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Goal setting vs. plan making – what matters more?

Let me ask you a question – do you have publishing goals or do you have a plan for writing? Perhaps a trick question, as you may very well think to yourself, don’t I need both?!? However, what I want to clarify in this post is that goals are different than plans and one should hold greater weight than the other in your daily writing efforts.

So let’s start with identifying the difference between goal setting and plan making.

Goal setting

Most people have established goals for their lives, their careers, their publication dreams. You have probably even attended a professional development event on one or more occasions where the concept of writing SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals has been discussed.

The key to goal setting is that it identifies a future unrealized potential success. A goal that is SMART tells us (and others) not only what we will accomplish at the end of our efforts, but when we expect to accomplish it.

Plan making

I’d venture to say that while goal setting may be a periodic activity for most people (i.e. new projects, New Year’s resolutions, etc.), nearly everyone makes plans every day. We plan what to have for dinner, events with family and friends, and what is on our to do list for the day.

Plans allocate the time we have to the tasks we need to complete.

What matters more?

Arguably both goal setting and plan making are essential to achieving a sense of accomplishment in life and for adding purpose to the minutes, hours, and days we live, but if I had to pick one or the other, goal setting is the priority. Here’s why.

Goals define a purpose

Goals provide an intended destination for our efforts – publishing a book or journal article, for example. They anchor the decisions we make as we do the work required to meet the goal and even without a plan, they can serve as a navigational beacon for our actions.

Goals are (relatively) constant

Plans change frequently, are easily interrupted, and often define best-case scenarios that don’t always align with reality – see fictional character Leonard Snart’s comical perspective on plans below. In contrast, goals can be (and arguably should be) a fixed vision for future success that we are trying to reach.

Goals are bigger than us

While plans guide our personal actions in the moment, goals have a broader affect on those within our circle of influence. Even when they are personal goals of earning a degree or publishing a manuscript, the inspiration or influence that those events have on others is what makes the goal significant enough to pursue in the first place.

Align your plans with your goals

As you plan your schedule for today, evaluate the activities you have on your to do list. How well do those plans align with your goals? Which activities move you closer to your goal? Which may move you off course?

If there are adjustments that can be made to move you in the direction of your dreams, make them. After all, plans often change.

Eric Schmieder

Eric Schmieder is the Membership Marketing Manager for TAA. He has taught computer technology concepts to curriculum, continuing education, and corporate training students since 2001. A lifelong learner, teacher, and textbook author, Eric seeks to use technology in ways that improve results in his daily processes and in the lives of those he serves. His latest textbook, Web, Database, and Programming: A foundational approach to data-driven application development using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, MySQL, and PHP, First Edition, is available now through Sentia Publishing.