bulls eye target​We typically offer suggestions for nuts-and-bolts practicality: Schedule your project! Create a flow chart! Try a cool app! Read a great book! But we don’t typically talk about what this practicality serves. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not really your “project,” it’s actually your goal.

While “goals” are somewhat tainted by association with “objectives,” “targets,” “ambitions,” and other jargon-adjacent terms, goals still serve to concretize aims and aspirations. Goals still imply the promise of attainment (and therefore invoke the necessity of strategy).

A goal is hard to make because, once stated, we assume responsibility for achievement. For big projects, when just getting started feels like responsibility enough, stating a goal can feel paradoxically too small and too big. That’s why we frequently hear demurrals in the form of “let’s just get going” or “let’s just see how things turn out” or “let’s take the first step.”

But in our experience, a project becomes more doable, and ultimately more efficiently successful, when writers take the time to define their goals and (in what can be a bit of a thought experiment) to create a strategy for realization.

When approaching your own project and determining your own goals, you may be tempted to take your cue from productivity wonks and their SMART methodology (goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely). But such specificity is not really required, and it can sometimes become a subversive avoidance tactic. Instead, ask yourself what your project must do out in the world for you to consider it a success. Then push yourself to answer this question in concrete terms.

It is certainly possible to start your project without a goal—for some lucky people, it’s not an external goal that motivates, it’s the necessity of realizing something more like an internal vision. But for most people, it’s much easier to finish your project and launch it into the world when you know exactly where you’re aiming.