The importance of goal-setting cannot be understated. Yet very few of us actually do it, often because we aren’t quite sure how to.

If you found these helpful, here are a few more principles for effective goal-setting.

Put it in writing

Our brain is designed for efficiency. It tries not to work any harder or store any more information than is necessary. I’m guessing that this has something to do with why we tend to be pretty forgetful. We forget to make credit card payments, send birthday cards to Grandma, and whether the dishes in the dishwasher are clean or dirty. Why should our goals be any different?

Life is full of distractions. Writing your goals down and putting them somewhere visible will help you remember where you are trying to go and increase the likelihood that you will make better decisions about how to spend your time.

Set a date

Parkinson’s law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

If you have 6 months to learn a concerto, it’ll take you 6 months to learn it. If you only have 2 months to learn a concerto, you’ll do what it takes to get it learned in a month.

Hack your focus, motivation, and the level of energy you bring to a task by giving yourself less time. Give yourself all day to practice, and you’ll fritter much of it away being less focused on what you truly need to accomplish. Organize your day such that you only have 2 hours to practice, and you’ll find yourself using that time more productively.

Productivity guru Merlin Mann suggests doing work in short 10-minute bursts, followed by a mandatory 2-minute break. It’s an unusual strategy perhaps, but I’ve found that it forces me to be very clear about what specific tasks I’d like to accomplish (instead of practicing or working mindlessly), and does seem to help me get more done in less time. Read more about this here.

Positive goals vs. Negative goals

Let’s say it’s winter, and you’re walking on an icy sidewalk. What’s the first image that pops into your head when I say “Don’t slip on the ice!” Slipping and falling, right?

What happens if I say “Walk carefully!” D you see yourself walking carefully?

Positive goals are statements about what you want (e.g. play more in tune), while negative goals are statements about what you don’t want (e.g. play fewer notes out of tune). Get into the habit of stating your goals as statements of what you want, as opposed to what you don’t want.

Want to play with a more steady tempo? Instead of saying “Don’t rush!” tell yourself to play more under control, more steadily, with more deliberate pacing, or whatever it takes to get your mind focused on what you actually want.

Get feedback

It’s important for us to monitor how we are doing, and see what progress we are making towards the accomplishment of our end-goal. Is there still a great deal of work to be done? Are you almost there? Just a couple more things to tweak, or maybe a couple dozen?

Elicit feedback from teachers, colleagues, and others whose opinions you respect. Record yourself regularly, and compare recent recordings with older recordings. See if what you are hearing under your ear matches up with what you hear on tape.

Get support

Goal-setting won’t work if important people in your life aren’t on the same page as you are. For instance, if you are working hard to stay focused on process goals (what are process goals?), but significant others in your life continue to emphasize outcome goals such as winning the audition, your goal-setting efforts will fall apart.

Share not just your goals, but the principles you are following to key friends and family, so that they might understand how to be more supportive.

The one-sentence summary

“In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.” ~Unknown