On goal-setting: Activity goals are better than achievement goals

I love setting goals. But it’s so easy to fall short of achieving them.

Perhaps one of the reasons is that I’m building goals around an ideal end-state. That end-state looks very specific in my mind.

But how often do we actually achieve that end state? It may end up looking somewhat different (although that doesn’t mean we failed). And in many of the end-states I envision and work toward there are external factors that can influence what that end-state looks like.

Take the example of a sales goal: A sales goal might be: “I want to close a sale this week.” At first, that seems like a decent goal but it’s based on an end-state… and one that is not entirely in your control. As a result, you run the risk of not achieving the goal in the way you want. (Perhaps you close a sale but not a very big one; or perhaps you laid the foundation to close a massive sale the next day — either way, the achievement is different than the end-state you worked towards). And, the success of this end-state goal is only partly determined by you but it’s also partly determined by an external factor outside of your control — the person or organization you are selling to.

A better goal is one built around an activity. Something you do; something that is entirely up to you. There are no external factors. The measurement of success is easy. You gain so much clarity.

To use the same example of a sales goal: An activity-based goal might be “I want to make 10 sales calls today.” I like this better because the success of this goal is based on you, not an external factor. And, it’s much easier to determine whether you were successful than if you used an end-state goal.

As an added bonus, activity-based goals also give you a better sense of how much time you have available to complete them.

Again, to use the sales example: Closing one deal a week may take many hours in the week… but how much? It’s hard to be accurate and therefore you open yourself up to over-committing. But the activity-based goal of making 10 sales calls a day is much easier to estimate the time required.

So rather than sitting down at the beginning of the week and thinking “I need to close a sale this week”, you’re instead sitting down at the beginning of the week (and each day that week) and thinking “I need to make 10 sales calls today.”

That’s a huge, clarifying, freeing difference.

This concept ties nicely into the GTD methodology: When I create Next Actions to be completed during the week, I fell into the trap of creating Next Achievements… of creating mini end-states that I would work toward. So I need to remind myself of the importance of Next Actions and to build activity-based goals to achieve each day.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when setting goals

Don't make this mistake when goalsettingI love to set goals.

I’ve been that way for my entire life.

Whether or not I actually reach those goals is another story, although I’m always being reminded of the importance of acting on your goals (which is why I write stuff like the Massive Action Checklist and Are You An Action Figure?).

I’m okay with setting more goals than I achieve (well, to a degree) because I figure that I still accomplish a lot in spite of hitting only a fraction of the goals I set.

But in the last year or so I’ve started to notice something else and it could be the key to unlocking a better level of achievement in my goals. I’ve also learned that other people face the same challenge too. (Whew!) In fact, my friend Warren Wooden of PLR Internet Marketing mentioned this very same thing in the recent interview I did with him for the third anniversary of his business.

Here’s the mistake most people (including me and Warren) make when goal setting:

Goals of varying timeframes are set but they don’t tie together.

You might set daily and weekly and monthly and quarterly and yearly goals… but the goals you work on for your daily goals might not contribute to your weekly goals, and the goals you work on for your monthly goals might not work on for your quarterly goals.

So instead of focusing on just a few projects, you end up spreading yourself too thin. You work for a bit on project X goals to meet your daily goals and then you work for a bit on project Y goals to meet your weekly goals and then your project Z goals to meet your monthly goals. Working on one goal will not contribute to a larger goal.

It sucks because you increase your workload, spread your focus dangerously thin, decrease your productivity, and then fail to achieve more goals.


Start at the high level and work backwards: Set some big-ass goals — perhaps goals for your professional life (for example). Let’s say that you create a series goals for your career and you expect your professional life to last the next 30 years at which point you plan to retire.

Now you can break these goals down into three 10-year goals. But it’s important to note this: Instead of creating new goals, just create smaller versions of that over-arching goal. For example, maybe you want to retire with an annual passive cash flow of a million dollars in thirty years. So you divide that into three 10-year goals. Maybe you have the goal of earning a $333,000 annual passive cash flow by the end of the first decade and $666,000 annual passive by the end of the second decade. Whatever. These are just examples.

