Task Oriented vs Goal Oriented: Which is Better for Success?

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I remember watching my daughter from across the room back when she was about three years old working in her play kitchen, preparing some plastic vegetables, a wooden steak, and some uncooked macaroni. She was concentrated, focused, and on a mission that was not to be interrupted.

She was focused on the here and now. She was fully present in her work. And, seeing as 3-year-olds don’t focus so much toward the future, it was clear she was committed to this task only for the purpose of doing it.

I thought to myself, “Wow, so industrious at such a young age. There must be some human nature behind this.”

And it turns out that, despite what many may think, it is human nature to “do” things.

Many have been able to feel this over the past year and a half being isolated in their homes due to the coronavirus, so as you’ve probably experienced for yourself, we are not biologically programmed to do nothing. In fact, we thrive on completing tasks, and people choose to do things every day that they don’t have to do, which are often not even enjoyable (as seen in this study). Think of a friend who gets up at 4:30 every morning to go for a run or someone who spends hours on a crossword puzzle without looking up the answers.

The truth is, we often value situations more if we have to put a lot of effort into completing them. And this starts in our early years, as we’re taught as children through both everyday experiences and persuasion from parents and teachers that effort leads to reward, which conditions people to enjoy exerting effort in itself. This learned industriousness gets us through school and into our careers or callings.

As adults, we also get so focused on putting effort into tasks that we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture. Have you ever spent an entire day doing something that made no difference at all in the end?

This is where the difference between being task-oriented and being goal-oriented becomes an important part of success. So in this article, we are going to look at what it means to be task-oriented vs. goal-oriented, and which is a better option if you want to be successful.

Let’s start by looking at the difference between these two traits.

What Does It Mean to Be Task-Oriented?

A task-oriented person’s top priority is to get things done. They value efficiency, being productive in everything they do, and tools such as to-do lists, productivity timers, daily/weekly/monthly planners, and firm deadlines. Task-oriented people focus on concrete, short-term targets–or objectives–that must be completed before they’re on their way to something bigger. Furthermore, they value structure and clearly defined roles and schedules.

A typical day for a task-oriented person may look something like this:

  • Review the to-do list for the day
  • Clearly delegate tasks as needed and give the appointed people simple and specific instructions on how the tasks should be completed; refer to the standard process or company policies if questions or obstacles arise
  • Ensure all team members are on track with their deadlines and remind them of where they currently are on the timeline
  • Offer guidance and feedback
  • Review each team member’s activities completed that day with them individually so they know what to be prepared to either finish or start tomorrow
  • Offer praise or have a reward system for employees who stay on task to encourage them for their efforts

Now there are some advantages to being task-oriented. First, you can meet your company’s objectives, which keeps the higher-ups happy. If you are a higher-up, being task-oriented can help you meet deadlines on a regular basis and even work ahead of schedule, which can be great for building rapport with clients. You do this by finding efficient strategies and cutting out busy work and unnecessary processes.

Being task-oriented also means that you can clearly define your objectives and expectations for others, so you will always know your entire team is on the same page. You are consistent in your work, which helps people know what to expect from you and your strict structure helps newer employees develop appropriate time management and organizational skills.

If you’re in a leadership role, you set clear parameters for your team to succeed, which means promotions aren’t based on office politics. Instead, your team members know their success within the company is reliant on the work they produce, allowing them to prove themselves to be valuable employees in very objective ways rather than their numbers related to happy hour attendance.

Now, this may sound ideal to some people. Being productive and marking things off of a to-do list is certainly something that many people want in a job. They want to work from 9-5 and once they walk out of the door, they leave all of their work behind them. They’re satisfied with flying below the radar and meeting the status quo.

But now let’s take a look at what a goal-oriented work ethic entails.

What Does It Mean to Be Goal-Oriented?

