Six Criteria For Effective Goals

For something to be effective, it must work. As Stephen R. Covey said, “Who do they send back to school when the salesman doesn’t sell – the buyer?” Effective goals work. If you want effective goals, ensure they meet these six criteria.

Criterion 1 – Balanced

“There is no real excellence in all this world which can be separated from right living.”

David Starr Jordan quoted by Stephen R. Covey 7 Habit of Highly Effective People

We all have different values, and we all have more than one. Only by concurrently addressing them all can we experience sustained results in each.

Zig Ziglar said, “what we do off the job determines how far we go on the job. Every athlete knows that.” The same is true for us engineers and construction managers. We cannot expect to excel on the construction site if our health, relationships, recreation, etc. are suffering outside of work. Any excellence we do experience will be short-lived or false.

We must have goals that promote growth in every area of life we hold dear. If a single one is left unattended, it will cry out to our subconscious like a hungry child. If one area of life suffers, they all do. We must strike a balance.

Criterion 2 – Passionate

Love-the feeling-is a fruit of love, the verb.

Stephen R. Covey 1

If you want love in your life, you need to love life. You cannot live a life of passion in pursuit of goals or dreams about which you do not care.

Passionate goals motivate. Dispassionate goals demotivate. If you want to achieve all your goals, make each one something that invokes passion.

What If You Hate Your Job?

It’s tough, if not impossible, to muster passion for something you hate. If you hate your job, I offer two suggestions.

Seven Whys

Ask yourself “why” seven times. First, ask yourself why you took on the role initially. If you feel indifferent about your work, your answer is likely “to earn money.” Second, ask yourself why you want the money (that is your second “why”). Let’s say it is to save for a house. Now ask why you want the house (your third “why”). Do this seven times, and you will dig up something about which you feel passionate. Write whatever it is down so you can keep it at the forefront of your mind. Then revisit your goals and ensure you are working towards it.

“When you do more than what you’re paid to do, someday you will be paid more for what you do.”

Zig Ziglar

Fall In Love With The Way You Do Your Job

Alternatively, follow the advice of Zig Ziglar. “Suppose, you’re not in love with the job you do, you can fall in love with the way you do the job. And you see when you fall in love with the way you do the job it’s just a question of time when you will like certain aspects of the job better, and then one of two things will happen. They will either move you up to a better job or you will be given a better job somewhere else… When you do more than what you’re paid to do, someday you will be paid more for what you do.” 2

Criterion 3 – Clear & Simple

“If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness.”

Dalai Lama 3

Clear Is Simple

The key aspect of a clear goal is simplicity. Which of the following directions is clear and more likely to get you to your destination?

  1. Follow signs to Knoxville for five miles until you see the convention center on your right.
  2. Alternatively, to save some time, leave the main road and make a right, then the first left, and then the first right. Go two blocks down and make a left. Get in the righthand lane and make the entry ramp onto the freeway. Leave the freeway by the third exit. Make a right at the lights and then another three blocks thereon. The convention center is the large brick building after the gas station.

A clear goal can be effortlessly visualized – you can see your path to its accomplishment and even yourself, in the end, feeling accomplished. If a goal is too complicated, it is difficult to visualize. Keep.It.Super.Simple (KISS).

Clear Is What You Can See

A Director of my first employer encouraged me to have 1, 5, and 10-year goals. This approach to goal setting worked for him because his future was clear to him. He told me that from a young age, he would drive his father’s sports car with his girlfriend (now wife) in the passenger seat and clearly describe a time in their future when he had a similar car and was Director of a Tier 1 contractor. Long term goals worked well for him because he had a crystal clear vision which he passionately pursued. But many of us, including me, are not so longsighted.

How far onward your path stretches doesn’t matter; all that matters is that you consciously select your path.

It isn’t essential to have life planned out so far in advance. Do it if you can see that far ahead without losing heart or motivation. If you can’t see past the month in front of you, then one month is where you’ll set your targets.

How far onward your path stretches doesn’t matter; all that matters is that you consciously select your path.

Criterion 4 – Realistic & Attainable

Forget challenging goals.

