If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it, goes the saying. It’s not entirely true because you can improve without measuring, especially if you start down at the bottom and the only way is up. But there comes a time when you hit a plateau, which happens across all aspects of life and with any discipline or activity. Then the issue becomes: how do you know if you’ve hit a plateau? How can you be sure if your trend is slowing down or is even trending in the right direction? When you track your goals, you know where you are, period. You can observe deviations from the plan and make quick rudder adjustments that put you back on track. In the absence of that, you let yourself fly with or against the wind with no real idea where the wind is taking you. Tracking your goals solves at least one part of that, but it’s one of the most critical ones.
What’s a Goal Anyway?
The simple answer from the 10,000 feet height is that everything you do is a goal. Not everything might be a goal that you’ve consciously set and put thoughtfulness behind it, but it’s a goal nevertheless.
When you drive to the supermarket to get bread, that’s a goal, and you’ve already accomplished it. Good for you. When you decide to buy a house or have a baby, that’s a goal, too. The difference between them is obvious: complexity, resources, time, etc.
But what makes them similar is also essential. They all require a plan (as straightforward or as complex as it may be) and some action; you have to know what to do, how to do it, and then do it.
How do you know if you failed? Well, if, on the way to the supermarket, you wind up in a sports bar and spend two hours chatting with a friend and return home without the bread, you have failed.
That’s an easy assessment because it’s an easy goal. There’s only one task in it, and it’s pretty apparent if the task has been completed.
Other goals are not as simple. They have layers over layers of milestones, and with each milestone, the goals might increase or decrease in complexity.
Throw in unexpected events and other things outside of your control, and the situation might get very complex to the point where you can lose all perspective.
What if you had no map and no idea where the grocery store was except for a general direction? You’d wind up on streets left and right with no clue if you’re getting closer or farther. That’s a terrible predicament to be in, especially if you know what the goal’s final aim is.
How do you prevent that?
How Trends Are Different Than Snapshots
In comes the trend to the rescue. But before you get all happy about it, let’s talk about the snapshot.
The snapshot is exactly what it sounds like: a measurement at one point in time. It’s single and out of context. It gives you some quantitative value with its merits but doesn’t add much to the overall picture. If you attempt to track your goals exclusively through snapshots that are set too far away from each other, you’re asking for trouble.
Imagine your goal was to lose twenty pounds. You started from 200lb. Today, you hop on a scale after two weeks of dieting, and the scale shows 196 lb. That’s a snapshot. Is it good or bad? How can you tell?
It does sound good because it’s less than 200, but is it a great place to be in after two weeks?
What if the reading was 198 or 194?
Snapshots are great confidence boosters, and they are perfect tools to play into your confirmation bias. That’s because most often than not, you’ll hang on to those snapshots that match what you believe and dismiss the snapshots that fail to do that.
Trends, on the other hand, take multiple snapshots at regular intervals and tell a story.
For example, compare these weekly trends of a person trying to lose weight:
A) 200, 198, 196, 194, 192, 190, 190, 190, 190, 189
B) 200, 201, 199, 200, 199, 197, 199, 197, 196, 198
There’s a 198 snapshot in both of them, but which of the trends tells a better story? What if 200 and 198 were the only snapshots taken in both cases? How would you know?
Trends are compelling and represent a critical piece of goal tracking and measurement. They allow you to see patterns of good and bad. With that knowledge, you can quickly adapt and make changes.
That’s why turning goal tracking into a routine is a vital step toward making sure not only that you can achieve those goals but that you do so effectively and efficiently.
How To Track Your Goals Effectively
Is there a perfect way to track your goals? No, there isn’t. Dreams are personal, and we are individuals with our strengths and weaknesses, values and beliefs, and biases. Some systems will work for some, and others will not.
However, there are some high-level ways that you can start with and then adapt them along the way. Some goals might work well with one system, while others could work better with others.
The six ideas below are best practices that apply across the board to any goal tracking system you will employ. But, they are neither a Bible nor a set of immutable rules. They are fundamental attributes that your system should contain to ensure maximum effectiveness.
