setting professional goalsAs the year comes to an end, setting professional goals for 2020 is top of mind for every communications professional.

(Um … if it’s not, it should be.)

I mean, come on … IT’S A NEW DECADE.

You only get one of these every 10 years or so.

It’s time for all of us to evaluate how we measure success in our careers and what that success will look like in 2020. 

If you are not good at setting professional goals on a consistent basis (or at following through on them), this is a good time to evaluate why (and fix it).

Ask yourself:

  • Do you set professional goals you consistently track?
  • Do you regularly evaluate your progress?
  • Do you evaluate if you are reaching your professional goals both for your current position and the next one up?

Long story short, setting professional goals is important.

To move forward in your career you need to set, measure, and evaluate your progress on a consistent basis.

Setting Professional Goals for 2020

When I sit down to set my goals I ask myself the following questions:

  • What do I want to learn?
  • What do I want to create?
  • Who do I want to affect?
  • Where do I need to improve?

(Trust me, I’ve tried to create a snazzy acronym out of those, Gini Dietrich “PESO” style, but all of them end up sounding very wrong.)

Essentially, I’m looking at the who, what, where, (and eventually when) of my professional growth.

I write all those things down and then look at them in the context of my role in our organizational goals.

Then I prioritize and edit, as needed.

Don’t Try to Accomplish Five Million Things

One professional goal-setting trap I always have to reluctantly prevent myself from falling into is the desire to set five million goals I’m somehow going to accomplish in the span of a year.

It’s soooo hard not to do this.

You want to do all the things.

You are ambitious and want very much to succeed.

You want to … and then all of a sudden your brain becomes a frenzied state of dreams of world domination.

And it seems possible to not only accomplish ambitious professional goals, but also find a cure to all chronic diseases and negotiating world peace, all while you train to go to the next Olympics, put together a Grammy-winning rock band, and star in a movie.

I’m only exaggerating a little bit here.

You Can’t Do ALL The Things

Repeat after me: YOU CAN’T DO ALL THE THINGS.

As I mentioned in my effective scheduling post, the best way to set a manageable amount of goals is to acknowledge that every “yes” is also a “no.”

This means if you say “yes” to one thing, you need to accept that you are, by default, saying no to something else.

I say this out of experience.

I have tried and failed.

It doesn’t work.

Let it go (I’ve obviously not let it go …)

Everyone has different opinions as to how many goals are reasonable.

Honestly, I think it depends on the level and depth of the goal.

I tend to stick to between three and five major ones.

Setting Professional Goals … and Keeping Them

Setting professional goals is one thing.

Keeping them is another.

Here are some things that will help you make sure you aren’t just setting professional goals, but can actually achieve them. 


I traditionally like to set annual goals and then break them down into quarterly milestones.

Often, I’ll also add a new milestone goal as I approach each quarter.

These are things I realized I needed along the journey.

But normally didn’t have enough information to know they were required for my big goal when I originally started.

The more you know, the more you need to know.

So it looks something like this:

Annual Goal #1:

  • Q1 milestone
  • Q2 milestone
  • Q3 milestone
  • Q4 milestone

Then take those quarterly milestones and break them down by what you need to do each week.

I do that before each quarter.

It’s also possible to focus on a goal for a concentrated period of time that doesn’t last the entire year.

Obviously, you adjust your milestones accordingly.

If you’ve read Traction you know it seems to be human nature to lose focus every 90 days or so.

(If you haven’t read it, add it to your 2020 plans.)

This is why breaking goals down into quarterly segments and weekly tasks is so important.

  • It keeps you:
    • focused
    • on track
    • accountable

And helps your goals from seeming too overwhelming.

Admittedly, this is something I’ve not done a good enough job sticking to in the past (as I get swept away in the triage of the day and allow myself to expend all my time and energy in the day to day).

I’m committed to being more accountable to these this year.


Likewise, as I approach a new quarter, I look at my goals or milestones, and what I really need to do to set myself up to achieve them.

I’ve found this is the most important step for me.

This might include things such as having the right resources, prioritizing my time (and properly delegating certain tasks in order to do so), rearranging certain items on my schedule, or setting up an effective accountability system.

It might also mean working on your mindset, which is often 90% of the process to achieve the goal.

You can’t run a race without the right shoes.

This preparation phase helps me make sure I’m not going in barefoot.

When you do this early you save yourself a lot of wasted time and frustration.


There is a reason the concept of SMART goals is so popular—they work.

How do you know how you are progressing if you don’t have a way to measure it?

All goals must be measurable and you must measure them. 

Goals that Extend Past the Year

One thing it took me a long time to learn is that some goals are really long-term.

They can’t be accomplished in a year, but that doesn’t mean your work on them during that year doesn’t bring you closer to success.

A few years ago, I found a list of goals I wrote in 2012.

I had accomplished all of them, but it took me five years vs. the one I had planned.

This didn’t mean I had failed, it just meant I underestimated the time they’d take.

That’s ok.

This taught me it’s very powerful to set longer-term goals.

You can do some pretty amazing things in a year, but you can really change your life in five.

Don’t be afraid of those multi-year goals. Go for them.

Don’t sacrifice the ability to do really big things simply because the lure of instant gratitude traps you into small-level thinking.

Now, when I set goals many are five and ten-year plans.

Patience in goals is rewarded.

A Constant Process

I’m not an expert at goal-setting, but each year I get a bit better at it and find a system that works best for me.

That said, I’m still learning how to establish goals in a way that sets me up for success.

What are your tricks?

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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