Okay, now that you have those 10 years goals hammered out, make them smaller. Again, don’t create new goals. Instead, create smaller versions of these goals. So your first decade of working toward an annual passive cash flow of $333,000 might mean trying to add $33,000 each year for the next 10 years — $33,000 in the first year, $66,000 in the second year and so on.

Now that you have annual goals created, then divide those goals by 4 to get quarterly goals. Now you’re trying to add $8250 per quarter in passive income.

Those same goals can be subdivided further — divide them by 3 to get monthly goals each quarter, then divide by 4 to get weekly goals, then divide by 7 (to get daily goals for a 7-day week) or 5 (go get daily goals for a 5-day week). Heck, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t divide your goals by 8 to get hourly goals based on an 8-hour work day.

Now you have real goals to work with… goals that will build on each other over time. Goals at the microscopic level that, if you work on them, you’ll contribute to your larger goals.


Goals are not actions. Dividing these goals down to that tiny level won’t make them magically come to fruition. Rather, it turns a seemingly overwhelming career-long goal into something that you can actually work on right this minute. So once you have these goals, assign actions to them. Some actions will be daily, some weekly , some quarterly, etc. But assign actions to contribute to those goals.

Not all goals work on the same timeline. I used passive cash flow as my example because I wanted to use some numbers that could be divided from large career-long numbers down to much smaller numbers. But not all goals will work that way. Some won’t take your entire career. Some can’t be divided down into hourly goals. Owning a Lamborghini in a decade is a worthwhile goal (especially if you cruise by my house and we can drive around in it for a bit). But it’s hard to subdivide a Lambo into annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily goals. (Well, not if you’ve heard Johnny Cash’s song “One Piece At a Time“). So use some common sense here, people. Figure out how to make it work. Maybe you set a goal to have enough money to buy a Lamborghini — that can be divided down.

Not all numbers are easily divisible. I hope what I’m about to write makes sense. Here goes: Not all numbers can be easily divided by the number of time periods in the smaller sub-set. Sometimes, you can’t just quickly divide your decade goal by 10 to get annual goals because the goals build on each other to create an exponential increase rather than a straight line increase. (Similar in concept to the different ways that depreciation is calculated — straight line or declining balance). It might be easier to make a larger jump later in the goal than earlier.

Image credit: TALUDA

What’s your kick-ass plan?

Aaron Hoos Kick Ass Plan
It’s the time of year when we are knee-deep in planning what we want to do for the rest of the year. Stop smoking, lose weight, start eating more cookies, whatever.

Planning is good but by the end of January, there’s a good chance that most of those plans fall apart under the pressure of reality (which is why a lot of year-round gym membership-holders avoid the gym in January to let all the enthusiastic people join and then leave).

Plans don’t always work because their main ingredients are hope and luck. If you want to eliminate hope and luck, try developing a kick-ass plan.


