Stephen Lindberg

Product Designer @ Iterable

10 January 2020

Three Layer Goal-Setting

There’s a lot of wisdom out there about setting and achieving goals. Like most of the conventional advice out there, I think goals are achieved by defining specific, realistic actions. I’ve distilled my own goal-setting process down to a 3-layer model which looks like this:

  1. A goal. This can be vague.

  2. A method. This is a concrete action I can take that increases the likelihood of the goal becoming reality.

  3. A measure. This a specific way to track the progress on my method.

This helps ensure that the actions I am choosing are aligned with the real goal. A trap when setting goals is diving into specifics right away, leading to plans that don’t add up to the initial goal. Another trap is tracking the goal outcome instead of the method progress. By nature, goals are not completely within our control. My advice: trust your instincts when choosing your method and how to measure it, and then focus simply on sticking to your plan.

Here’s an example of what this looks like in practice:

  1. A goal: I want to become a better cook.

  2. A method: I will read cookbooks and try new recipes.

  3. A measure: I will make one new recipe from my cookbook each week and record the outcome in a journal.

It’s important to record my progress to keep myself accountable.

I prefer this way to the SMART method because it doesn’t begin with the specifics. Often my personal goals start off very vague, and the process of filling in the layers helps me arrive at a plan which satisfies the SMART criteria anyway. I can start with the same goal and repeat the process to find multiple measurable methods for achieving the same goal.

Sometimes we get too emotional and ambitious about our goals, and it’s difficult to make realistic plans for achieving them. It’s valuable to have someone else gut-check your plan so that you don’t wind up getting discouraged if you can’t stick to it.