They aim to spark your creativity and help you design the system that will work best for you.
One of the most essential aspects of goal accomplishment is learning how to split goals into smaller, achievable steps.
Even something as simple as buying bread can be divided into sub-tasks, such as: wake up, get dressed, drive, find bread, pay for it.
Of course, in that context, it sounds silly, and it should. But when it comes to the bigger goals in life, such as those derived directly from your life vision, you’ll often find yourself stuck because you won’t even know what to measure.
There’s a danger to thinking too big because it strips away the clarity. It’s the proverbial forest you no longer see for the trees.
That’s why it’s vital to learn how to split your goals into milestones and then have those milestones as part of your goal tracking system. When you divide and conquer, you strip the complexity away by spreading it over multiple interconnected steps.
Each milestone itself now becomes easier to measure independently because they are smaller and more manageable.
You should strive to break down any goal that spans more than a week into weekly sub-tasks. In this way, there’s a clear weekly measuring trend that you can easily record and follow.
Define Appropriate Deadlines
The right way to set up goals is outside of the scope of this article, but if you’ve studied it, you know that a critical piece of goal setting is creating deadlines.
As Napoleon Hill once said, “a goal is a dream with a deadline.”
When it comes to tracking your goals, deadlines become critical. That’s because the movements of the trend provide you with information about where you’re going, but the velocity of the trend hints toward effectiveness.
If you set the wrong deadline, the trend will be deceiving. For example, losing 20 pounds in ten years might be achievable, but is it right? Does it accomplish what you need, which is to improve your health for the long term?
The precise issue to be aware of is setting up deadlines purposely to allow the trend to look good. You must not manipulate deadlines to enable trends to follow what you’d expect to be an appropriate direction. Instead, you need to set up deadlines that provide a reasonable pace for the trend.
Of course, you won’t get this right from the start, as you need to improve your self-awareness and train your judgment. So, for a start, err on the side of being overly confident. Make the deadlines tighter than you think they should be.
That will challenge you and push you outside of your comfort zone. That’s okay. If you truly hit a wall, you may reconsider and adjust, but for starters, resist the urge of “fixing” the deadlines on your goals only so that the trend looks nice and pretty.
Develop a Progressive Reward System
One of the issues with having goals with a finite determinate time frame is that the end is in sight and yet very far away. If you learn how to split your goals into smaller bite-size pieces, as explained above, you solve a part of that problem, but not all of it.
The goal itself is the desired outcome that will provide you with a certain level of happiness, joy, or fulfillment. But when the goal is too far away, the “carrot” loses its appeal after a while and becomes demotivating. That’s why you should bake additional progressive rewards into the goal tracking progress.
Not only that these progressive rewards are connected to the milestones, but having them as an integral part of the system will force you to follow the process and track your goal consistently.
When you reach a milestone and give yourself a well-deserved reward, you restart the chain of motivation and rekindle your desire to keep going and pursue that goal through the end. That is also one great way to help you turn goal tracking from a chore to a lifelong good habit.
Have A Weekly And Monthly Review
To not lose sight of your goals, it’s vital to keep a close eye on their progress. Then the question becomes, what is the frequency with which you do the tracking?
For simple goals that span a few days or weeks, it’s easy. What about bigger goals such as buying a house or getting a new degree? Or even bigger ones, such as being a great spouse and parent? For those, you can’t wait for too long between snapshots because the trends would become meaningless and won’t allow you to react to the red flags fast enough.
That’s why having a monthly and weekly review of your goals is a great way to ensure that you are on the right track. You can look at your goals daily to get inspired and motivated, but tracking them daily might not be suitable for you unless it’s a specific daily goal, such as drinking more water or meditating.
The month and the week are long enough and short enough to allow for enough movement within their period, and such, they are the best spans for measuring and tracking your goals. In this way, the goal tracking and review sheet that you use can also be the basis of next month’s and week’s action plan.
