10 Goal-Setting Techniques Worth Exploring

You’ve got big dreams, and there’s only one thing standing in your way: a lack of a plan. Luckily for you, frameworks for professional goal setting are not in short supply. Here are 10 goal-setting techniques to try on for size.



The SMART framework is probably the most familiar goal-setting framework of all. The advice is to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely—in other words, set a goal for which it’s possible to define success. The SMARTER version of this technique adds Evaluate and Readjust to the plan, taking an agile approach.

2. One-word goals

Popular in January as an alternative to a New Year’s resolution, the one-word goal is more of an inspiration or a mantra. For instance, if you want to make big changes, you could choose “refresh” as your one-word goal. If you need to stop taking life so seriously, your word could be “whimsy.” Some goal-setters take this a step further by choosing a word for each month.

3. Vision boards

If you enjoyed cutting up magazines to make collages as a teenager, the vision board is for you. Your board is a place for you to collect inspiring images, quotes, words, and other visual reminders of your goals. The idea is to place it somewhere you will see it each day to keep your goals top of mind.

4. BHAGs

A concept first introduced in 1994’s Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal—a BHAG, pronounced Bee-HAG—may feel like the opposite of a SMART goal. It’s risky, it’s exciting, and it’s big picture. It’s meant as a jolt to the system.

5. Locke and Latham’s Five Principles

Researchers Edwin Locke and Gary Latham spent more than three decades examining human motivation, determining the five principles of successful goal setting: clarity, challenge, commitment, feedback, and complexity.

6. Tiered goals

Tiered goals might be time-based—annual, quarterly, and monthly—or they could be focused on achievability. In other words, some goals are pretty much a given, some are a stretch, and some are BHAGs. The idea is to recognize that achieving your biggest goals requires establishing and building on a foundation.

7. Micro-goals

Micro-goals are the Lego bricks of goal setting. If you want to run a marathon, you have to start by walking around the block. Micro-goals are the mini-wins that build your confidence and give you the spark to keep going.

8. OKR

OKR stands for “objectives and key results,” and it’s a framework popular in the tech sector due to its use by venture capitalist John Doerr, author of Measure What Matters. The objective is what you will achieve; the key results provide a yardstick for the objective. An OKR can be phrased as a statement: I will achieve this objective as measured by these key results.

9. WOOP goals

A WOOP goal requires you to focus on your Wish, the Outcome of that wish, the Obstacle(s) standing in the way of your wish, and your Plan for overcoming the obstacle(s). Your plan is phrased as an if/then: If I encounter this, then I will do this. Researcher Gabrielle Oettingen developed the WOOP framework.

10. The Wheel of Life

Created by Paul J. Meyer, the Wheel of Life takes a holistic approach to goal setting, recognizing that too much emphasis on any one area of life puts the human psyche off-kilter. The idea is to identify six to eight areas of your life, plot those on a circle, and then assess how much time and energy you are devoting to each. The circle visual will help you pinpoint areas of your life that need more attention.

No matter which goal setting framework feels more comfortable, the most important step is to get started. It all gets easier from there.

Search for your next job now:


Back to listing

The Washington Post Jobs Newsletter

Subscribe to the latest news about DC's jobs market