Goals vs. Objectives: How to Change Your Life (and Business)

Goals and objectives are words we hear frequently as teachers. But do you actually know the difference between the two?

Without blinking an eye, most of us would yes. However, if we were asked to explain the specific distinguishing factors, we might be a bit stumped.

Now you might be thinking, “Does it really matter?” And the answer is yes!!

So in this podcast episode, I want to…

  • define goals and objectives, 
  • discuss the 5 major differences between the two, 
  • determine how you can create a clear action plan that will set you up for success, 
  • discern whether or not you’re progressing at the appropriate pace (and in the right direction),
  • describe how all of this relates to leaving teaching, opening a TpT shop, and becoming an entrepreneur.

The Difference Between Goals and Objectives

What are Goals?

Mirriam-Webster.com defines a goal as “the end toward which effort is directed: aim or desired result.” Based on that definition, it makes sense to think of a goal as the finish line in a race.

In a perfect world, each and every day we get closer and closer to that finish line. Then one fateful day we finally cross that long awaited finish line and finally feel successful.

Cue the slow motion camera footage, play “Chariots of Fire,” and roll the end credits.

If only it was that simple.

You see, somewhere along the way we learned enough about goal setting to determine that it was something we should be doing. So, we started running in pursuit of that finish line. But very quickly we found ourselves…

  • taking shortcuts that put us on dead end paths,
  • attempting to decipher confusing signs that send us in the wrong direction, and
  • encountering other racers who make it look so easy, while we are literally dying as we pushed on

So what’s the disconnect?

Well, the biggest problem is that goals tend to be “pie in the sky” ideas we have that we might say out loud once in our lives, and then quickly go completely contrary to in our daily decisions.

They are such abstract concepts that we don’t even really know what to do with them. So often, we just consider them whims or emotions. Let me give you a few examples.

Examples of Goals

Business Goals
  • Make more money
  • Be more productive
  • Be happy at work
Company Goals
  • Increase overall profit
  • Decrease employee absences
Teaching Goals
  • Be a better teacher
  • Stay positive
  • Leave the classroom

I think we would all agree that there’s nothing wrong with any of these goals. In fact, many of us would even go so far as to say they are great goals. But the real question is how do you measure…more, being, and staying?

They’re all verbs, but they aren’t very action oriented or dynamic for the most part; they are actually pretty static.

So then how do we go from floundering goal-setting to achieving thriving success?

Well, that’s where your objective comes in to play.

What is an Objective?

Mirriam-Webster.com defines an objective as “the end toward which effort is directed: an aim, goal, or end of action.” Upon first glance then, “goal” and “objective” seem to be synonymous. But there is one small word that makes all the difference…action.

You see, the main difference between goals and objectives are specific actions. So to make a goal achievable it needs to have measurable objectives attached to it.

Let’s look at our previous examples of goals, but this time, let’s see how that goal looks with objectives attached.

Examples of Objectives

Business Goal:
  • Be more productive
  • Set up specific Standard Operating Procedures.
  • Train team members on how to follow the SOPs.
Company Goal:
  • Increase overall profit
  • Itemize expenditures in each department.
  • Analyze results monthly and allocate funds accordingly.
Teaching Goal:
  • Leave the classroom

5 Differences Between Goals and Objectives

While the overarching difference between goals and objectives is action, there are 5 major differences that will give us a little more clarity on the matter.

1. General vs. Specific

As we think through our goals, we view them as a broad statement of what we want in the “big picture.” Objectives, on the other hand, are super-specific and relate right back to that overall goal we are striving to accomplish.

Looking at our previous examples, our business goal of being more productive is very general. But once we added the two measurable objectives, it became very specific!

2. Long term vs. Short term

While goals can be long term or short term, in this particular context, goals are more forward-thinking and future oriented while objectives are those strategic action steps you are going to to take now in the present to achieve that goal.

3. What vs. How

As you think of your goals from the “bird’s eye view,” you are considering what you hope to accomplish in your business, life, or career. The objectives, on the other hand, are the important parts of your roadmap for how you plan to get there.

