How to Write Good Annual Goals

Nearly every organization has you write out your goals for the year in some form.

And, in nearly every organization I’ve been a part of, doing so has felt like an exercise for someone else.

That’s not how it should be.

So, if you have to write professional goals for 2022, or (even better) if you don’t but you want to write them for you, here’s a better approach.

First, write for you.

Write a first draft in whatever format is most comfortable to you, and write it for you. Make it informal, write it in a notepad, on a blank piece of paper. Do some drawings. Make it creative.

The point is to recognize how constraining it can be to write your Formal Professional Goals for your Boss.

When you do that, you’re already doing a bunch of editing. You’re crafting a story for what you think they want to see rather than writing, in a non-judgmental way, what’s meaningful to you.

So, take a moment to quietly ask yourself:

What would make this year be successful for me?

What set of accomplishments would make me proud?

What new skills would I like to learn / strengthen?

Think of this as a journaling exercise first, so you can honestly explore what would feel like success.

Then, edit this rough draft plan in whatever way you find helpful. See if you can boil it down to a few salient points to summarize your priorities for the year.

Second, write for your supervisor.

Now that you have your own rough draft, open up whatever formal document your company / organization uses and draft your official 2022 goals for the year.

After you have your first draft, review what you’ve written and see if you’ve done a good-enough job of writing SMART goals.

Per this nice graphic from the Indeed website, a SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based.

The shortcut I use when reading goals is to ask myself, “if it were the end of the year, could I easily and objectively judge whether this goal was achieved?”

For example, you might write a goal along the lines of “improve my analytical skills.” This is a great place to start, but it’s hard to judge what “improved” really means.

Whereas a goal that reads “improve my analytical skills so that fewer than 10% of my projects require re-work of my analysis by” is a much “SMARTer” goal.

Some parting thoughts on accountability.

I believe we should write goals for ourselves so we start out unconstrained. But there’s something more important going on: I find goals to be the most motivating when they are promises I’m making to myself.

In addition, there’s value in stating out loud what you think you can accomplish over the course of a quarter, six months, or a year.

First, by setting an intention I believe we are more likely to make that intention come to pass.

And, the act of goal-setting is also a sort of prediction: a statement of what you believe is possible to do in the next year, both in terms of delivery and in terms of professional development.

When you get to the end of the year and look back at your goals, remember that they were your best guess at what you could and wanted to accomplish in 2022. Use that reflection to calibrate your goal-setting abilities.

Getting better at predicting what we can accomplish is itself an important skill.