How to Set Goals Once and Then Focus on Them Until They’re Done (The ONE Goal Strategy)

On September 12th last year I felt pretty good about myself. My Bachelor’s thesis was all done, I had a month to prepare for the presentation and my first website was done, all shiny and new.

4 weeks earlier I had decided that a) I was going to take a year off before eventually starting a Master’s and b) I was going to use that year to become my own boss and stop living off my parents’ money.

All I wanted was to make $500 a month, so I could pay for rent and food.

Since I had spent 2 semesters studying abroad, and friends kept asking me to review their English papers, I thought I’d do a great job at translating between English and German.

That day I had just put the finishing touches on the intro video.

Fast forward to mid October, one month later. I had just sent out 50+ emails to former customers of translation agencies, trying to collect information about why they had hired a translator, what results they had hoped for and how they found who they were looking for.

The results after over a month of work: $0.

Here’s how many visitors the website attracted within its first month:

You can imagine how frustrated I was.

A few days later I learned about the ONE GOAL strategy. Facebook used it to hit 1 million, then later 1 billion users. Noah Kagan from Appsumo used it to reach 1 billion unique users. Since I obviously didn’t know how to set goals I thought I’d give it a try.

From then on, everything changed.

On November 11th, I received my first ever payment from self-employed work:

Notice how the subject says “Coaching”. Not translating.

After finding out what my ONE GOAL was, I stopped forcing the translator thing and picked different jobs from different industries to see what sticks. One of them was an opportunity to do online coaching.

Things picked up and in February I hit my goal.

Again: Notice how my income now has 6 different sources and the line for translation service is invisible.

That’s because I have made exactly $10 translating to this day. I don’t even like it very much.

Here’s the problem: My goal was never to become a translator. My goal was to make $500 so I could pay for myself.

I just lost sight of my goal. That’s why I spent 4 weeks playing business, making a website, gathering data and doing all kinds of things that had no relation to my goal whatsoever.

Sound familiar?

It was only when I sat down, determined what my ONE GOAL was (make $500), how I could achieve it best (take different jobs to see which skills I actually like using and where I can make that kind of money) and constantly kept it within eyeshot (literally, you’ll see how) that I was able to reach it.

Can you use this strategy to hit your goal faster than with any other strategy? I don’t know.


But can you make 100% sure you hit your goal at all? Definitely.

I used 3 steps to identify my one goal, formulate it and always keep it in sight.

Today I’m going to share how the process works with you.

Note: If you’re more of an auditory or visual learner, you can also do this as a video workshop with me walking you through every step in 20 bite-sized lessons.

 Click here to do this post as a video workshop.

Three steps to identify, formulate and stick to your ONE GOAL

If you’re the type of person who always sets big goals, but then ends up frustrated 2 months later because you are not closer to any of them, then follow me through these 3 steps to set goals and achieve them one at a time. It’s okay to dream big, but please do it as you normally do at night: one dream after another.

Step 1: Identify your ONE GOAL

Okay, let’s take a step back. To recap the problem with setting short-term goals: You do it so you don’t get overwhelmed by the big picture you want to achieve in the future, but if you don’t know what the big picture is, it won’t matter what goals you set for right now.

Climbing a mountain often gets much easier once you have picked the mountain.

That means having a clear priority for each and every single day starts long before you sit down at your desk to work.

So let’s pick your mountain, right now.

After I reached my initial goal of $500 per month I set my next goal using 6 questions.

All of these have been taken from brilliant minds much greater than mine, you’ll find the reference with each one. Here are the questions with some examples, plus my own answers.

A) Why are you doing what you’re doing? What is your theme?

Author James Altucher talks about having themes instead of goals. I like having both, but I believe your goal should always be in line with your theme.

This is important simply because if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you might as well stop. You won’t have the motivation to persist through tough times, nor have any success with what you’re doing.

For some people it’s money, just because they like numbers. Ever wondered why Warren Buffett still lives in the house he bought in 1957, drives no luxury cars, yet wakes up every morning to continue making billions? Money is his theme.

Some people want to leave a legacy. Don’t you think Donald Trump could make lots of money by letting other companies brand his buildings? Yet he puts his own name on everything. Trust me, this guy wants to be remembered.

Most of us have an idea of what our theme might be. Helpful questions to pinpoint what it is are:

What would my ideal 80th birthday look like?

For example: Do you see yourself surrounded by close friends and family only, somewhere on the beach? Then it might be freedom you’re looking for.

Imagining a huge dinner with all your staff, friends and business partners? Maybe it’s money.

Would like influential politicians and famous people to congratulate you and help you raise money for a good cause? Then you’re probably looking to leave a legacy.

Related to that is the question: What would be the biggest regret I could have at the end of my life?

Are you afraid of working too much? Being forgotten? Dying without being able to support your loved ones? Whatever it is, it’s a good hint at what you should be spending your time with right now.

This question is inspired by Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and also part of Derek Sivers’ brilliant mini video-course “Uncommon Sense”.

