Get It Done: How to Measure Your Goals


How many of us have said to ourselves, “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to pay off my credit cards”? Goals like these are easily measured. We can see how much weight we’re losing by the pounds on the scale, and how much of our debt we’ve paid off by our total account balance. But what about those goals that aren’t so easily measured — those like spending more time with your family,  decreasing the time spent procrastinating, or volunteering more? How can you tell how well you’re doing if you can’t measure your progress? As it turns out, you actually can quantify goals such as these and use that as a yardstick to see how you’re stacking up and whether you satisfy your goals in the end. Here are some helpful hints and tricks for identifying and calculating your progress toward your life’s goals. (See also: How to Save Without Goals)

Identify Your Goals

Before you go running off to measure your goals, take a minute to determine whether you can actually articulate what your goals are. I’ve covered this before, but your goals need to be sufficiently defined so that assigning measurable units to them has actual significance. The goal that’s been on my mind most recently is to keep my house clean. Sounds noble and hygienic, right? But there’s a reason that the “have a clean house” goal has been ever-elusive in my life — it’s not clearly articulated. What does a clean house mean? The bed made every day? All dishes always off the counter? No visible scuffs on the kitchen floor? You see what I mean.

In addition to being able to clearly define what your goals are, you should make sure you’re setting “good” goals in the first place. Good goals are:

  • In line with your overall belief system
  • Able to further other overarching goals you hope to achieve in your life
  • Realistic or attainable
  • Not achieved at the expense of someone else

Assign Each Goal a Measurable Unit

This might seem obvious, but it’s impossible to measure your goals if they aren’t framed in terms of a measurable unit. Every goal needs to be assigned both a measurable unit (to quantify success) and a unit of time (against which you’ll measure your success). Units of time can be terminal (a “one-time deal”), or they can be recurring.

An example of a recurring unit of time goal might be helpful here. Take my clean house example, for instance — I’d first define what a clean house means to me. I might say, perchance, that a clean house is one that is dusted, vacuumed, and mopped. I would make a “chore chart” with all the key chores I felt amounted to a clean house. Then, I would assign a unit of time. I’m not overly zealous here, so let’s go with two weeks. I would know that hitting each of the tasks on my list (or 75% of them, or whatever I deemed a success) in the two-week time period would mean that I’d reached my goal. Two weeks later, I’d measure again.

Take another difficult-to-measure goal — spending more time with family. Again, this one first needs to be defined before it can be assigned a measurable unit. I might define success as spending one date night a week with Husband. Or I might do a monthly assessment of how I feel about my efforts to make time in my schedule to spend QT together on a 1-10 scale. If I had young kids, I might measure success by the number of new things we try together each month. As you can see, there are a variety of different ways to measure the same end goal, and a number of possible units of time.

Struggling with how to assign a measurable unit to your goal? Try one of these:

  • Money (assign a monetary value to achieving your goal, determine who will be paid)
  • Scale of one to ten (how satisfied you feel about your efforts; this is more of a qualitative assessment)
  • Frequency (the number of times you do something, like spend time with your family or significant other)
  • Volume (the number of things you do, as in my house-cleaning example where I measure success by doing several different chores or my example of trying new activities with kids)

Review Your Progress

Once you’ve got the whole yardstick thing figured out, it’s always helpful to take time out of your schedule periodically to reflect upon how you’re doing. This is somewhat different than measuring your goal against a set unit of time (as in weekly or monthly). Instead, this involves taking a broader view and assessing whether the whole system is working for you. I have what I call quarterly goals meetings, for instance, which really just involve me thinking about:

  1. Whether I want to be pursuing a goal at all anymore
  2. How I’m doing
  3. Action steps to get closer to achieving my goal

Think of it like a performance review for your personal life. Except you can’t get canned if you’re not doing well.

Take Some Help From the Web

To get ideas on how to assign measurable units to your goals, get advice on how to accomplish them, or just get cheered on by other people, check out the social networking site 43 Things. This site lets you list your goals and lets you know how many others are pursuing the same goal. It also tells you what other goals people are pursuing in addition to your goal, and what people are pursuing who have already completed your goal. Alternatively, try the site Stickk to track your progress toward any objective online. This site was born when an Economics Professor at Yale opened a “commitment store” online, in which users basically up the stakes for goal completion by adding money to the mix. Pick your goal, designate the amount to pay out if you fail, and choose where your money will go — charity, friends, or anti-charity (an organization you hate — even more motivation to succeed!).

I hope these tips inspire you to think creatively in measuring your goals, so you’ll know when you’ve finally succeeded. Best of luck!

Do you have any additional ways to measure your goals? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Guest's picture

For measuring progress, you may want to check out GoalsOnTrack, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals, habits, and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It's clear, focused, easy to navigate, and most of all, really works!

Guest's picture

Great advice. For setting and getting goals, you may want to check out a goal setting app called GoalsOnTrack, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It's clear, focused, easy to navigate.