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  • Writer's pictureQuinn Ursal

Set Aside Goal Setting, Focus on Task Complexity Instead

Updated: Apr 15


Goal setting seems to be more efficient for simple tasks than for complex ones.

Task complexity bridges that gap.

Let’s say you desire to run a marathon. A good way to measure your improvement is by recording the amount of time it takes you to complete each training session. This way, if your goal is to be able to run 26 miles in under four hours, you can see how much faster you are getting over time and adjust accordingly.

If you desire to lose 10 pounds, a good way to measure your improvement is by tracking the number of calories you consume. This way, if your goal is to eat 1,500 calories per day, you can see how much less you are eating over time and adjust accordingly.

If your goal is to lose 10 pounds and run a marathon in under four hours, it would be better to track the number of calories consumed than the amount of time spent training.

If you track only one metric, it will be easier to see how far along you are and adjust accordingly. If you try to measure multiple aspects of your improvement at once, it can become overwhelming and confusing.

It’s important to note that you should only measure your improvement on one metric at a time.

Task complexity refers to how difficult or complex a particular task is.

This can depend on several factors, including the uncertainty involved and the difficulty level. Tasks can be complex, requiring significant skill and knowledge.

They often involve a high degree of uncertainty or ambiguity and may make it difficult to predict the outcome or know which actions will lead to success.

The complexity of a task is an important factor influencing performance and outcomes.

As for your desire to run a marathon. The goal is to be able to run 26 miles in under four hours. You can generate multiple tasks to be done and one of these tasks should measure your improvements.

Tasks that are too complex may be overwhelming and lead to errors or poor performance; conversely, tasks that are too simple may not challenge you enough or allow you to grow.

To deal with complex tasks, it's important to take a structured and well-planned approach.

Here are some strategies for dealing with complex tasks:

Strategy #1)

Break a complex task into smaller, manageable parts, it becomes easier to focus on each part and develop strategies for tackling that particular piece.

Strategy #2)

Once you've broken a task into smaller pieces, prioritize the ones that need to be done first.

Strategy #3)

Create a plan for tackling each one, once you have prioritized your list of tasks. Include steps and timelines in the plan, as well as any resources required to do so.

Strategy #4)

Use technology and tools: Technology, including project management software, can streamline operations and simplify processes.

Strategy #5)

Provide training and support: Additional resources or assistance may be necessary if the task is complicated.

Strategy #6)

Regularly evaluating improvement and making adjustments when necessary, you ensure that the task will be completed successfully.

Task complexity and goal setting are different concepts that influence each other.

Task complexity can be determined by the skills required to perform it, the resources are available for completing it, how much expertise is needed to do so well, and how uncertain that outcome may be.

Goal setting, on the other hand, refers to the process of creating specific objectives that a person can use as guidelines to motivate their behavior and gain success.

A goal is a specific result that you want to reach.

When you set specific targets or milestones, it's easier to track progress towards your targets -which enables you not only to see how far you've come but also gives you an idea about how much farther you need to go before reaching your destination point.

The importance of goal setting is for you to have something to focus on as well as something to motivate yourself with when things get tough.

Setting goals is important for several reasons.

Helps you remain focused on what's truly important, prioritize your time and effort, accomplish more in less time, and boost your productivity.

Helps you focus on what needs to be done right now instead of getting distracted by other things that might be interesting but aren't critical to earning success in your business or career.

Helps you define what matters most: your personal growth by defining who you are as an individual.


ball shooting

It's important to remember that goal setting is a process and not an event.

Goal Setting is directly associated with SMART goal setting theory.

Stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bounded.

A popular method of setting effective goals. One of the most famous variations of the goal-setting theory was developed by George T. Doran in 1981.

Used widely to set goals that can be observed and measured for improvement and success.

Let's have a quick dive into each letter to set goals.

Specific: Be specific about what you want to attain.

When you're goal setting, it's important to be specific.

The more specific your goal, the easier it is to work toward it.

Like if you want to attain "more sales" is too broad and will leave you feeling frustrated when it doesn't happen as quickly as you'd like. Instead, think about what exactly you want to attain--which can vary from one industry or company type to another.

You need to know exactly what this means to make sure it happens, so your goals must be clear from the beginning!

MEASURABLE: Make sure that it's measurable.

This means you document your growth and see how close you are to attaining it. And also see whether or not any changes need adjustment along the way.

For example, if one objective was "Increase profits by 15%", then another might be "Reduce operating costs by 20%." These two things work together as one increases profit while also reducing costs simultaneously - creating synergy between all parts involved with minimal effort required from either party involved.

ATTAINABLE: Not impossible.

Life goals should be challenging, but not so difficult that they are out of reach.

Your plan is a great place to start when setting targets for yourself as it will give you an idea of where you want to go over time and what type of results you can expect from your efforts.

Realistic goals are attainable within the specified time frame.