People who are goal-oriented are focused on reaching a planned outcome, and they’re motivated by the purpose behind the outcome or the process that’s required for them to complete their goal. They concentrate more on the big picture than the smaller everyday tasks that have to be completed for them to reach their milestones–and in the long run, a small setback can easily be recovered with some problem-solving.

Those who are goal-oriented focus on the following:

Is It Better To Be Task- or Goal-Oriented for Success?

While these two characteristics are not mutually exclusive, there are clear benefits to being goal-oriented that can help you succeed in achieving the things you want in life. And even in today’s chaotic business environments of budget cuts and layoffs, you can become (or stay) goal-oriented despite possibly feeling overwhelmed.

I will note that being task-oriented is often the easier way out. It allows you to focus on short-term tasks to meet objectives that are a small part of (what is usually) someone else’s long-term goal. Maybe you’re part of a sales team working to satisfy a company’s larger vision and initiative for growth. But at the end of the day, if your company meets its ultimate goal, how much will that impact your life on a micro, everyday level? Probably not too much if your job remains the same and week after week you just continue to work on making more sales.

Being task-oriented creates a clear path to becoming stuck and burned out with your everyday responsibilities without furthering your professional success. Along with this comes the potential for:

  • Low morale and motivation in the workplace, which leads to less productivity
  • High levels of stress associated with volume of tasks and short deadlines
  • Unhealthy competition among colleagues instead of collaboration
  • A fixed mindset
  • Refusal to accept accountability
  • Little to no personal development, which leads to an unfulfilling life

So with these drawbacks of having a mindset that is too task-oriented, what makes being goal-oriented more conducive for success?

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People who are goal-oriented are focused on reaching a planned outcome and concentrate more on the big picture.

A few of the main things that being goal-oriented will do for you are: help you maintain your motivation, ensure you continue to progress with whatever you do, and ultimately, help you live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

If you believe that you’re more task-oriented and you want to tilt the scale, here are a few things you can do to become more goal-oriented:

Assign a “Why”

Make sure there is a reason behind how you spend your time every day– and make sure that reason is in line with your values, not the values of someone else. If you’re not sure what your values are, here are some resources to help you figure them out. Use vision boards or other visual tools to constantly remind you of the scope of your goal. Put these tools in places where you will see them often so you’re reminded of what you’re aiming to achieve.

Identify Your Intrinsic Motivators

Make sure you’re motivated by the actual process of meeting your goal rather than just rushing to the end. Intrinsic motivators urge you to perform tasks because they’re personally satisfying. Here are some examples of intrinsic motivation that will help you achieve success–and enjoy the journey along the way.

Pay attention to the parts of the day when you feel the most energized, competent, and focused. Chances are, there is something about those common situations that are intrinsically motivating you to complete those tasks.

Plan Accordingly

Prioritize your work so you’re only completing the tasks that are necessary to make progress toward your goals. Prepare yourself by creating weekly and monthly plans that you can reevaluate regularly and refine your strategy as needed.

Track Your Progress

You can actually watch yourself move closer to reaching a goal on paper if you create your goals just right. Make sure you break your larger goals down into smaller, achievable chunks. Instead of facing a goal that seems out of reach, complete small steps to make your final outcome less intimidating and easier to obtain. Doing this will make sure you stay motivated. Review your accomplishments often and reward your progress.

Stay Positive

Create a vision board or recite affirmations on a regular basis to maintain your drive to cross the finish line. Seek constructive feedback if you’re feeling stuck, and believe people when they offer compliments on your work. Having an optimistic perspective can encourage you to spend more of your valuable energy on finding solutions instead of ruminating on problems.

Final Thoughts Success through Task- vs. Goal-Oriented Mindsets

I won’t deny that there are situations where having a task-oriented mindset is beneficial. But when looking at the long-term success of your life, you need to focus on creating and achieving relevant and effective goals that align with your values, strengths, and beliefs.

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.

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Task Oriented vs Goal Oriented: Which is Better for Success?