October 18, 2019  |  Purdue Global  |  Updated December 7, 2020

Every new year brings new opportunities to improve yourself and work toward your goals. Most people set New Year's resolutions, but U.S. News & World Report estimates that 80% fail to keep them. Goals are more effective than resolutions because they're specific and actionable. That means there's a clearer path to achieving them.

Here are some goal setting tips and best practices to set yourself up for success in 2021. You’ll find a goal setting worksheet at the end of this article—download it and fill it out to help you stay on track.

1. Set Attainable Goals

Set goals that are realistic to achieve. Working toward something that is impossible to accomplish can hurt your progress and self-confidence. Break your attainable goals into mini-goals that are measurable, so you can monitor your progress and adjust strategies as necessary.

When goal-setting, it’s often important to think SMART. SMART Goals are:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Time-bound

Examples of SMART Goals would be “earn my degree by January 2021” or “receive a promotion at my next review.” Both of these are goals that can be measured, attained, and have due dates.

Focus on Things You Can Control

Positive actions move you closer to achieving your goal. If there are outside situations that may affect your progress, think about what you can do to positively influence the situation.

In addition to your actions, you can also control your environment. According to author James Clear, many of us make decisions based on our environment. If you have an organized workspace, you’ll be more likely to work. If your kitchen is full of sugary snacks, you’re more likely to eat them.

Controlling your environment can have a direct impact on achieving your goals. According to Clear, scientists refer to the impact that environmental defaults can have on our decision-making as choice architecture. Your ability to achieve your goals has a lot to do with the influences you allow to surround you.

When working toward your goals, it’s important to set yourself up for success in all aspects you can control, and that means keeping the best options oriented around your goal nearest to you and avoiding temptation and distraction.

2. Write Your Goals Down

A study by Dr. Gail Matthews found you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down, because doing so helps you visualize them and keep them top-of-mind. Display your goals where you'll see them often, such as at your desk, to remind you of what you’re trying to achieve.

In addition to writing down your initial goal, it is also useful to track progress toward your goal. This study by Stanford University followed 1.4 million people who wanted to lose weight—a common New Year’s resolution—and found that those who wrote down their goals and tracked their activity and calories in an app achieved higher weight loss than those who did not. 


Bullet journaling can help you track and remember goals. If you don’t know about bullet journaling, here are some resources to get you started:

How to Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide

This guide helps you get organized to track your goals through bullet journaling. This popular and aesthetically pleasing way of tracking progress can take some getting used to, so this guide is helpful for beginners.

Top 12 Bullet Journal Hacks

Once you understand the basics of bullet journaling, you can optimize it to your own specifications. This article helps you customize your bullet journal to get the most out of it and your goals.

Computer Software

If you want more digital ways to track your progress, there are a number of online tools that help you work toward a goal. These include:


Goal-buddy is an online tracking tool that also acts as a support network. In the online app, you can mark progress toward your goal and receive encouragement from people with similar goals. The tracker also features a task manager and list organizer.

Goal Enforcer

If you are a visual learner, you may appreciate Goal Enforcer. This software helps you visualize your goals in order to help you focus and accomplish them. This tool includes the ability to rearrange your goals by dragging and dropping and offers a color-coding option, status reports, a progress chart, and a calendar view.


Another visual tool, Goalscape is software that helps simplify and streamline complex goals. This software tool helps you identify, develop, and communicate the key elements of any complex project. It also includes progress tracking.


Lifetick is web-based software that helps you track your goals and progress. The platform includes a dashboard to see your progress, reminders, a journal section to track your experience, and individual task tracking to keep you on the right path.

Phone Apps

There are a number of great apps to help you stay on track if you’d like to track goals on your phone instead of online or on a computer.


Coach.me has a free habit tracker that’s easy to use on your phone. You simply mark the habits you want to create and check them off when you work toward them. The app also has personal coaching for a monthly fee.


