a list that is realistic – your “Real List.”  Then it is time to get to work on making those goals real.

When you’re going through your “Ideal List” make sure that you are honest with yourself about what you can and cannot make a reality at this particular time in your life.  You don’t want to set yourself up for failure, after all.  But when I tell you that you need to be honest with yourself, it also means that you need to avoid being lazy as well.  This is going to be more difficult because people are generally more apt to remove something from their “Real List” because there is just too much effort into making it happen.  More often than not, that’s more of an excuse than a reason.  If you want to go further and turn your goals into actual accomplishments, you need to push yourself.

What Conan Said

No, not the Sherlock Holmes creator or the barbarian – the other guy:

“All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism- it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.  Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” – Conan O’Brien

That quote comes from a guy who came from relative obscurity (although he was known in the industry as a great comedy writer) who has gone on to become one of the most well-known late night hosts in history.  I’m not sure if he had an “Ideal List” or a “Real List” – but he certainly didn’t have a cynical one.  Looking ahead with a positive attitude is crucial; it can lead to a happier disposition and gives you better overall results.  I can attest to that just as much as Mr. O’Brien can…albeit on a stage that is not so global.

It is important to make yourself accountable for your own dreams and aspirations; you’re the only one that’s going to make them happen.  Be an idealist and a realist and try to find the right balance between the two.  Setting goals is important, but the key is setting the right ones – that’s what will make them a reality in the end.

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Mike Vardy an editor on Work Awesome. We could tell you where his personal productivity parody site, Eventualism and all of his other projects reside on the web, but you'd be best served going to and following the trail of virtual bread crumbs from there.


  1. virtualmic on the 28th January

    Great article! Just what I needed, though I am from a country where the “festival season” is usually two months earlier. (India and the festival of Deepawali, respectively.)

    Getting goals right is very important, but very difficult as well. One needs to have just one or two long term goals, broken down into some achievable mid term goals. Getting to those mid term goals will require frequent planning and follow up sessions.

    Sometimes I think is it really all worth all this effort? 🙂

  2. Paul Letourneau on the 28th January

    Another great article Mike.

    You’re right about how much of a difference it makes in actually getting things done when you start with your ‘dream’ list and then pair it down to the ‘real list’. I started out just having a dream list and working from that. Problem was that it was extremely overwhelming and there were never any baby steps between where I was and where I wanted to be.


  3. brandscaping on the 28th January

    Hey Mike –

    good read here – powerful words with a logical perspective.

    Love reading your stuff – keep it coming!


  4. Dave @ 30DaysAtATime on the 28th January

    I think it’s also important to extend your definition of what is “real.” So often our “ideal” goals seem implausible… until someone else pulls it off.

    • Mike Vardy on the 28th January

      You’re absolutely right, Mark. I’ve found that what was once “ideal” was more “real” than I’d initially thought. That kind of thinking can hold you back – it can show you’re not willing to take risks.

      I didn’t define real because it’s all a matter of perspective…what is real to one might be not so much to another.

      I think the key is to push the boundaries and see what you can do; by putting a list together – far-fetched or not – is a great springboard for that to happen.

      Thanks for reading and the comment!

  5. Bob Bessette on the 28th January

    Hi Mike,
    I like the idea of the Ideal List and the Real List. I have what I call OPGAs or Ongoing Personal Growth Areas that I try to work on at all times. I don’t like resolutions because self-growth for me isn’t dictated by a day of the year. I like the way you distinguish between being an idealist and a realist. Great job.


  6. Andy M. on the 3rd February

    43Things ( is a great site for keeping track of lifelong goals.

    Although it may seem a bit off-putting to share your own ambitions, the ideas shared by others can be a source of inspiration.

  7. Sebastian Hamm on the 11th February

    I find it hilarious that a guy who is “the creator of [a] personal productivity parody site” tells me to avoid being cynical and that “Looking ahead with a positive attitude is crucial”.

    Continuation of satire on a different level (or website).

  8. books online free on the 3rd May

    Everything must have a beginning.

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