  1. A kick-ass plan starts with a goal and the steps to achieve that goal but if you stop there, you’ve only done what a lot of people do. You’ll do okay (better than if you just create a goal and no steps) but I’m about to show you a way to take your goal-setting up a notch!
  2. Next, you need to plus your goal. (Add something to your goal to make it really special — to increase its value and importance). Adjust your steps as necessary.
  3. For each step in your plan, identify your capabilities and requirements. Then determine what strengths you have to succeed and what weaknesses you have that could hold you back. Mitigate those weaknesses through investments in automation… or see if there is someone in your network who can help you. (Try tweeting out to your network that you need help in some specific thing and watch what happens. What a great way to see just how much value your network places in you.)
  4. Determine how to start strong. For some of you (especially this time of year), this won’t be a problem. But for some, there might be issues of procrastination or feelings of overwhelmedness that need to be conquered first. Figure out if anything is going to hold you back from starting and then figure out how to jam down on the accelerator very early in the project.
  5. Starting is good but what you really want to is attain critical mass quickly. This gives your project some life of its own because you see success. Figure out how you define critical mass for your particular project and how you can get there as soon as possible.
  6. Next, look for opportunities to maintain momentum. Project inertia ensures that you keep plugging away regardless of the peaks and valleys that you might experience along the way. (Confession: This is another area I’m working on. It’s easy for me to slow down or even stop when the middle-of-the-project doldrums hit). I need to build little motivations into my projects to keep me going. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a break or rewarding myself with a trip to Starbucks if I get complete a certain number of steps.
  7. Determine your finishing alternatives. We all want to achieve a project well but often that “winning finish” isn’t well defined. We need to define it clearly.
  8. A winning finish is idea… but it doesn’t always happen. We also need to consider some potential contingencies. You don’t need to go overboard here (or else you’ll end up over-planning and you’ll never get to your project) but you can do a simple A-B-C-D contingency planning: (A) is the ideal finish. (B) is a moderate finish in which some of the winning finish characteristics are present and some are not. (C) is a finish but not something you would define as a win. (D) is if the project doesn’t finish. You’re not grading the project, you’re anticipating what could happen to cause these four potential scenarios and deciding what you can do to make sure an idea finish is the most likely outcome. (For more thoughts on contingency planning, read about a time when I accidentally stabbed myself).
  9. If you’re already busy, you’ll need to also do this: Figure out what you’re willing to give up to make it happen. (Note: this is a HUGE area of struggle for me and something I’ve been trying to work on in my own business. I love to do a lot but I’ve started to realize in the past year or two that if I adopt something new, I need to give up something else).
  10. Figure out what habits need to change in order to succeed. Do you need to be more diligent so you can blog every day? Do you need to stop procrastinating? Do you need to screw up your courage to make more sales calls? Maybe you need to get desperate!
  11. Lastly, become an action figure and blaze forward by doing what needs to be done!. (More on that in this blog post: The entrepreneur’s silver bullet).

If you’ve got this far in my blog, you’re probably thinking to yourself: “Isn’t this insanely time consuming? Is Aaron crazy?”

The answer is yes… to both questions (although there’s nothing I can do about the second question so I’ll just address the first question).

This IS time consuming. But it works. It turns your luck-and-hope plans into real, actionable, achievable kick-ass plans.

Besides, you’ll spend far more time working part-way through your plan and fizzling out than you will if you put in some time in advance to go through these steps. An investment of time at the beginning to develop a kick-ass plan will help your project be more successful, and will help you to achieve it faster and with fewer challenges.

Are you making this goal-setting mistake?

It’s that time of year when we think a lot about goals.

But there’s a common mistake made when we set goals or resolutions and this mistake can actually impede our accomplishment. The mistake is: We start with goals but we don’t figure out how to achieve them.

So maybe you have a list of goals/resolutions that includes some of these…

  • I want to stop smoking
  • I want to list 10 more homes this year than I did last year
  • I want to sell insurance to 10 more clients this quarter than the same time last quarter
  • I want to compete in a marathon
  • I want to make a lot of money
  • I want to lose weight
  • I want to get 12 more clients (compared to last year) by the end of the year

These are great goals (even if they aren’t all “SMART” goals!). But if you just list them and look at them, you probably won’t achieve them.

So, with each goal, break it down into smaller steps. And add a date.

Let’s look at the goal: “I want to get 12 more clients (compared to last year) by the end of the year”:

Goal: I want to get 12 more clients (compared to last year) by the end of the year

  1. Step: January 1 – Determine how many clients I got last year and add 12 for this year’s goal. Figure out what that is each month.
  2. Step: January 2 – Review my marketing efforts and identify the market that was most effective at getting me new clients each month. Figure out how many new clients it got me each month
  3. Step: January 3 – Identify ways to proportionally increase my marketing to generate 1 more lead each month.
  4. Step: January 4 – Plan my marketing for January.
  5. Step: January 5 – Begin marketing.
  6. Step: January 31 – Review current plan and monthly results and identify how February’s marketing needs to be adjusted.

See how easy that was? Just create steps with dates. Each step should contribute to your goal so that when all of your steps are performed, your goal will be complete!