035: Do Goals Really Work?



Traditional goals don’t work for everyone, Justin included. Instead, you might want to consider viewing goals as either projects or dreams. This week, we dive into what that looks like.



00:00 Hello and welcome to Process, a podcast by Effective Remote Work. My name is Justin DiRose. Today we’re talking about do goals really work? Before we begin, be sure to sign up for our Patreon campaign effectiveremotework.com/patreon to gain access to our Discord water cooler chat, episodes of our new Behind the Process podcast, and our monthly office hours where we get together as members of the community to discuss remote work. That’s effectiveremotework.com/patreon to join up.

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01:01 Goals have been something that I have struggled with for a long time. Over the course of a number of years, I’ve tried having goals, I’ve tried doing other things. And long story short, I’ve always had trouble with the whole idea of a “S.M.A.R.T. Goal” where I set a date, try to make it really specific and pursue it. And the problem that I have found with goals for myself is that it’s really easy to bite off more than you can chew. It’s easy to take a goal and think that it’s simpler than it actually is and it’s actually really quite a bit more complex. And then you’ve tried basically just set yourself up for failure in that. Also, I found with longer term goals that I change over time. So then my goals need to. My interests change, my needs change. Heck, most of the time when I set a goal, I have some major life event that happens right after I have a job change or something like that.

01:59 And then my priorities need to change. Something changes in my workplace and my priorities need to change. So that goal has to go to the back burner. It’s not even relevant anymore. So the last couple months that I spent working on that kind of go to waste in a sense. I’ve also found over time that pursuing a goal is often more of an exploration process than an endpoint. Sure we can set things up to where we have this process to get from point A to point B and that point B is the goal that we’re trying to reach, but more often than not we start off on the journey not really knowing where we’re going with the goal and then we end up in a place where it’s completely different than we thought it was. So this plan that we had actually takes us on this wild zigzaggy path versus the straight A to B process that we once thought it was.

02:52 It’s an exploration and not an end point and I often get frustrated in that process going through that. Also, another issue that I found with goals is that putting an unknown on a time-bound can add a lot of undue stress. If I don’t know that I can get something done with in a time period, say within three months or six weeks or whatever it is and I put that time-bbound on something, it adds to me a lot of stress. Now this is where the whole like goals being more of an exploration process really comes into play. Now, if this traditional concept of goals works for you, that’s awesome. Maybe this podcast isn’t for you. Keep doing what you’re doing if it’s working for you because that’s what productivity is all about. But I know from personal experience and talking with other people that traditional goals don’t always work and maybe that’s you.

03:46 So what I want to talk about today is a couple of mindsets in ways that you can approach longer term thinking, so to say to help maybe get where you want to go a little bit better, but it’s going to look a little different than you might think it does. Because we often tend to have these big aims that we try to turn into goals, but we don’t ever get them to an actionable concept. And what I have decided over the course of time and trying to figure things out for me is that there are really only two things. There are not goals. There are only projects and dreams. Let’s define those really quick. A project is a current, actionable pursuit. It’s something that we’ve chosen to take from the dream state, which we’ll get to in just a second and make it actionable. Something that we’re planning on doing very soon, such as within the next couple of months.

04:40 It can be something that we’ve started to do, but we’ve had to put on hold due to circumstances in our lives where we plan to come on back to it. It’s something that we’re actively working on. It’s an actionable set of things that we are going to do and that we’re moving forward on doing. It doesn’t have to look like an ABCDEFG type process though. That’s the thing. A project often is something that we’re start off exploring out. Talk a little bit about this in a little while when I talk about my journey with how this has worked for me, but let’s continue defining some of these terms. A dream is something that you want to do. It’s something that you’ve thought of in your head and it’s something that clicks with you is something you feel like you’re passionate about, but it’s not something that you’re actively pursuing.

05:29 You haven’t brought it down to this, Hey, I’m actually going to put the pedal to the metal, the rubber to the road, insert euphemisms here. Whatever. It’s something that’s still in your head as, as an ideal that you want to pursue. In the past it’s been easy for me to load myself up on goals that are a lot bigger than I can attain in a given time. But changing the focus from these big lofty goals to actionable projects actually helped me and achieve things more easily. Instead of having these lofty ideas in my head that I’m trying to pursue, but I don’t really know what I’m doing with them and I don’t really know if I’m committing to doing them. Instead, making those things active projects and I’m only taking on a couple within about a three month period or so has really helped me out.

06:21 I want to talk a little bit about the difference between planning and doing versus dreaming. Dreaming I think is something that’s very important for you and I both to do. It gives us a sense of what’s possible longterm. It also teaches us to see the hope in the moment. When we think about what’s possible for ourselves, we can also see what’s possible for other people as well. It tends to give us a more positive outlook on the things in life instead of just seeing the negative turn oftentimes in situations that come up for us. When we dream about what’s possible, it makes this essence of hope almost come alive inside of us. It also allows us to choose a better future than the present we live in right now. I think this is really the key concept when it comes to making choices that we have to be able to see in our minds the possibility of something that’s better coming down the road that we can attain, that we can choose to go after and do that.

07:19 That’s really what choice comes down to. If we feel like we don’t have a choice in life, it’s often because we can’t see that there’s another choice out there. But being able to dream and see the potential and possibility of the future allows us to choose something better than we’re living right now. Allows us to choose to grow, to choose to learn, to choose to explore and do things. But it’s important to remember that dreams are really only the seeds of action and change. They are not action themselves. Dreaming is a very important thing to do, but just dreaming doesn’t really come to fruition until we do it. So I want to talk a little bit about my journey here, to give you a sense of what this might look like for you. Cause the way I see the process going and the way it’s worked for me so far is that I have a dream and that leads me into a phase of exploration with it.