My answer: For me, it’s freedom. To have the choice to say no to any client, customer, or business partnership. To make my own hours and pick my schedule according to what fits my health and motivation best. To do things, because I WANT to do them, not have to. To have the power to decide for myself.

B) 18 months from now, what achievement would have the biggest positive impact on your life with respect to your theme?

The time frame you set for this question should make it a stretch, but not unrealistic. In my case 1 month to the freedom I desire may be a bit short, but it won’t take 5 years either.

Depending on your goal you could set this to 6, 12, or 18 months. For this I set it to 18 months, since it’s enough to not feel like the pressure is crushing, but not so far out of sight that I’m likely to lose focus.

It is also the time frame the “father of modern management”, Peter Drucker, suggests: “A plan can usually cover no more than 18 months and still be reasonably clear and specific.”

If your theme is health and fitness, this might be to quit smoking, since it’s your biggest obstacle.

If you want to leave a legacy, it could be running a charity campaign under your name, or publishing a book.

If your theme is money then this might be creating 3 different income streams within this time frame.

My answer: The kind of freedom I want implies two things: being self-employed, and making enough money to not have to rely on a job. If I could run the business of my own choosing 18 months from now and make the same kind of money with that it I make now, but doing all kinds of things, that would put me a great deal closer towards my goal.

C) Have you ever had the feeling that a discipline or field was tailor-made just for you?

It’s time to trust this feeling! This will help you find the industry in which you are most likely to find success. It should be something you genuinely like doing and that people have complimented you on, but not something you lust after.

For example: If you love playing golf once a month with your buddies on the weekend, because none of you are good at it and you can all just wind down and get a laugh out of how bad you are, then this probably won’t be a good fit. You won’t enjoy it any longer, as you start working on it and treating it more professionally.

But if you like baking pies, and you hand-craft one for every family event or special occasion, spending hours browsing recipes and working out the details and decorations, and people think they taste great, then that’s something you can work with.

This question is inspired by the book Mastery, from Robert Greene.

My answer: I love talking about self-improvement. I could spend hours chatting with friends about habits, motivation, inspiration, the purpose of life, overcoming fears, and how we can become better. I love walking away from these situations and having friends get back to me a few days later, thanking me for my advice.

D) What completely consumes your attention once you start doing it?

This question helps you pick your role in your industry. If you picked fitness as your industry, there are still tons of options regarding activities.

Do you like running and catch a runner’s high very often? Maybe your ONE GOAL should be to become a professional athlete.

Or do you spend hours on end reading about nutrition and the metabolism during exercise? Then it might be better to become a fitness nutritionist, helping high performance athletes with their diet.

The idea for this question has been taken from the book Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The flow state describes the optimal experience, where your skills and the level of challenge are matching up perfectly so you get neither bored nor frustrated and just continue working.

My answer: When I start reading a good non-fiction book, I just can’t stop. I read it in one go. I devour good blog posts, seminars, online courses and talks. Also, when I start writing, and really get into the zone, it’s very hard for me to stop.

E) What makes your heart race with excitement?

Whenever you think about an ambitious dream of yours, there’s usually that voice in the back of your head, that instantly starts giving you reasons not to turn it into reality.

According to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, this voice or feeling is called resistance, and is always opposing change.

If you’ve come up with an idea for a more sincere marketing campaign for your company that you know would make your customers happier and more loyal, resistance will be the feeling telling you that “it’s better to stick to the old ways”.

It’s the same voice that tells you you can always start losing weight “tomorrow”.

Resistance is natural, everyone is affected by it, and it doesn’t target us personally. Whatever it is that makes your heart beat faster when you think about it, because you are excited, yet a little afraid, then there’s a good chance it is exactly what you need to be doing.

(The true definition of fear)

My answer: I used to love handing in essays and writing papers in high school. When I handed in my assignment, I could barely wait for the teacher to get back to me, just to see whether they liked what they saw. It’s the same with blog posts. When I’m about to press publish, I’m always afraid it might tank, and sometimes it does, but the chance of me producing something of value for others creates a thrill I can’t resist.

F) What do you believe is worthwhile doing, that other people might not agree on?

This last question is worth answering because

1) it gives you a sense of whether you’re on the right track with what you’re doing, because most great ventures are somewhat controversial and

2) it will show you there are always excuses you can make and there’s no reason not to get started today.

For example: All of your friends might think knitting is stupid, but you just love the process of creating something wearable and enjoy it.

Or: You like spicing up your tacos with Asian veggies and spices, but your family thinks “Asian and Mexican foods just don’t mix”.

This question is inspired by The Power Of Starting Something Stupid by Richie Norton.

My answer: Even with 2 million blog posts being published every single day, I think starting a blog is still worthwhile. My friends think it’s pointless, and that I’ll never stand out from the crowd. But I love the process of writing an article, researching it, structuring it, finding good pictures to go with it, creating cover images, bonuses, learning about marketing and SEO – and in the course of it all, try to help others.

Note: If you’re having trouble with this, download my goal-setting cheat sheet with 10+ more questions to help pinpoint what your most important goal is in the bonus section. You can also get it by doing this post as a 1-hour class on Skillshare. You’ll also get free access to 16,000+ classes for 1 month if you sign up here.