Looking at our company goal of increasing overall profit, it is easy to see what we hoped to accomplish. However, it was through the specific objectives of itemizing expenditures and analyzing the data that we determined how to achieve that specific goal.

4. Fuzzy vs. Clear

The interesting thing about a broad goal is that it makes total sense to you in the moment, but when someone asks you questions about how you set goals or how you plan to achieve an ultimate goal, you have trouble defining it. That’s because it’s fuzzy and all the details aren’t super-clear to you just yet.

Objectives, on the other hand, are the exact opposite. Clear objectives result from digging into specific goals and breaking down each step you need to take in order to achieve the desired results.

5. Want to vs Will do

Ahhh…the age old struggle. Every one of us talks about different want to’s. We want to…

  • leave the classroom
  • start a TpT shop
  • make more money
  • be a better mom

The list goes on forever filled with empty want to’s. But the truth is, those want to’s are only as good as the will do’s backing them up.

You see, our life goals, project goals, or individual goals will only come into fruition if we take measurable steps to see them through. To achieve our main goal, we need to have each objective stepping stone strategically placed in line.

So that just leaves us with one looming question….how do we create strategic goals and effective objectives?

How to Create Clear Goals and Objectives

At this point, you know that each time you set a goal, you need to take very specific steps toward achieving it. And that’s where SMART goals come into play.

While the original creator of this particular goal-setting method is a bit unclear, some evidence has indicated that Peter Drucker came up with the approach back in the 1950’s.

However, it wasn’t until 1981 when George Doran, Arhur Miller, and James Cunningham wrote their article entitled, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management Goals and Objectives” that the acronym began.

The acronym S.M.A.R.T. stands for goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (or time-bound). Since its official launch in the 1980’s, it has become the gold standard by which we acknowledge individual achievement and business success.

But a word of caution.

As with any method for doing something, there will be those who embrace it saying it is the best way while others will claim it’s the downfall of humanity as we know it. So don’t be surprised if you read conflicting information on the Internet about the viability of this particular approach.

Personally, I appreciate the SMART goal-setting method as a way to put legs on my goals in the form of action steps. It reminds me of the different things I need to consider as I develop my weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals in order to stay on the right path.

But digging a little deeper into this approach, you want to make sure you have created goals that have action steps attached to them.

Make the goals specific, and take the abstractness away by putting something concrete and measurable in its place. While it is super-important to have lofty goals that are forward-thinking, you want your objectives and action steps to be attainable.

So for example, if you want to reach 50,000 monthly sessions on your blog in order to apply to the Mediavine Ad Network, your first goal needs to be to reach 1,000 sessions.

Giving yourself attainable action steps will make the old adage, “How do you eat an entire elephant? One bite at a time,” much more real in your life. And it will give you the quick wins you need to keep pressing on even during setbacks.

Your goals also need to be relevant to you and what you hope to achieve as well as bound by a specific time constraint. We all work better with deadlines and knowing that you have set a deadline for each objective and goal will be the kick in the pants you need to get going!

How to Track Your Progress

The greatest thing about understanding how to set goals and objectives is the fact that the process is repeatable. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to set a new goal. You simply rinse and repeat.

But no matter how good you get at creating goals, you need to keep tabs on your progress. The frequency with which you check in on your progress is directly related to the personal goals you have set for yourself.

Let’s say you have a long term goal to leave the classroom within the next 5 years. You probably don’t need to do a daily check-in to make sure you’re on track to meet that goal; that would be a bit excessive.

However, you will want to set some short term goals with specific objectives designed to help you accomplish the small and seemingly insignificant tasks that are going to be instrumental to your success in leaving.

Those short term goals are going to be the specific targets you want to hit to ensure you are still working your way toward the final goal.

You will probably only need to check-in with how you are making strides toward achieving your desired outcome every month or quarter. But you definitely need to reflect on the process and assess how things are going.

