The Art of Getting Sh*t Done: How to Set Goals that Work

by Michael Pietrzak August 25, 2016

The Art of Getting Sh*t Done: How to Set Goals that Work

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes.

“I will double my income by the end of the year.”

That’s what I told myself in 2011 when I left a stable career to build a business. I told my friends and family this every chance I had, and always received the same cocked-eyebrow, blank stare.

“Oh, that’s… awesome. How?” they asked.

I had six months to take a business from pre-concept to $150,000 annual profit and no idea how to do it. It wasn’t an impossible goal, but it wasn’t realistic. I didn’t reach my goal – not even close – but I learned a ton about goal setting.

How Important are Goals?

The fundamental key to success is to set goals. Most people think they have goals, but what they really have are hopes and wishes. Without understanding goals, you can work harder than you ever have and find you’re standing in the same place.

Those who set goals effectively obliterate tasks and get exactly what they want. You can do the same if you follow these guidelines.

1. Set Clear and Measurable Goals

It’s easy to set goals that are vague, for example:

  1. I want a better relationship with my wife
  2. I want to earn more money
  3. I want to travel

Nope, that won’t work. Your brain won’t know what to do with these vague operating instructions and you’ll have no clear understanding of what action to take. We can rework these goals to be clear and measurable. 

1. “I take my wife on a date once a week starting on Tuesday to a place where we can have uninterrupted, meaningful conversation. I listen carefully to what she has to say and I respond with authenticity and vulnerability. I make her smile more often.”

If you take this approach, your relationship is almost guaranteed to improve. Slight wording change, 9,000% better results.

2. “I earn an extra $500 per month through freelance writing. Starting Monday I pitch two articles per week to 5 different publications, testing what approaches work and do not. I ask for feedback from the magazines so I can refine my approach.” 

This goal gives you a clear idea of what steps you need to take to arrive at your desired outcome, and you can measure the results so there is no confusion about whether you are moving toward your goal or not. 

3. “I put $200 per month into a travel fund for the next six months so I can travel to Mexico on March 1."

You know where you’re going: Mexico. You know how much it will cost: $1,200. You have a deadline on when you want to fly. It’s a straightforward approach, but so much more powerful than a vague, “I want to travel.”

2. Set Personal Goals 

Too often we chose goals that other people want for us. People entering college or university decide to become doctors or lawyers, to “major in business,” or to play sports because their parents told them it was a good idea.

Too often we volunteer, join a board, go to events because we think it’s what people do when they want to further their career, not because we love what we’re doing.

Stop that.

If your goals are not personal – in other words if they are not chosen with your heart – you will likely fail. Best case scenario you will waste your time. This is closely related to the next guideline…

3. Set Big Goals that Will Excite You

When you have a mission in life that is personal and motivates you, the next step is to dream big enough.

Let’s take the goal of working out for 30 minutes, twice a week. For someone who has never exercised a day in his life, and who is currently 100 pounds overweight, this might be a perfectly suitable goal. In his case exercising twice a week is a major improvement over the present reality. It’s a goal that would likely excite this man enough to act.

For a beast who is already working out four times a week for the last ten years, he will want to set a much more ambitious goal, say signing up for Tough Mudder or a marathon. For someone who needs training before running a marathon, this goal is at the limits of his or her capabilities (right now).

In general, the goals that best motivate you have a 50-50 chance of success. Big, but not too big, which leads to the next point.

4. Set Realistic Goals 

At the end of 2011 I had not doubled my income. In my case making $150,000 a year after I had just lost my only source of income was not realistic. I had minimal business experience, no mentors, and no capital.

My goal was clear and measurable, personal, and excited me, but I know now that setting such an unrealistic target, with no plan to achieve it, was doomed from the beginning.

The missing ingredient was realism. Could I have made 20, 30, or 50 thousand in the first year? Possibly. But in the back of my mind I knew that $150,000 was way out of reach, and my subconscious worked to throw up roadblocks to acting on this impossible goal. I was not very productive.

Ironically, had I set my sights lower, my business might have turned a profit.

5. Set Deadlines 

Goals are dreams with a deadline. No deadline? You’re dreaming. I love waking up from a good dream but I prefer my waking life. If you’re like me, you do your best work right before the deadline. I thrive on chaos and I love the challenge. Humans are hard-wired to be most motivated when the stakes are high. Placing a deadline on your goal is the easiest way to triple your motivation.

I’ve struggled with this idea. Facing multiple deadlines can feel terrifying and overwhelming. I’ve often been wildly off base with how long a task will take, and missed my deadlines. But if they are self-imposed, who cares?

There is another way to see deadlines: as a game. When you were a kid did you see how many times you could hit a ball with a stick and keep it in the air? Did you race other kids while crab walking? Testing ourselves is part of the creative process in a world that is at its roots an elaborate system of games.

Set a deadline and have fun with seeing if you can meet it. Don’t make it? Set another deadline! You’ll get better at knowing how much time a task will take the more deadlines you set. Like anything, we get better with practice.


6. Take Massive Action

“The path to success is to take massive, determined action”
– Tony Robbins 

Pat yourself on the back: you’ve got a goal that is all of the above; it’s time to celebrate, right? OK, you can do a quick victory dance in the corner over there, but the real work is just beginning. Goals without action will never be reached. 

The time now is to take action, not just any action but massive action. How successful you are will be proportional to:

  • The quality of your action plan
  • How vigorously you implement it

Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

The time you spend on a goal should be front-loaded in the planning phase. All the minutes spent in this phase will save you hours in the execution phase. That’s not to say you can’t take any action at first. Experiments, writing a business plan, talking to people, researching, etc., these are all forms of action within the planning process.

When you have your plan locked down, then it’s time to open the floodgates. Get to work executing that plan every day, obsessively, and show the world that you are unstoppable.

Have goal setting techniques that work for you? Let us know in the comments.


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Michael Pietrzak
Michael Pietrzak


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