“Leap for the moon. Even if you fall short, you’ll find yourself in the stratosphere.” Many of my successes came once I began ignoring this advice which often led me to disappointment and demotivation. The trouble with this idea is if you set your heart on the moon, you’ll be discontented with the stratosphere – despite the struggle endured to get there. This is a painful way to progress through life. Only if you had deceivingly set your heart on the stratosphere will you feel elated by your progress (but that was not the goal you set).

We overestimate what we can do in a month and underestimate what we can do in twelve.

Seek first, not to challenge, but to accomplish. To run a marathon is a goal for the runner; for others, the goal should be to run. If you don’t take the first step, you cannot take the second. Make it easy to get started by setting a realistic goal. One you know you can achieve. Success breeds confidence, and then confidence breeds success – don’t gamble on this, make success a certainty. Get ahead of your work, and you’ll feel proud and determined. Fall behind, and logically you’ll tell yourself that the pace was too quick, and now you must pedal even harder to make up the lost ground. You’ll feel demotivated and will seek out other easier, less-important things to do.

We overestimate what we can do in a month and underestimate what we can do in twelve.

Two cliches to cement the point

  • Mountains are moved not with bursts of forceful exertion but with steady, persistent effort.
  • Slow and steady wins the race.

An archer’s focus is not on the target but somewhere closer. Get started by shooting for something near and trust the rest will follow.

Criterion 5 – Fewer Done Better

In the figure above are two checkerboards. Let’s say you may advance seven squares only. You could move seven counters forward a single square (right), move one counter seven squares (left), or anywhere in between. The fewer counters you advance, the farther those counters progress.

The same is true for our goals. If we spend our time working towards fewer goals, each will progress more quickly than if we spent time on many. Setting one goal likely won’t suffice as we each have more than one area of our life in which to progress, and each area may have more than one sphere of responsibility. Still, the fewer goals you set, the faster you will proceed towards their completion, and with higher quality.

“LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner sees ‘fewer things done better’ as the most powerful mechanism for leadership.”

Greg McKeown 4

If you find yourself paralyzed choosing between your goals, wanting to do them all while recognizing fewer might be better, google the term “Buridan’s Ass,” and remember you can do anything, but not everything you want to do.

Criterion 6 – Current

For a goal to remain current, it must be revisited.

For much of my career, setting goals was a mindless procedure or checkbox exercise. It was not the powerful tool it should be. Targets would be set and then forgotten for 6months until my colleagues, and I would frantically search for evidence that could support our claim that we’d tried to meet these goals.

Consider the immeasurable time we cut from our lives, choosing to amble along whichever path appears most downhill instead of striding towards purposeful milestones.

We thought we were saving time by moving swiftly through the steps, but because our goals were meaningless, the little time we spent on them was a waste. Even worse, consider the immeasurable time we cut from our lives, choosing to amble along whichever path appeared most downhill instead of striding towards purposeful milestones.

Review your goals regularly, and when you find one that’s no longer relevant, don’t move on before putting wheels in motion to set a new goal – and use the criteria in this post to make it worthwhile.

Refreshing Your Goals

Discovering your goals are flawed or misdirected is progress. It does not mean the time you invested in setting them was a waste, but the opposite. You are now two steps farther along your path. Your next step is to reset the goal and then continue. Very soon, you’ll be bounding toward a goal you are happy with, so forgive some correction at the outset.

A Note on Setting Goals

It takes a lot of time to set effective goals, but we spend only a little because it doesn’t get us closer to any finish line. Nothing tangible is created. What we don’t realize is this is time invested, not in production, but in our ability to produce. One hour spent here will return several elsewhere.

Set yourself something to direct your growth as a sunflower grows toward the sun. Don’t leave your future to chance; make it something your heart hankers to pursue.

Soon I will publish my goal-setting process and how I ensure my goals meet these criteria. Keep your ear to the ground.


  1. Quoted in the book by Stephen R. Covey 7 Habit of Highly Effective People.
  2. Quote taken from Zig Ziglar’s audiobook How To Stay Motivated Vol 1 – Developing The Qualities of Success.
  3. Quote taken from the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
  4. Quote taken from the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

One thought on “Six Criteria For Effective Goals

  1. Great post George. Thank you for compiling all of this in one place, and for sharing of course.

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