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When you think about your goals, your mind probably automatically goes to the long-term plans that you’ve made for yourself. But, without having smaller, daily goals that will give you a sense of accomplishment on a regular basis, you will lose the necessary motivation to reach your larger goals.
Setting small process goals that you can complete in one day allows you to take a more active approach in goal-setting because it keeps you moving forward and making progress in between those milestone moments when you attain your bigger, more life-changing goals.
I have found it to be rewarding to create a few daily goals every morning because even if I don’t reach all of them, I always know I have made some sort of progress toward the future that I want.
In this article, we will look at how you can set effective goals every day that you can complete before bedtime. We will also look at 17 examples of effective daily goals that will help illustrate what a reasonable daily goal could look like. You can modify these examples and use them to fit your own situation.
But first, let’s look a bit more at the importance of setting daily goals that you can complete within a day.
Why Set Daily Goals?
A lot of people set big goals for themselves, but never actually achieve them.
Why is this?
People often live in the future and think about the things they’re going to do “tomorrow” without focusing on the here and now. Without consistently taking action toward your goal, you’re relying on your “future self” to make things happen.
But the key to making your goals a reality is focusing on your present self. By focusing on what you can do right now, you will become consistent in your efforts. And whether your long-term goal is to create a successful business or to run a marathon, you have to remain consistent with your work in order to be successful. Accomplishing meaningful things in life doesn’t happen quickly–you have to be productive every day.
Keeping up with your smaller daily goals will keep you on track with what you want in the long run. With a gained sense of clarity and structure, you will be able to maintain your focus, which will prevent you from procrastinating or wasting time on tasks that don’t propel you forward.
RELATED: 21 Examples of SMART Goals
Want to set goals you can actually achieve? Then watch this video that provides a quick overview of SMART goals with 21 examples.
Let’s go through a step-by-step process of creating effective daily goals that will move you toward success.
How to Set Effective Daily Goals
1. Make Your Goals Meaningful
To stay motivated to complete your daily goals and make necessary progress toward your larger goals, you have to always remember your “why”. Consider the motivations behind your goal to figure out why you believe it’s meaningful.
For example, if you’re applying for law school because you’re passionate about legal issues, you will probably stay motivated when doing the smaller tasks to achieve that goal because you’re passionate about the field and your future career.
On the other hand, if you want to go to law school solely because you want to make a lot of money in the future, you may not have the drive that you need to complete the necessary daily tasks to reach your goal. You need to assess your long term goals to ensure they’re what you truly want for yourself. If you come to realize that your goal is only important because completing it would please someone else, you will probably not take your daily goals too seriously.
2. Break Down Your Long-Term Goals
To achieve your larger goals, you need to break them down into smaller, more manageable pieces and set milestones for meeting these mini-goals along the way. From here, you need to break your mini-goals down even further into objectives so you have a sense of direction as you’re working toward your ultimate goal (please link to DGH Goals vs. Objectives article).
So, for example, let’s say your goal is to lose 30 pounds. What would this look like on a daily basis?
One objective may be to get some sort of physical activity every day. This objective would turn into a daily goal, meaning that each day you would cross “work out” off of your to-do list, knowing that you have made the necessary progress that day toward meeting your ultimate goal of losing 30 pounds.
Some other objectives that could turn into daily goals to help you lose 30 pounds could be:
These daily goals focus on changing your everyday behaviors that are critical for weight-loss. If you continue to focus on daily routines such as these, you will be a lot more likely to be successful.
3. Identify Your MITs
“If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain
When Twain said this, he was referring to doing any task that you’re dreading first thing in the morning so you can get it over with. At that point, you can call your day a success because you accomplished something that was looming.
While you might not dread your MITs, it is still something you should get over with first thing in the morning so you can be absolutely sure that it gets accomplished.
Let’s look at how you can identify your MITs.
For your daily goals to play an effective role in your progress toward your long-term goals, you have to identify the tasks that will have the greatest positive impact. This technique is known by productivity experts as completing your “most important tasks” (or MITs).
