How to Achieve Longterm Goals

When I'm reading a physical book, I place a finger at the end of the chapter I'm on, so I have a goal to shoot for. I set goals like this all day, every day. It's a big part of how I work.

Needless to say, I'm goal oriented, but I'm particularly interested in longterm goals—goals that span a month or more.

How can we set ourselves up for success with longterm goals? What can we do to increase the probability that we'll achieve our goals, especially the big ones?


Write Them Down

If we don't write down a goal, there's a very low chance we'll take steps to complete it. The act of putting goals in Things (or in a notebook), transforms them from something nice to do one day into a true goal. For me, it's extremely important to make my longterm goals SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound.

Example SMART Goal: Read 53 books between January 1 and December 31, 2017.


Break Them Down into Achievable Tasks

Longterm goals, whether set for a month, a year, five years or ten years, often seem daunting at the start. They are large and difficult almost by definition. Because of this, it's important to break them down into less daunting, achievable tasks.

Example Breakdown: I break down my 53-books goal into 53 tasks—Read Book 1, Read Book 2 and so on. As I select books to read, I add the specific book name—Read Book 1: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin.


Remind Yourself Regularly

My history of failing longterm goals is extensive. For me it typically looks something like this:

  1. Start off strong. Regularly complete tasks.
  2. Miss a few steps. Fall out of the habit.
  3. Forget about the goal for a few weeks.
  4. Remember. Feel overwhelmed.
  5. Give up.

Reminding myself of their tasks regularly is the best way I've found to snap myself out of this cycle of failing longterm goals.

Example Reminders: For my reading tasks, I set a due date and an end date. Read Book 1 is due January 7 and starts January 1. I'm continually being reminded of that task. If I get behind a few weeks, that task is flagged as overdue, and again I'm reminded of what I need to do to achieve my longterm goal.


Two years ago was my first time following this approach, and it was also the first year that I achieved a majority of my yearlong goals. I'm convinced that's not a coincidence.


Header image from Unsplash.