Broken down in an easy-to-use calendar format, Strides helps you not only track your habits but break them down into smaller, manageable pieces. The interface has easy charts and integrations with accessories such as smartwatches to keep you on track.

Google Goals

If you already use the Google Calendar app on your mobile phone, there’s now an easy way to track goals there as well. When looking at your calendar app, click the plus sign and select “goal.” Then you will answer questions about the frequency with which you’d like to work toward that goal, and Google will automatically find time in your calendar for you to hit the gym, study, or achieve whatever your goal may be. Google will also decline meetings that are conflict with your goal time.

Habit Streak

Habit Streak is a great option if you have a competitive side. While it’s primarily a habit tracker, it awards you “streaks” for the longest chains of working toward your goal. If you miss a day, your streak drops to zero, and you have to start at the beginning again.

3. Get Proper Sleep

Unhealthy eating habits can make you sluggish, tired, and sick, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Make it a priority to eat well and get at least 7 hours of sleep each night so that you stay on track with your goals.

Visit our Health and Wellness Guide for Busy College Students to learn more.

4. Get Inspired

Before pursuing any goal, it helps to get inspired. Goal setting and achievement is what makes successful people. If you’re looking for inspiration toward setting your goals, you may want to listen to podcasts watch TedTalks, or read books about significant achievements.

Setting Goals That Matter | Samantha Kris | TEDxLaval

This 11-minute video of Samantha Kris, international success coach, author, and speaker, is sure to get you fired up for the new year. Her approach to goal setting uses your feelings to help you achieve more.

Four Keys for Setting and Achieving Goals | William Barr | TEDxUrsulineCollege

Windows Direct President and CEO William Barr offers an inspirational talk about building a major home improvement company. He says there were four main contributors to his success.

Why the Secret to Success Is Setting the Right Goals | John Doerr | TED2018

Chairman of Kleiner Perkins and successful venture capitalist John Doerr shares the secret to his success in this video. And it isn’t really a secret. Setting goals is the only way to achieve success.

Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be

In this book, available at most retailers, author Mark Murphy explains how success comes from knowing how to set goals that are:

  • Heartfelt (have an emotional attachment)
  • Animated (motivated by a vision)
  • Required (full of a sense of urgency)
  • Difficult (because the greatest achievements come from the toughest challenges)

Goal Setting Exercises

This giant list of exercises helps you determine which goals are right for you and work through how you will attain them. Based on psychological research, this resource of games and exercises will help you better visualize your top priorities.

Think and Grow Rich

Called the “granddaddy of all motivation literature,” this book is a great start for those who are new to goal setting. Author Napoleon Hill dissects the successes of great American industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford. The new updated version of the book also includes stories of modern millionaires such as Bill Gates and Mary Kay Ash.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals Made Simple: 10 Steps to Master Your Personal and Career Goals

This easy how-to guide walks you through not only setting goals, but setting the right goals. Focused on the SMART method, this book provides simple steps from goal setting to working toward the goals that should motivate you for success.

The Magic of Thinking Big

This book by David J. Schwartz encourages you to aim high when setting goals. Do you want a successful career? Reach for it. Do you want financial security? Work toward it. Don’t limit your goals to something small and instead think big.

Purdue Global’s Goal Setting Worksheet

This worksheet helps you define actionable goals to get you where you want to be next year. We also provide space to explore what will hold you back from your goals, to define resources and cheerleaders, and to check in regularly on your progress.

You Can Achieve Your Goals

The New Year is a great time to set specific, measurable, and attainable goals. Make 2021 the year you achieve a goal that will help you lead a happier life. If you’re ready to set goals for the new year, download our goal setting worksheet.

If earning a college degree online is on your list, visit Purdue Global. We offer more than 175 online programs for working adults. Request more information today.

About the Author

Purdue Global

Earn a degree you're proud of and employers respect at Purdue Global, Purdue's online university for working adults. Accredited and online, Purdue Global gives you the flexibility and support you need to come back and move your career forward. Choose from 175+ programs, all backed by the power of Purdue.

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