How difficult should your goals be?

February 6, 2017 - Productivity
How difficult should your goals be?

Whether you’re a manager, technician, independent contractor or entrepreneur, you probably care deeply about productivity as it relates to work.  Time is money, only in many ways it’s much more valuable, and setting goals smarter can help save time and boost productivity.

Although observing the effect of goal setting on work performance can be a much messier task than looking at its effects on commonly examined areas such as test scores or endurance performance, there has been some interesting work in this area.

Researchers Wilk and Redmon have looked at the effect of goal setting and graphical and verbal feedback on the productivity of university admissions staff.  They looked at the performance of the staff related to filing, mailroom duties, credit evaluation, and data entry.  In their research, they found the greatest improvements occurred when goal setting, verbal feedback, and graphical feedback were combined.

Perhaps one of the benefits of graphical feedback is that it is less likely to feel emotionally charged than verbal feedback.  Thus, there is less of a visceral urge to reject the feedback as petty criticism, but to instead calmly and objectively look over the feedback and take steps to improve.

Another important aspect to consider in goal setting is the difficulty of the proposed goal.  In some research, such as that by Jessup and Stahelski, the most ambitious goal tended to perform the best.  In others’ the grandest goal was outperformed by more moderate goals.  Research performed by Erez and Zidon suggests that while increasingly more difficult goals tend to improve performance when a person believes it’s within their power to achieve them, more difficult goals become detrimental when an individual becomes wholly overwhelmed by their difficulty.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this work is that it implies it’s not the objective difficulty of the goal set, but the subjective difficulty in the mind of the person working toward it which matters most.  So with goal setting, as with most things, moderation is key. Although maybe aim for moderately difficult rather than moderately easy in your goal setting.

We at QueueDo are continually working to integrate what we find in our productivity research into our application to help you be more effective.  If you haven’t yet tried QueueDo, you can find it here.

Source material

Wilk, L. A., & Redmon, W. K. (1997). The effects of feedback and goal setting on the productivity and satisfaction of university admissions staff. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management18(1), 45-68.

Jessup, P. A., & Stahelski, A. J. (1999). The effects of a combined goal setting, feedback and incentive intervention on job performance in a manufacturing environment. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management19(3), 5-26.

Erez, M., & Zidon, I. (1984). Effect of goal acceptance on the relationship of goal difficulty to performance. Journal of applied psychology69(1), 69.

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