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Time to set yearly work goals? Here’s how to pick them and stick to them

"Have an honest conversation with your manager to understand what their key expectations are for you," career coach Hannah Salton says.
Seksan Mongkhonkhamsao | Moment | Getty Images

The new year has kicked off and resolutions are everywhere — and the workplace is no exception.

Many companies ask employees to set goals as part of their appraisals at this time of year, but coming up with achievable ones can be tricky.

The process can feel overwhelming and intimidating, especially if you're new to a company or the workforce.

But they're important for your career, says Rosemary McLean, a director at the Career Innovation Company, which provides career and business strategy support.

"Goal setting is often an integral part of business life when seeking to achieve results," she told CNBC's Make It.  

Check in

Before deciding on specific goals, checking in with both your manager and yourself is key, career coach Hannah Salton says.

"Have an honest conversation with your manager to understand what their key expectations are for you," she told CNBC's Make It. Considering how your professional goals can help you develop skills you can use outside of work, such as public speaking, can also help, Salton added.

Get uncomfortable — but don't overdo it

Other factors to think about before setting goals include focusing on transferable skills that will be useful in different industries and roles or that could secure you a promotion, the experts say.

That would involve setting ambitious targets, career coach Alice Stapleton told CNBC's Make It.

"Goals need to feel slightly out of your comfort zone, and perhaps require you to dig deep," she says, adding that one way to do this is by setting goals that force you to learn completely new things.

Thinking about goals in that way could throw up many different ideas. Narrowing them down and focusing on a selection rather than spreading yourself too thinly is also important, McLean says. This could include setting goals that have different difficulty levels, she suggests.

And when it finally comes to actually formulating your goals, the so-called SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bounded) approach can help, Stapleton says.

Hold yourself accountable

Having a clear plan like that can also help with accountability, the experts say. Thinking about goals all year round, rather than only when it comes to appraisals, is another way to do it, Salton says.

"Set aside your own personal check-in time, for example 30 minutes every week to reflect on progress and set yourself mini goals for the week ahead," she says.

Stapleton shares that view. She suggests setting shorter-term goals that will help you work toward longer-term ones — and making sure you keep visual reminders of them. This could be writing them down in a notebook you use everyday, hanging them above your desk or making them your desktop background.

If you find that too overwhelming, or think you might get so used to seeing your goals every day that you eventually overlook them, McLean has another idea: self-check-ins.

"It's important to find the time throughout the year to be intentional about your career, so blocking time in the calendar to do this can work well," she says.

Getting the support you need

Another useful way of making sure you're right on track is turning to your manager and colleagues for support, the experts say. Signing up for training courses, collaborating on projects, learning from each other and joining company mentorship programs are some ways of doing that, they add.

Communication is vital if you want to make the best of those opportunities, Salton says.

"Be honest with your manager as the year progresses as to whether you think the goals will be achieved. If not, try and be specific about what additional support you need to succeed," she adds.

But support can also come in a more personal form, McLean says.

"Others can also provide different types of support; information, praise, confidence boosting and suggesting ways you might overcome any setbacks," she says.

Ultimately, however, it's important to remember that while goals are a great way to progress at work, that is not the only thing that matters.

"It's also a great opportunity for you to explore how you'd like to grow and develop," McLean says.