Your MITs aren’t the urgent issues that you’re faced with when you walk into the office. In fact, any task that is incoming typically is not going to be one of your MITs. This is because incoming tasks–especially when labeled as being “urgent”–typically serve someone else’s purpose (i.e. your client needs some last-minute changes completed on a project or your boss emails you about a pressing issue). Completing these tasks won’t ultimately help you create the life that you want to lead.
Rather, your MITs are the things on your to-do list that you’ve proactively chosen to do because they’re associated with your goals. They are the things that don’t relate to your regular job, they are a part of something you want for yourself to better your future.
Pick up to three MITs to finish in the morning. Why first thing? In the morning, your mind is fresh, your thinking is clear, and hopefully you’re energetic after getting sufficient rest. During this time, the world is mostly quiet, allowing you to focus all of your attention on the task at hand. Make sure you’re doing at least one thing related to an urgent project with an immediate deadline and something that’s part of a long-term goal.
For example, let’s say you want to open your own small business. You’ve set a 15-month time frame on this goal and you’re planning to quit your full time job once your personal business is open. You’ve decided that it would be best to have a minimum of six months worth of finances stored away in case your business doesn’t take off.
To determine your MITs, you need to consider the three things you can do today to help you ultimately open a small business. Some possibilities could be:
It’s easiest for some to create a weekly plan first and then break that down into individual daily goals. What actions must you complete to move yourself closer to meeting your next milestone? List out every task you can think of and pull your MITs for the week from there.
Want to learn more? Read this post on making the right SMART goals for your small business.
4. Make Sure All of Your Daily Goals Relate Back to a Larger Goal
If one of your MITs is that task that you always dread, but you know needs to get done, try to look at it from a different perspective. For example, I have absolutely no enthusiasm for brushing my 5-year-old’s teeth or monitoring her while she does it herself. She hates it, I get frustrated, and I never feel like we did a great job at whatever point we end up stopping.
However, the argument of getting her teeth brushed twice a day is completely off the table for obvious reasons. I want my daughter to be healthy and to develop proper oral hygiene habits so her dental health in the future doesn’t suffer. So whenever I get a bit frustrated during the process, I remind myself of the larger goal. I connect this responsibility to something I value (health) and I’m able to build up the motivation to get through the process.
5. Follow the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 Rule (or, the Pareto Principle as some call it) argues that 20% of your efforts are responsible for 80% of your results. So, if you’re able to identify which 20% of your work is giving you your best results, you can make sure that your daily goals focus on those specific tasks.
Creating your daily goals around the 80/20 rule could look something like this:
If you run a blog and 20% of your posts attract 80% of your traffic, you may want to make a daily goal of analyzing the common characteristics of the most effective posts that create the top 20%. With the other 80%, try altering them so they also have whatever factor you found in common for the successful posts.
When it comes to software development, if 20% of employees’ efforts are responsible for 80% of the program’s functionality, it would seem logical to create a “best practices” manual and a collection of successful projects that people could refer to in order to make their own work successful. Because programming hours are so expensive, this would be a reasonable way to cut costs for any business. So a daily goal may be to spend one hour working on the best practices manual or add an additional successful project to the portfolio for reference.
Want to achieve more with less effort? Watch this video to learn how you can apply the 80/20 rule or the Pareto Principle to ALL aspects of your life:
Now, let’s look at some examples of daily goals to help give you an idea of what they could look like.
17 Examples of Daily Goals to Set
1. Walk at Least 10,000 Steps
There are a lot of options out there these days for devices that will measure your steps. If your ultimate goal is to get in shape or lose weight, having a daily goal of hitting 10,000 steps is an important component to being successful. If you have a rather sedentary job, get up early and go for a speed walk or a jog and knock out half of your steps before breakfast!
2. Save $34
Let’s say you have a $6,000 loan that you need to pay off in 6 months. This means you need to come up with $1,000 per month to pay off the loan, which equates to $33 and some change every day. Round that up to $34 to have a safety net and find a way every day to put that money aside.
