Goal Setting: Outputs, Outcomes And Understanding the Importance Of Each

by | Jul 30, 2019

I suck at writing personal goals.

The problem is that I often find myself writing my goals with only half the equation.

What I mean by this is I focus on outlining either the goal’s “outputs” OR the larger “outcomes.” And as one of my mentors said in a recent conversation, your goals need to be made up of BOTH to be truly meaningful and beneficial to you.

So, what’s the difference between these two parts of a goal?

Outputs are the clear, succinct and todo-list-ready tasks like reading 10 pages in a book each day, riding 20 miles on a bike each week or writing 12 blog post each month. Outputs are great and very much needed in setting clear actions for you to accomplish. However, outputs lack the “why” factor. Why are you reading 10 pages of a biography a day? Why are you riding those 20 miles each week?

That’s where outcomes come into play.

Outcomes give you a “why” for your outputs. These outcomes are the larger, broader and often intangible things you want to accomplish. All your outputs should be in support of a desired outcome. And it doesn’t have to be a one-to-one ratio. Outcomes often need to be supported by multiple outputs.

For example…


Become a better digital marketer by the end of the year


  1. Read 10 pages of a marketing/business book each day
  2. Listen to three podcasts on marketing/business/digital tools each week
  3. Write one blog post a week on what I’ve learned

For me, I love creating outputs that I can add to my todo list each day and knock out one by one. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, if I don’t keep the focus on what outcome each todo is supposed to support, does it really matter? Or am I just creating work for myself without moving the ball forward?

I’ve seen this focus on outputs a lot in the digital marketing world with people looking to views, clicks, engagements, etc. as the end goal (which most times they’re not). Almost everything that is done from a digital side has a desired outcome that we often lose sight of (increasing sales, receiving the majority of votes, lifting a brand’s reputation, etc.).

A digital output without a clear view of what you want your outcome to be is dangerous. Outputs are easy, likely simple to measure and allow you to focus on something small. Outcomes are the harder, larger shifts you need to focus on to make true change for whatever organization you are working on.

While I often focus on the outputs, just as problematic is setting an outcome you want to achieve but never putting together outputs that will help you achieve it. You’ll see this a lot with new year resolutions. People will write “Get Fit” or “Workout More” as their outcome but never put into place the clear and succinct outputs that are needed to accomplish that outcome. In the digital world, it’s setting outcomes like “Sell More Widgets” or “Get More Donations” without outlining the outputs and steps needed to do that. If outcomes are the “why”, outputs give you a “how” for your goals.

Next time you are writing up personal or professional goals, think about the interplay between outcomes and outputs. Outcomes missing outputs will leave you with a destination without a path to get there and outputs missing an outcome will put you on a path without knowing where you are going. You’re going to need both to make goals meaningful and a reality.


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