Step 2: Formulate your ONE GOAL into a number

Have your answers? Good.

Now, the whole point of having ONE GOAL is making it easy to remember.

Which is why it’s time to come up with a number. Yes, a number.

This is the key to learning how to set goals that stick. Your goal should be represented by a single number.

It will be your lighthouse along the way and most, if not all of your short-term goals, will be derived from it.

(It has worked for facebook, so why not for you?)

It’s good to specifically look at the second question for this one, but keep in mind your other answers.

Again: Your big achievement you want to make happen in the next 18 months should be reflected in this one single number.

For example: If you’re trying to quit smoking, then your number could be $2000 put in a savings account that would have gone towards cigarettes.

When running a charity campaign, it could be 5,000 posters taped to walls in the city with your name on it.

Want to publish a book? Make your goal to write 1,000 pages within the next 18 months.

For creating a new income stream from stocks your number could be owning 1,000 shares.

You get the gist of it. The bigger the number, the better, because it will give you more small parts you can achieve when you break it down. Be realistic though.

Remember: it should be a stretch, but not out of reach.

My number: I want to be self-employed and able to sustain myself financially. I love talking about self-improvement and giving others helpful advice. I really get in the zone when reading and writing. I’m always thrilled about publishing blog posts and I think writing a blog is well worth my time. The obvious answer is for me to start a self-improvement blog.

Some numbers I could pick: Reaching 10,000 unique monthly visitors within 18 months.

Publishing 100 blog posts.

Writing 100,000 words.

Here’s what I did: When I started my blog, I immediately decided to build an email list as well, but didn’t really focus on it. I hadn’t set a goal for it.

In May I decided my ONE GOAL should be to get 10,000 subscribers to my email list.

With 10,000 targeted subscribers I can launch a service or product at any time and make enough money to sustain myself for the next few weeks and months. I won’t have to rely on a job, be able to pick what I work on and reject any business opportunity I don’t like, because I can create my own from scratch.

Reaching this number will give me the freedom I want and help me live my theme in life every day.

Note: If you have trouble coming up with an appropriate number for your goal, reach out to me and I’ll help you out.

Step 3: Keep your ONE GOAL in sight – literally

This is the key part. Take a piece of paper, whip out a marker, and put your number on it.

(My girlfriend took over the design part, pretty cool, huh?)

If you’re at a desk working on a computer all day, tape it to the wall you’re facing. Make it the background of your desktop! Here’s mine (we’ll get to how few things are on there some time):

If you’re a stay-at-home mum, cooking most of the time, tape it to the fridge, write it on your cooking spoon or your salt shaker. If you’re constantly traveling, make it the wallpaper for your phone.

Better yet, do all of these! As I’m sitting here, writing this, my ONE GOAL is right next to me.

(Thumbs up for the gangster look)

The purpose of this is to put everything you do in perspective. EVERYTHING.

When I look up while writing this post I ask myself:

Does it help me get 10,000 subscribers? If the answer is yes, I keep writing.

When I have an idea for a new project while cooking, I look at it and ask: Will it help me get 10,000 subscribers?

If the answer is yes, I’ll do it.

When I open a new tab, silently type in youtu… and I look up, I know:

That WON’T help me get 10,000 subscribers.

This is the only way I have found to keep my long-term goal on top of my mind and make sure what I do every day gets me where I want to go.

I set this goal on May 2nd.

The results so far: I have more than tripled my email list in size in the following 30 days alone – I went from 100 subscribers to 332.

How can you find your ONE GOAL right now?

ONE GOAL is very effective.

Let’s recap the 3 steps to make sure you arrive at a solid goal that’s easy to remember and not lose sight of it in your everyday hustle:

Step 1: Identify what your one goal should be using the 6 questions I discussed.

Step 2: Formulate your one goal into a single number that represents your goal well.

Step 3: Take a piece of paper, write your number on it and tape it right where you can see it while you work, so you’ll never lose sight of it.

But it doesn’t end here. Once you have your ONE GOAL, you still need to figure out how to get there. Which is what we’ll talk about in part 2 of this series.

You’ll learn:

-How to break your ONE GOAL down so you know what projects to work on on a monthly and weekly basis

-Which part of the Getting Things Done method will help you know the exact step to take each day to move forward

-How much time reaching your ONE GOAL will cost you day by day

So stay tuned.

For now, I’ve compiled three bonuses that will help you determine your ONE GOAL right now:

  1. My cheat sheet for identifying, formulating and achieving your ONE GOAL that breaks the process down into 46 small action items.
  2. Three more ways you can remind yourself of your ONE GOAL each and every single day.
  3. The process of this entire course in 20 step-by-step video lessons as a 1-hour course on Skillshare.

Take those, use them, find your ONE GOAL and run with it! You can access all the bonuses here:onegoaldownloadbutton

PS: I recently helped my friend Ted find his ONE GOAL, look where he put it up, on his board where he keeps his daily schedule next to his desk and right above his TV. What do you think the number means? Make a guess in the comments!