This may be by bringing your lunch to work rather than going out like you usually do, selling something online that was once useful but you no longer need, or cutting expenses by negotiating your cable bill. While this number may vary from day to day (if you sell something for $60, you could almost take the next day off), keeping this amount in mind every day will help you reach your goal of paying off your debt.
3. Write 1500 Words
Your ultimate goal is to write a book, but sometimes you just feel stuck. If you make writing one of your MITs, you will be making some sort of progress every day. It’s ok if you don’t end up using what you write every day in your final product, the practice of writing on a continuous basis will keep your creative juices flowing.
If your long-term goals are physical (finish a race, increase your muscle strength, lose weight), an effective daily goal would be to spend time stretching. Stretching will help keep your muscles flexible and reduce your chances of becoming injured while engaging in physical activity.
This is an important daily goal to have because stretching just once won't all of a sudden grant you great flexibility. This is something you have to do over time and stay committed to in order to continue to benefit from the practice. But, no matter what your long-term health goal is, stretching will be a stepping stone to get there.
5. Track Your Expenses
An effective daily goal that will help you reach larger financial goals is to write down what you spend every day. Recording your daily expenses will have an impact on your spending habits because it will give you a visual representation of where your money is going. This can be an eye-opener, and doing this will allow you to see where you could make some changes that will make your long-term financial goals more attainable.
There are many long-term goals that could be reached more easily by having a daily goal of meditation. Taking a few minutes every day for a time out can help you relieve stress, stay focused in your everyday life, and increase your awareness of your surroundings. Maintaining this daily goal could help you reach larger goals, such as:
7. Get Rid of Something
It is a process to get organized in your life, especially if you’re currently living in a chaotic environment. Every day, find at least one thing in your home to throw away, sell, or donate. This daily goal will build up over time, helping you move increasingly closer to simplifying your living space and reducing your stress.
8. Write in a Gratitude Journal
It’s not uncommon to have a goal of improving your life in order to be happier. There are a lot of steps you can take to achieve this goal, one of which is writing at least one thing down every day that you’re thankful for. This could be a certain person in your life, a recent accomplishment, or a positive experience you had.
We have so many negative things going on all the time, so writing down something positive every day is a chance to focus on the good things, which will help you lead a happier life.
9. Learn Something New
This is another daily goal that could be helpful for many larger goals, but for this example, let’s say you’re ultimately working on increasing your confidence. Here are a few things that happen every time you learn something:
All of these things can lead to increased confidence.
There are a lot of resources out there to help you learn something new every day. You could take an online course through Udemy or Coursera, or you could go the smaller route by signing up for daily emails from Hackaday or BigThink to get new information delivered to your inbox every day. Do you want to learn how to do more things? WonderHowTo offers daily tutorials on how to do all types of things from optimizing your use of social media to learning how to pronounce certain words.
10. Read X Pages
People often make reading goals for the year, such as aiming to read 52 books before the year is over. To stay on track and ensure that you’re making progress toward this goal, your daily goal may be to read a set number of pages (the number would depend on your ultimate goal). If it works better, you could set a “time” goal, such as, “I will read for 45 minutes each day.”
Either way, setting this daily goal is a great way to make sure you’re continuously making progress toward your end goal. By knowing you will be reading a certain amount every day, you can keep track of your progress and project your future progress, which will help you plan and possibly even adjust your goal as needed. (Using a goal setting planner can help you keep track of any adjustments you need to make.)
11. Meal Prep your lunches.
When working a stressful and often unpredictable job, it’s easy to go and grab a fast, unhealthy lunch every day. Eating out for lunch can shatter our money-saving goals as well as our health goals. The solution is to prepare your lunches ahead of time for each day. Incorporate vegetables and other healthy sides and snacks to help you reach your goals. Every day you will feel proud of yourself as you progress toward your goals.