React To Red Flags
The next thing to keep in mind when you track your goals is observing and reacting to red flags. That means setting it up in a way that makes it easy to understand when you’re off-track. Here are a few ways:
- Figuring out the “average” and watching when you dip too much under it. If you need to lose an average of 2 pounds per week when you start getting under 1.5, that’s a red flag.
- Watching the long-term directionality of the trend. For example, you may have a streak of good results for a few months and then reverse all the progress in a couple of weeks and restart the cycle. When you take a step back and look at the whole picture, is it still moving in the right direction? When you narrow down the scope of a trend, you wind up with a similar situation of a snapshot which is deceiving.
- Observing a constant pushing of the deadline. When you see that you keep moving the deadline forward week after week, it’s time to ask yourself what’s wrong. Is the deadline unrealistic, or is there something else that prevents you from working on that goal effectively?
No matter how these red flags appear in your goal tracking system, make sure you react to them immediately. You need to understand what’s not working and what needs to change and affect those changes right away.
Use the Right Tool To Track Your Goals
One thing to be aware of when you track your goals is the amount of time you spend tracking. After all, accomplishing goals is the main activity you need to focus on. Therefore, you should be as efficient as possible when you track your goals to allow for the most time to achieve those goals.
In other words, tracking your goals should not take an extensive amount of time and derail you from the main tasks.
Therefore, it’s essential to match the right tracking tool to each goal. You might use different tools for different goals, as needed. Here are some ideas.
A lot of goals are easy to track with good old pen and paper. Forming new habits, for example, is a great goal to follow on paper because it’s incredibly straightforward.
Let’s say you want to drink more water and have set up a goal to drink eight glasses per day. There is no more straightforward and more effective system than a piece of paper with eight empty boxes where you put an X every time you drink one glass.
No app will ever beat that. It’s as simple as it gets and as effective as it gets.
I find any bullet journal particularly useful because it’s versatile, and you can quickly adapt it to any goal.
The mobile app is an obvious upgrade from the manual system. There are tons of goal tracking apps, so you’ll have to poke around and see which ones you like the most.
These apps are hybrids between to-do list management, project management, goal tracking, and habit tracking. In the end, you need a little bit of each. The good news is that most apps are versatile and customizable enough to adapt to your level of goal complexity. If you want inspiration, I’ve listed a few apps in a previous post about the best apps to use in your life.
Some people are very visual, and they react better to obvious visual cues. That could be, for example, an image of a thermometer drawn on a board that you fill in little by little as more and more of the goal gets accomplished. It could be a chart where you add new bars over time.
This is not very different from the manual journal, but the visual cues are supposed to be fixed, extensive, and prominent, whereas the journal is more of a tool to carry around. If you have a vision board, probably having visual trackers will work best for you.
Track Your Goals Like a Champion
Can you accomplish goals without tracking? Yes, you can. If you only have simple goals, you definitely can. But when you step into the arena of complex, long-term goals, doing so without a proper system to track and measure goals is setting yourself up for failure.
Luck is not a great way to manage your goals and life in general. It’s wonderful to have luck once in a while, but it’s not a sustainable system on its own or something you should rely on heavily.
Instead, you have to develop a measuring methodology that works for you and allows you to track your goals in real-time across all aspects of life.
When you do so in a cohesive manner, mindful of all the connections and interactions, not only will you accomplish your existing goals, but you’ll also create space for even bigger, more complex goals. You will also be better equipped to catch problems early and adapt to new situations or environments. It’s the same as being aware and ready for the next step rather than being caught off guard.
So, what method will you choose? How will you track your goals? No matter which one you chose, you’ll do better than if you had none.
So, go for it! Go and track those goals like a champ!
Other Resources on How To Track Your Goals
- Nine Effective Ways to Track Your Progress Toward a Goal
- 5 Strategies to Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively
- 20 Brilliant Ways to Track Your Goals
- How To Track Your Goals: 10 Easiest Goal Tracking Methods
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you track your goals? If so, how did you start?
- What part of goal tracking do you find the most challenging?
- Was there a time when goal tracking helped you identify a bad trend and change it?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!