08:12 And then ultimately it leads me into this place where I’m planning and doing the thing. One thing in my life that I have really dreamed about doing is writing and producing and releasing music. I’ve got a couple of tracks out there right now, but nothing really major and nothing really that I’m all that happy with. But it’s been something that’s been a dream of mine for a long period of time ever since I was a teenager actually. And so I’ve had this concept in my head of what music looks like and over the course of many years actually it’s come up again and again and again and I’ve continued to explore that little by little every year. It hasn’t been a big pursuit where I’m saying I’m setting aside the next six weeks and I’m going to pump out an album. It just feels like striving to me.

09:03 It feels like something that’s not sustainable longterm. Instead, what I really been doing is trying to pay attention to myself when that dream comes back up again. And to just dive into it when it comes alive inside of me. I guess that’s really just the best phrasing that I have for it right now. And so then when I’ve got the idea there, I just started exploring it. I start consuming videos of how do I produce music. I start reading articles, I start dabbling with lyrics and writing melodies and guitar parts and all that fun stuff. And then there’s a certain point where it’s just like, ah, this has to come out of me. I’ve got to keep doing it. And so I sit down and I start recording ideas and I eventually get to the point where I am just like I need to complete something here.

09:55 And so I do. I sit down and I complete a song and it takes me a while. I’m in the middle of one right now. And it’s a big process to do that when you’re actually trying to compose and produce something that’s really creative in that essence. But overall this process has looked like this repetitive cycle of dreaming, exploring and then doing. And over the course of time, my skill level with sound, my skill level with writing lyrics, melodies, and guitar parts has increased as I’ve done this repetitive process over and over and over and it hasn’t been a habit like James Clear talks about. No, it’s been more of an exploration process into the process of making music. It’s going to look a little bit different for other types of projects that you’re working on. Because not everything is creative and not everything is as free form as making music, but the essence is there of what can make a successful project pursuit where you can take a dream that you have and start exploring what it might look like to pursue it and learn over time what it takes to get there and then plan and do an actual project relating to that.

11:21 It might not be, Hey, like I do one thing that make this one project and I’m now a music producer, or Hey I do this one thing and now I am successful at being a web developer or whatever it is. But it’s really taking a step back and saying it’s not about what I achieve. It’s not about this predefined idea of success that I have in my head that’s tied to my achievements. No, it’s really just about I’m going to pursue this thing and I’m going to explore it. And I’m going to keep going after it as time goes on so that I’m learning in the process and if that at some point my interest changes and I’m not going after that fine, like it’s not a big deal. I’ve grown in those areas and I also know that the knowledge and skills that I’ve picked up in that time period pursuing that are going to be valuable in other areas.

12:16 So in a more practical context here, my wife and I have been preparing for a new baby to come. So we’ve got this, the idea in our head that, yeah, we’ve got this baby coming, we’ve got to get the house ready, we’ve got to get other things ready in preparation for it. That involves us dreaming, okay, what do we need to have ready for this baby to be in our house? That’s what led us to move. That’s what led me to change jobs. That’s what led to a lot of changes happen over the last few months for me. And then from there, there’s some little practical things, but we get, we get these big ideas that come and then we have to take them and get them down to an actionable level. So we’ve got this dream here, we’re planning it, we’re exploring what the possibilities are, what the realities are of it, and then ultimately we’re getting down to the point where we’re planning and doing the thing.

13:09 That’s really it. It’s not about trying to meet some arbitrary deadline. Sometimes there are real deadlines that come up, whether it’s at work or something that we have to do at home or a baby coming. But ultimately it’s about exploring the possibilities, diving in, deciding what is important for you, and then going and doing it. I really hope that this helped enlightening some of the thought processes that I’ve had around projects and goals and dreams over the last couple of years. It’s honestly, something that I don’t have fully figured out yet, but I wanted to share with you the thoughts that I’ve had so that maybe it’ll help you process through if you’re struggling with traditional goals like I have.

13:57 Well, that’s all for this time. If you want to join in on the discussion for this episode, head on over to the Effective Remote Work Community at community.effectiveremotework.com. Be sure to join our Patreon at effectiveremotework.com/patreon to get access to our exclusive members-only content. If Twitter’s your thing, you can find me at @justindirose, and the podcast and community @effectiveremote. Lastly, if you like this show, rate us on iTunes or recommend us on Overcast! My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.


I like the idea of a dream instead of a goal! Thanks! I don’t know if I can ever plan out too far into the future. I think I’m currently comfortable with setting goals about three months at most into the future. When I finish this quarterly (or 12 week year) goal, I can see where I am at and then plan the next 3 months. I might have a general direction in mind but something called Life has its way with me sometimes. Course-correcting after 3 months feels better for me. I don’t know if I want to completely lock into a plan when I don’t know if I want to continue with something after 3 months.

I’ve tried the 12 week year and utterly failed at it. Perhaps it’s time to try this again? As long as I set a date to review on a weekly and monthly basis, I can get a better grasp at how far along am I in completing a dream.

My Vision mind map is a mess right now. I’m gonna have to redo it to better fit the dreams that I want to achieve.

Does anyone else have their dreams and the goals/projects that will help you achieve your dreams?.

Good luck to all of you with your dreams!

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I feel like I can’t even do that sometimes! I know I have short-term projects, and long-term projects, but I can’t plan for crap when it comes to anything past today (and even then…).

Planning does help gain clarity, but I think removing the timeframe from it alleviates a lot of pressure, at least for me.

Some people use timeframes to force themselves to work on something. But if you’re having problems working on it, should you really be doing it in the first place as a goal? Or should you be trying to form a new habit instead?

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