If it's something that could take years or decades before obtaining success then make sure there's a clear path laid out in front of you and establish smaller milestones along the way toward reaching larger goals.

REALISTIC: Be realistic, don't overestimate or underestimate.

Understand the task. Understand your limitations. Understand the resources you have available to you. Understand the time you have available to you. Then, begin finding ways to make the task as easy as possible.

If you want to build a house, then you need to understand what it takes to build a house and how much time and effort goes into doing so. If you have no experience in this area, don’t try to build your own home yourself! Instead, find someone who knows what they’re doing and can teach you so that they can help with the task of building your home.

TIME-BOUNDED: Stick with your deadlines.

Make sure your goals are time-bound.

There's a reason why you impose deadlines for so many things in our lives: they help us remain focused on what matters most and reach it faster.

Deadlines keep us on the path, which makes us more productive and efficient and ultimately allows us to be more successful in the long run.

Impose deadlines for each goal and write them as far ahead as possible.

The relationship between task complexity and goal setting can lead to greater efficiency.

When a task is complex, it may be more difficult to set realistic and achievable goals. The goals themselves may need adjusting as you gain new information or experience.

However, goal setting can also be a valuable tool for managing task complexity by providing direction.

Combining task complexity and goal setting can help you manage complex tasks more efficiently.

Here is the continuation of applying goal setting strategies:

Strategy #7)

It is easier to accomplish a larger goal if it is broken down into smaller steps or short-term goals. When you break complex tasks into manageable chunks, each step can be checked off as completed and motivate future attempts.

Strategy #8)

When setting goals for a complex task, ensure that they are specific, measurable, attainable (though not necessarily easy to complete), relevant (to the task at hand), and set within a reasonable time frame. It is important to ensure that goals are realistic, given the level of complexity involved, and can be tracked efficiently.

Strategy #9)

It is important to remain flexible and adjust goals as necessary while working on a complex task. As you gain more information and experience, goals may need to be adjusted to reflect new information or changes in circumstances.

Strategy #10)

By setting clear, specific goals, you are able to tackle complex tasks more easily. A clear direction and focus allow you to manage complexity.

Strategy #11)

Evaluating growth towards goals: To keep on track and reach your goal, evaluate regularly what you have already done. This can help decision-makers understand where additional support or resources may be needed, and identify adjustments to the plan.

While task complexity and goal setting are distinct concepts, they have a strong impact on one another. In other words, the higher you set your goals, the more complex tasks you will be able to accomplish—when given adequate time and resources to do so.

Goal setting seems to be more efficient for simple tasks than for complex ones. Task complexity bridges that gap by breaking down the task complexity into smaller, more manageable steps and combining the SMART technique.

Goal Setting Examples in Freelancing

Goal: Increase my hourly rate by 25% within the next six months

  • Specific: My goal is to increase my hourly rate by 25% from my current rate of $50 per hour.

  • Measurable: I will track my improvement by regularly reviewing my earnings and comparing them to my new hourly rate.

  • Attainable: I believe that I can increase my hourly rate by 25% by improving my skills, building my portfolio, and focusing on higher-paying clients.

  • Realistic: Based on my research, I know that other freelancers in my industry with similar experience charge higher rates, and I believe I can provide value that justifies a higher rate.

  • Time-bounded: I will accomplish this goal within the next six months.

Goal: Secure three new clients within the next three months

  • Specific: My goal is to secure three new clients within the next three months.

  • Measurable: I will track my improvement by reaching out to at least 20 prospective clients per week and keeping a log of my interactions and follow-ups.

  • Attainable: I believe that I can secure three new clients within the next three months by leveraging my existing network, refining my pitch, and using online platforms to find prospective clients.

  • Realistic: Based on my research, there is a demand for my services, and I believe I can provide value to clients that justifies hiring me.

  • Time-bounded: I will accomplish this goal within the next three months.

Goal: Complete a professional advancement course within the next six months

  • Specific: My goal is to complete a professional advancement course within the next six months to enhance my skills in a specific area.

  • Measurable: I will track my improvement by setting aside time each week to work on the course and completing each module on schedule.

  • Attainable: I believe that I can complete a professional advancement course within the next six months by finding a course that fits my schedule and budget and committing to regular study time.

  • Realistic: Based on my research, there are many high-quality courses available online that can enhance my skills as a freelancer and help me provide more value to clients.

  • Time-bounded: I will complete the course within the next six months.

Apply What You Learn

How to apply the (SMART) goal setting technique, task complexity breakdown and monitor your improvements.

Goal: Landing the first client as a virtual assistant

  • Specific: My goal is to land one virtual assistant client within the next 30 days.

  • Measurable: I will track my improvements by reaching out to at least 10 prospective clients per week, and I will aim to have at least five meaningful conversations with prospective clients each week.

  • Attainable: I will focus on building my network, improving my online presence, and refining my pitch. I will also leverage my existing contacts and social media to identify prospective clients.

