Everyone wants to achieve goals in life. Maybe you want a new job. Maybe you want to get more creative at work. Maybe you have a book in you! Setting goals is good—but as the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: "A goal without a plan is just a wish."
Declaring what you want is just the first step. The real work begins deciding how to get there, then taking consistent action with constant assessment. That’s goal tracking.
Imagine a ladder without rungs. You’d never reach the top! It’s the same with goals. A goal will remain out of grasp until you approach it with a hyper-specific action plan that details the when, what, how, who, and why. It’s critical to document, assess, and adjust these “rungs” over time.
A growth plan like this is not only practical—it has psychological benefits too. With a method for measuring progress in place, you’ll always know that you’re moving in the right direction. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by large, complex projects, you're breaking them down into more manageable parts.
Goal tracking lets you focus on progress, not perfection, harnessing the power of small wins. You can do this!
FigJam's free SMART goals template makes it easy for you to hit the ground running
In 1981, George T. Doran formalized a framework called SMART goals in a paper called “There’s a SMART way to write management goals and objectives.” This approach is still popular as a way to meet ambitious goals at work and in life, with some variations. The acronym stands for:
Specific: target a specific area for improvement.
Measurable: define which metrics you're using to gauge progress.
Assignable: clarify who will execute a goal. (Variations include “Attainable” and “Achievable.”)
Realistic: make it attainable given available resources. (Variation: Relevant.)
Timely: specify when the results can be achieved.
It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to achieve—the SMART goal framework helps you start and track progress toward that goal. By getting specific on the nitty-gritty details, you’ll avoid pitfalls like ambiguity and procrastination, and keep moving forward.
Goal-setting has been an industry-standard practice since the 1960s, when Locke’s Goal Setting Theory showed that there is a positive relationship between clearly identified goals and performance. People’s conscious ideas influence their actions, which impact the likelihood of hitting their goals. In other words, intentionality is everything—and SMART goals make intentions clear and top of mind.
To see how effective goal-setting works, let’s look at a SMART goal in action. Let’s say you want to do more professional writing this year. An ambiguous goal like that will be hard to achieve without defining specifics.
FigJam’s SMART goals template guides you to articulate your goals with timelines, sticky notes, and story maps. With built-in tools and tips, your SMART goal plan comes into focus.
Behind every new goal is a system to track progress. Here are some pointers on how to build and follow a plan for success.
In the old English fairy tale, Goldilocks was a little girl lost in the woods who was hungry and tired—but she still had standards. She kept looking until she found a “just right” bowl of warm porridge and comfy bed. Today, “the Goldilocks Principle” describes a balance that is just right — not too easy or too hard. Striking the right balance is key for goal-setting. If a goal is too easy or too lofty, the brain won’t take it seriously, and motivation ebbs away. Goals need to be realistic, yet just challenging enough to be motivating.
2. Don’t just set goals—set up systems.
Goals alone won't get you where you want to go—you need a goal-tracking practice to achieve your ambitions. Every time you check off a part of your plan, you’re making progress! Celebrate those wins, and turn “the hamster wheel” goal-setting grind into a more enjoyable, productive practice.
3. Visualize goals to make them easier to achieve.
Picturing a goal helps you lean into pursuing it. Research by New York University psychologist Emily Balcetis and team showed that runners performed better than their peers when they narrowed their focus to a specific landmark up ahead, then continually updated their focus as they passed each target.
Everyone can benefit from this strategy for visualizing goals, as Balcetis explains in conversation with Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman. Visualize a spotlight on the very next step in your goal-tracking plan or progress calendar. Focus on it as if you have blinders on. Once you hit it, visualize the next step with similar intensity, and so on. Before you know it, you’ll be making good progress toward your bigger goal.
“The Seinfeld Strategy” of marking progress with a big red X on a calendar helped comedian Jerry Seinfeld practice consistency over perfection, beat procrastination, and work through his material. For years running his successful sitcom, Seinfeld stayed focused on “not breaking the chain.”
4. Check your progress regularly and adapt as needed.
Calendar regular progress check-ins daily, weekly, or monthly with SMART timelines and metrics.
Be honest about what’s going well and where you’re falling short. Ask yourself:
FigJam's goal tracker template is an easily editable way to capture reflections and make adjustments with your team. Built-in chats, stamps, emoji, and progress widgets make collaborative goal-tracking simple and engaging.
A Kanban-style board is another good way to track activities geared toward a goal. In this popular FigJam goal-tracking template, each step toward the goal is color-coded and tagged with status labels like “to-do,” “doing,” and “done.”
1. Enlist an accountability buddy.
Set up a weekly check-in with a work buddy so you can report to each other on progress, celebrate successes, and talk about next steps. Sounds like fun, but it actually works.
According to Pearson’s Law, “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.” Accountability buddy check-ins help ensure you’re measuring performance and reporting back.
2. Gamify your process to stay motivated.
Gamification makes most activities more entertaining and rewarding, including goal-tracking. Identify what motivates you, then create a rewards system for hitting milestones. For example, every time you file a new freelance project, you might give yourself 50 points. When you’ve reached 500 points, you could grant yourself a well-earned vacation.
3. Try journaling.
Whether you capture progress on a FigJam journaling template or jot down thoughts in a bullet journal, journaling captures daily wins and reflections.
Ask yourself how it's going:
Now that you know how to track SMART goals, you can turn that “goal” into a “go!”