Setting goals helps us determine a direction, assess whether we are on track, and provides an opportunity for us to celebrate achievements. Goals can reflect different time frames (immediate, mid or long-range) but are most useful when they are specific, measurable, and involve an action or concrete outcome.
For example, a useful mid-range goal might be “to complete the History 344 paper one day before the due date and edit it before handing it in.” A less useful goal would be “to feel good about the History 344 paper.” Some goals are realistic (and achievable) and others are idealistic, and keep us reaching for a high standard or level of thinking. It’s helpful to know the difference in relation to each of your goals.
Students are generally tired, busy and distracted by many competing demands. This makes the task of setting priorities for your goals all the more important. Sometimes priorities are set based on immediate need (e.g., the test is today), the relative value of the task (e.g., a paper worth 60%), how quickly a task can get done (e.g., satisfaction of finishing something), your motivation (e.g., I love this course!), or consequences of NOT doing something.
What are my goals:
- in the short term?
- in the long term?
- in terms of academics?
- in life?
Why have I set these goals for myself? How do these goals relate to my values? How are these goals helping me achieve what I want in university and in my life?
Strategies for setting goals
Identifying and recording goals
The process of goal setting can be viewed in the shape of a coffee filter: you start by thinking about what you value in your life and how these values translate into BIG picture (long term goals). Once you have done this, you will find that you have greater clarity to make good decisions in the short and medium term. Thinking at the macro level first will help guide your daily decision-making and ensure that the immediate goals you set are aligned with your value system. Therefore, it is important to spend time considering what part your values play in your academic choices.
A suggested time frame for setting and revising academic goals
Academic Program: At the beginning of each year of your program, set aside an hour or more to jot down your needs and desires for your program. Compare this list to the one you made last year. Are the goals the same? different? Are you satisfied with where you are now? If not, what changes do you need to consider?
Term Goals: Term goals should be set at the beginning of each term and then at regular intervals, perhaps each month, throughout the term. Continuous assessment of term goals will help you stay on track with your weekly and daily goals. Term goals can include tracking test and assignment due dates and grades, as well as improving skills such as public speaking or use of lab equipment.
Weekly: Review your upcoming week. What tasks need to be accomplished and when? Set aside 30 minutes each Sunday night to prepare a list of goals for the week.
Daily: At the end of each day, set aside 5-10 minutes to prepare a To Do list for the upcoming day. While doing this, have your weekly goals at hand so you can compare and contrast bigger picture items with here-and-now tasks. If you find that the weekly and daily tasks collide, it is time to rethink and revise.