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Oftentimes people refer to goals and objectives as if they're the same thing. They are, in fact, different. A goal, used in this context, is a broad definition. For example, saying that you want to become a better runner is a goal. It is general and broad in nature and lacks specifics.
An objective, on the other hand, is quite specific. It further defines a goal. To continue with our running example, an objective can be stated as such, "I would like to run a sub five minute mile." Without question, goals and objectives are similar and can be complementary to each other.
With a goal there is no pressure to be specific. It is, in fact open ended. Setting goals is effective as a broad outline for something you want to achieve. However, because of its fundamental nature of being broad and open-ended, it is not the ideal way to achieve something.
That's where objectives come in. Objectives are defined and measured in both time and by what is accomplished. If there is something meaningful and specific that an individual wants to accomplish then they are far better served defining objectives as opposed to setting goals.
When explaining how objectives work the SMART acronym is commonly used. It is defined as follows:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attainable
R - Realistic
T - Timed
When we understand how the two complement each other we can then formulate a plan to accomplish a desired task. For instance, if you have a goal in mind, the best way to achieve it is to define a series of objectives that will move you toward your goal. Think of it as a roadmap of sorts. Although that may be a bit of a clumsy metaphor.
To summarize, a goal is a broad, direction setting statement. It describes what you want to achieve through your efforts. An objective is more specific and has the potential to be measured. Both are designed to get you to take action and work quite well to complement each other when one understands the distinction between the two.
So the next time you want to achieve something remember to state your goal and then further define it by outlining your objectives. By doing that you will have focus and direction as you move toward your stated purpose. That's how to effectively put goals and objectives to work for you.