Quickly Achieve your Career Goals with 10 Proven Techniques

A number of techniques make the challenge of achieving ambitious career and job search goals easier. Here’s a list of those that have either helped me or my clients to overcome obstacles to goal achievement. May they give you the boost you need to reach your goals.

Picture your goal to get motivated: Use physical pictures or imagery you conjure up in your imagination. The reason this works – visualization connects the goal with your emotions, and emotions are the key to memory. You’re essentially experiencing the result before you’ve reached your goal, which makes you want it more. Closely related to visualization is the Picture Superiority Effect, which says that images are way more powerful than text or words in getting an idea to stick.

For example, if you’re looking to find a more enjoyable job, imagine what it feels like to get up in the morning actually looking forward to going to work. Or if you’re seeking more money, find a picture that represents the nicer vacation you’ll be able to take.

Be specific: If your goal is vague, it’s hard to know where to start; stating your goal clearly can help drive action. I’ve used the SMART Goals framework to gain the specificity needed to drive action: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example:

  • Not SMART — “get a new job” or “get promoted”
  • SMART — get a new Marketing Director job in Healthcare in the North-Eastern U.S. within one year from today that will pay me at least $X and reflect the values I’ve listed as important to me.

Overcome mental hurdles hindering goal achievement: The most common mental hurdles include:

Procrastination — Sometimes you can overcome procrastination by simply understanding what’s driving it. And here’s the key insight: procrastination is not a time management problem, but rather an emotion-management problem. You procrastinate to cope with challenging emotions or moods caused by the goals you’ve set.

When understanding isn’t enough, try this: take any tiny action towards your goal, even if only for just two minutes. For example, instead of saying “Today I need to figure out what I want to do next in my career,” say to yourself “I’ll spend just two minutes brainstorming career options.” You’ll often find that just by getting started in this way, you’ll be able to keep going way beyond the two-minutes you originally allocated.

PREcrastination — the opposite of procrastination, precrastination involves the tendency to move forward too quickly without taking a step back first to optimize your efforts. I see precrastination all the time with jobseekers. Many just start applying with dismal results; they don’t pause to strategically plan and organize their job search campaign before diving in. The same goes for my clients looking to move up in their organization.

Fear — for many fear is the action-killer, the key reason goals fall by the wayside. One excellent approach to overcoming fear comes from Tim Ferris. He flips goal-setting on its head to create “Fear Setting,” which involves getting your fears down on paper in a way that enables proper assessment (are they really warranted?) and mitigation. Check out his Ted talk on the subject, it’s well worth it, and download my Fear-Setting worksheet to help you get started.

Another way of overcoming fear and taking action: Tell other people about your goals, to create accountability (for my clients, I often serve as one of the people they’re accountable to).

Feeling overwhelmed – these two steps will usually do the trick:

  1. Break up big goals into smaller ones that are each more easily achievable. For example, a client wanted to land a new job that was more fulfilling. We broke this big goal up into: a) conduct a self-assessment to understand motivations and strengths, b) identify job targets based on assessment and research, c) write promotional materials (resume, LinkedIn profile, pitch), and so forth. We also made sure each of these smaller goals were SMART goals.
  2. Then take those goals and enter them into your to-do list. Creating to-do lists offloads the tasks from your brain onto the list, almost magically releasing you from that overwhelmed feeling. The list also helps you to be organized and efficient with your time. Plus, it’s well known that we humans enjoy checking things off lists! This enjoyment will help to counteract any fear that might be holding you back (there are many great free and paid online to-do apps). The key to success with to-do lists is to a) not be overly ambitious when scheduling your SMART to-do’s for a given day (just the ones you think you can really get done), and b) revisit your to-do list every day to reschedule items as necessary.

Perfectionism – You may have heard that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” From research, you’ll feel more satisfied if you just get it done, whether a decision or work you need to do, than if you had agonized over the task in the pursuit of the very marginal improvement you equate with perfection. Plus, you’ll have achieved your goal!

Personally, I live by the “80/20 rule” to prioritize, set goals, and combat perfectionism, and it’s served me well. The rule essentially says to focus on the 20% of your effort that will get you 80% of the results, and let go of the remaining 80% of effort that will get you only 20% of the results (search for “80/20 rule” and you’ll find countless entries documenting its effectiveness).