12. Enjoy Close Emotional Bonding Time.
Many relationships suffer because of a lack of intimacy. Husbands and wives have to-do lists at work and home, making it almost impossible to spend meaningful alone time together. As a goal, many of us desire a closer relationship with our significant other.
One solution is to set aside a particular hour of the day for bonding. For instance, each of you strives to resolve things by 8pm so you can have one-on-one time to relax together (cuddle). This will help the two of you feel cared for and loved instead of two ships passing in the night. It will also help you day by day get closer to your marriage and relationship goals.
13. Go to bed at a decent hour.
There is no substitute for a good night's rest. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), we should strive daily to get adequate sleep, which is at least 7 hours. Less than seven hours of sleep puts us at a higher risk of developing chronic conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, stroke, and mental distress.
To reach your goals, plan to go to bed each day at least eight hours before you need to get up in the morning if you have trouble falling asleep initially. This will help you wake up refreshed and focused as you start your day. Not to mention lower the risk of chronic disease.
14. Have a more positive outlook.
To reach our goals, we need a more positive outlook on life. Which can be hard to do when going through seasons of disappointment and intense stress. One great way to combat those negative feelings is to make a habit of sincerely complimenting others.
Find one person per day and say something kind about them. The compliment needs to be genuine and something you feel will mean something to the person you are giving it to. You will find that it will make their day and lift your spirits simultaneously.
I do this daily, but recently someone said the compliment I gave her was the kindest thing anyone had ever said. It made her day. Now when we see each other, all our interactions are positive. Even if we give each other a smile. That compliment planted a positive seed that has sprouted positive fruit I can enjoy each time I see her.
15. Limit your social media time and phone time.
Many of us desire for our families to be close-knit. However, when we are all together in one room, even if it is to watch a movie, we are all on our cell phones. Set daily limits to your social media and phone time to counteract this behavior. This will help you with family hobby goals you look to achieve.
Stay off your phone, for starters, when around your children or parents, and try to hold meaningful conversations. In addition, you can also set a daily cut-off time for social media interaction. For instance, no social media after 9pm.
Limiting your screen time will not only help you with relationship goals but help you build a stronger family. Before long, you'll plan fun activities such as fishing, cooking, family bike riding, or game nights.
Being on the phone has been a significant reason many of us fall short of our ambitions. Don't let phone time cause you to fall short of the important goals you have set for yourself and your loved ones.
16. Stop Drinking Sodas and find healthier alternatives.
The average 12oz can of soda is 150 calories. One pound of fat is equivalent to 3500 calories. So, by eliminating three cans of soda daily, you can lose one pound in just over a week.
Other healthy alternatives for drinking soda include water, sparkling flavored water, coconut water, and freshly squeezed lemonade. While some of these have calories, they are far less than sodas.
Sodas have been linked to weight gain, tooth decay, dehydration, obesity, heart attacks, and diabetes. By removing them from your diet, you will feel less sluggish and better able to conquer your day and reach your process goals.
17. Make your bed each morning.
By making your bed daily, you have a sense of accomplishment immediately as you start your morning routine. In theory, it leads to other good habits as you strive to have a more stress-free and organized life.
Furthermore, making your bed puts you into a more relaxed state of mind when you go to bed at night. As a result, you will see a chain reaction in your life, leading to you getting more rest and improving your overall health.
Final Thoughts on How to Set Effective Daily Goals
In this article, we reviewed how to set effective daily goals. We then reviewed 17 examples of potential daily goals that could be a small part of a larger purpose. By setting effective daily goals, you won’t be putting yourself at risk of losing focus of your bigger picture and the things you want for your future.
Every goal that you set should be based on the ultimate hopes and dreams that you have for your life. Your goals should be aligned in order to ensure that your daily actions are helping you move closer to your final goals.
If you need a way to keep track of your daily goals, here are some ideas for goal charts and templates that you can use. Or if you need help keeping a daily routine, here are some daily checklist templates to use.
So now it’s your turn. Start with your big goals and use the steps laid out in this article to break them down into smaller pieces that will give you the sense of direction you need to make your progress fail-proof.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.