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I’ve read about S.M.A.R.T. goals hundreds of times, and I’ve set my goals in this way for many years. I used to think that everyone did the same. But recently I found out that that’s not true! I learned this firsthand when I ran a workshop about productivity a couple of weeks ago. I planned to spend only a couple of minutes on the subject of goals, but we ended up working on this topic for much longer. Goals are often mistaken with ambitions, vague ideas, or visions. These are a great base for a goal, but they are not goals in themselves!
What is a goal? A goal is something that you want to achieve in a given time. When do you reach a goal? Have you already reached it? If you set a goal and want to know the answers to these questions, you may consider using the S.M.A.R.T. method for defining a goal.
S.M.A.R.T. stands for:
- Specific - your goal has to be defined in a way that describes exactly what you want to achieve. Einstein used to say that if you can’t explain something to a six-year-old kid, then you don’t understand it. I think that the same approach can be applied in this case - can you explain it to a kid so that he/she would know what you want to do?
- Measurable - a well-defined goal includes metrics that you can use in future to measure if you’ve done what you intended to do. Do you want to read a book every day? Put in the description of your goal how many pages a day you want to read. That way, you will know if you did what you wanted to do.
- Ambitious - it can’t be too easy to reach. You have to exert some effort to complete it. If you love to walk to work, it doesn’t make sense to set a goal for walking to work every day. You’ll do it anyway!
- Realistic - a goal has to be ambitious, but at the same time, you have to feel that you are able to do it. You have to know whether or not you have everything that is needed to reach that goal (time, resources, materials, knowledge, friends, etc.). It would be difficult, to say the least, to attain the goal of flying to Mars. This would be (very) ambitious, but not realistic. But a goal such as “Visit NASA and see firsthand how they work with missions to Mars” is both realistic and ambitious!
- Time-bound - there has to be a defined deadline for a goal. You have to know when you are supposed to finish what you’ve committed to doing. This deadline has to be a very specific point in time. The best deadline is a date or something like “by the end of this month.” A goal with a deadline like “sometime during the summer” isn’t time-bound.
Some people add two more letters to the S.M.A.R.T. acronym and make it S.M.A.R.T.E.R.
- Exciting - to make your goal easier to work towards, try to make it exciting. We all love to work on exciting projects, don’t we?
- Recorded - your goal has to be written down. There is no other option. You’ll want to review it from time to time. And you’ll want to have a complete list of all your goals in written form. This is a very important part of the definition of a goal.
When you define a goal using the S.M.A.R.T. method, you make sure that you actually accomplish it. That’s because you know exactly what you're aiming for, how to know when you've reached it, the deadline for when it must be reached, and that it can be reached at all!
Below you can find a few examples of how the definition of a goal can be phrased.
- A sentence “I will save money” can become a goal when you phrase it as ”Every month, until the end of 2015, I will transfer 100PLN to a dedicated account.”
- An ambition “I will exercise more” can become a goal when it is phrased as: ”For the next 6 months, I will exercise 4 times a week. Each workout will be 1 hour long and will be done according to the plan described at www.xyz.com”
Can you see the difference between the vague sentences and these more concrete ones? Which one is easier to follow up with? Which one is easier to evaluate?
I strongly recommend that you state your goals in this way. Every time you think ”I will do something…,” try to rephrase it according to the S.M.A.R.T. definition. You will be surprised at how many more goals you will reach!