Goal-Setting Templates

Now, all of the information we’ve covered thus far is great. But it’s only useful when you can apply it to your unique situation.

So we’re going to look at the basic flow of goal setting first and then break down three different opportunities you might possibly encounter using this same process.

  1. Start by brainstorming all of your big, crazy goals. Write these down somewhere that will be easily accessible to you.
  2. Take that goal and think about how to apply the smart method to ensure you’re on the right track as you craft specific objectives and action steps you need to complete in order to achieve your long-term goal.
  3. Make sure you put a deadline on each objective so you have a timeline within which to work.

Then, simply do the same thing over and over again. Now let’s see how this might look in a real-life situation.

How to Leave the Classroom

Maybe you’ve decided you definitely want to leave the classroom. You’ve set the right goal for yourself, but now you’re going to have to make some difficult decisions. The truth is, a lot of people want to leave, but they have no clear path on exactly how they plan to achieve this overall goal.

But that’s why it’s a good thing you aren’t most people!

You need to decide what measurable actions you are going to take to ensure you make this goal a reality.

  1. Begin by brainstorming some general statements to get your mind open to all of the ambitious goals you have for yourself. Things like…1) leave the classroom, 2) create an updated resume, 3) get a different job.
  2. Take those important things you have listed and begin crafting specific tasks for yourself designed to help you achieve the long-term outcome you are seeking like…1) write a resignation letter, 2) determine how much money you need to make each month, 3) research transferable skills.
  3. Put a specific end date on each objective so that you have a hard and fast deadline in which to produce the outcome you desire. That way the end result will be the finish line you designed for yourself.

If you’re serious about leaving the classroom & you want a roadmap to guide you from start to finish, you need to grab the Classroom Exit Strategies Planner

With more than 45 pages of worksheets, instructional activities, & tips, you’ll find everything you need to plan your classroom exit!

How to Start a TpT Shop

Maybe you think opening a Teachers Pay Teachers shop would be a good side hustle for you! If this is something you have thought about doing, but you’ve just never actually done it, now is the time!

To start you will want to follow the same process as we did in the leaving the classroom example…

  1. Brainstorm your general intentions and possibly your general goal, which would be to start a TpT shop.
  2. Read my blog post entitled How to Sell on TpT: 3 Things You Must Do First and think about what types of new products you could create that would add value to the education world.
  3. Print off your free brainstorming guide to help you craft a business plan that will get you started on the right foot.
  4. Determine if you are willing to put in the hard work to achieve the final result you want.
  5. Go for it!!

How to Become an Entrepreneur

Want a Free one-on-one
Discovery Call?

Understanding where you are currently and how to get to the next level is crucial if you plan to leave the classroom. Let me give you personalized insight into your next best steps!

Maybe you’re still in the classroom, but you find yourself thinking about what it might be like to join the many former teachers turned business owners and become an entrepreneur.

First of all, I want to applaud your willingness to set an end goal that is audacious and exciting while simultaneously super-scary and nerve-wracking. Then I want to assure you that you can do this.

So let’s get a clear understanding of how your goal setting journey might look.

  1. Brainstorm what entrepreneurial path you might want to take. Consider…1) starting a blog, 2) becoming an online teacher, 3) opening an online shop.
  2. Determine the date you want your journey to officially begin by 1) getting an estimate on a custom blog, 2) applying to various online teaching platforms, 3) researching the best online shopping and marketplace platforms.
  3. Begin to think about what your brand might be and determine how you might create brand awareness starting today.
  4. Consider investing in a business coach who can design specific time frames, help you set objectives, provide measurable targets, and make a significant difference in your single goal of becoming an entrepreneur.

So, here is the big takeaway…goals and objectives work hand in hand to help you achieve everything you have ever imagined and hoped you might achieve. But those possibilities for your life, business, and/or career are only possible if you’re willing to put in the work.

You have to take those important things you’ve listed and begin crafting specific tasks for yourself designed to help you achieve the long-term outcome you’re seeking because that is the only way the end result will be the finish line you have envisioned for yourself.