  • Realistic: I believe that landing one virtual assistant client within 30 days is realistic, given my skill set and the current demand for remote work solutions.

  • Time-bounded: I will accomplish this goal within the next 30 days.

This approach will help you to stay motivated, focused, and on track to reach your objective.

Here are some task breakdowns of varying complexity to support your goal setting:

  1. Research prospective clients in my target industry and create a list of 50 contacts to reach out to. (Low complexity)

  2. Revamp my LinkedIn profile to showcase my virtual assistant skills and experience. (Low complexity)

  3. Draft a pitch email template to send to prospective clients. (Low complexity)

  4. Identify prospective clients who have recently posted a job opening for a virtual assistant and tailor my pitch email to them. (Medium complexity)

  5. Attend virtual networking events and introduce myself as a virtual assistant to prospective clients. (Medium complexity)

  6. Create a website to showcase my virtual assistant services and portfolio. (High complexity)

  7. Run a paid advertising campaign targeting prospective clients in my industry. (High complexity)

  8. Create a lead magnet, such as a free e-book or webinar, to attract prospective clients and capture their contact information. (High complexity)

By breaking down the goal of landing the first client as a virtual assistant into smaller, more manageable tasks of varying complexity. You can create a plan of action that is tailored to your strengths, abilities, and available resources.

Monitoring your benchmark/s of improvement:

  1. Several clients: Monitoring the number of clients you have and tracking your growth. If you started with one client, but now have three, then that’s a good sign—you are improving your client base!

  2. Income: Your income has increased if you started earning $500 per month and now earn $1,000.

  3. Client satisfaction: Gathering feedback from your clients is a crucial way to ensure repeat business and referrals.

By tracking these metrics, you can continually strive to enhance your skills as a virtual assistant and provide more value to your clients.


go for extra mile

3 BONUS Steps: Set SMART Goals and Boost Your Success

Bonus Action Step #1 -Research widely.

Researching widely means that you can be more specific about what it is that you want from your career or business.

If you did something similar before, you will know exactly what you did is right or wrong for your goal(s) to be realized successfully.

This way, when setting up yours, there will be less room for error because other people have already had this experience so you know exactly what works best when trying to obtain similar results!

Bonus Action Step #2 -Know the benchmarks.

Benchmarks or key performance indicators (KPIs) are important to quantify, and measure your growth toward achieving goals and let you know if you need to make adjustments.

It is important to initiate a benchmark before you start something new or work on an existing project so that you have an idea of what success looks like for each goal. If you are working toward a goal and don't know how to measure your growth, it is easy for things to get off the path.

You need to see the target before aiming at it.

Establishing milestones for each goal.

In this case, the goal setting example could look something like this:

If you're a business owner, one benchmark could be the number of sales leads that you generate each month. If your goal is to increase sales by 20% within one year or if your goal is to increase customer satisfaction and improve customer retention by 70% then this would be a great KPI for measuring.

Bonus Action Step #3 -Write them down.

Write down your goal(s) in one sentence.

You should be able to write down each of your goals in a single sentence, beginning with the words "I want."

For example: "I want to increase my sales by 15% this year." Or "I want to grow my audience by 10% over the next 12 months."

Don't just say that you'll become more successful; specify how much more successful you want to be and when.

Write your goal(s) in the present tense.

Goal(s) written in the present tense is also more powerful than those written in the future tense.

Because it's straight to the point; this means there's less room for doubt or procrastination on your part as well as less chance to get distracted.

This helps you to focus on what needs to be done now and how it can be done. It's easier for everyone involved to understand and work towards accomplishing it.

The best way to explain this is by example:

Imagine two people who want to lose weight but have very different approaches to how you intend on doing so. The first person writes "Lose 20 pounds by March 31st" while the second person writes "I am losing one pound per week right now."

Which person do you think is going to achieve goals faster?

Break down this broad goal into narrow ones by focusing on specific aspects. "One pound per week" is specific and narrow while "20 pounds by March" is vague and broad.

Write them down to make them more real - can help keep them at the forefront of your mind as you are working towards making them happen!

A goal is a destination.

It's something you want to reach.

And it can be anything from "I want to learn how to succeed in business" or "I want my business to grow by 25% next year."

For any individual, personal goal setting always involves a target, a destination, and a result.

Takeaway: Setting Personal Goals for Success

Goals set for personal development require patience and persistence. Potential obstacles may hinder your vision and you may not see results right away, but if you stick with it and work hard, your goal will eventually be accomplished.

By setting a specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely goal(s), individuals can clarify their ideas, focus their efforts, use their time and resources productively, and lead to a greater likelihood of obtaining the desired outcome.

However, it is essential to note that goal setting is not a one-time process, write them down as goals need to be reviewed and adjusted regularly. Therefore, it is important to revisit your list frequently and make the necessary changes to ensure they remain relevant and attainable.


Overall, task complexity and SMART goal setting techniques can help individuals reach their personal and professional goals (s) and lead to more fulfillment and success.

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