Do you ever feel like you’re working hard but not seeing any progress?
Have you ever looked back and thought, where did the past year go? What have I achieved? And not really known the answer.
Or perhaps it’s a new start and you want to really kick on during the next few years.
If so, setting SMART goals may be a good place to start.
SMART goals clarify your ideas, focus your intentions and allow you to plan your time and resources more effectively.
They give you a life path – your very own yellow brick road.
In this article, we’ll delve into what SMART goals are and how you can use them to achieve your objectives.
What are SMART goals?
SMART is an acronym for:
- Specific (simple, sensible, stretching, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivational).
- Achievable (agreeable, attainable, acceptable, action-oriented, accountable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic, resourced, results-oriented, rewarding).
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost benefit, timely, time-sensitive, tangible, trackable).
Some smart people (mind the pun) have expanded it to include important feedback and review steps – SMARTER; for example, includes Evaluated and Reviewed.
As this article is based around goal setting, we will stick to analysing the original SMART model.
What are specific goals?
Specific goals are clearly defined so that you know exactly what’s involved.
If the goal is too cloudy, you won’t be able to focus your efforts as intently, you may not know what it truly entails or really feel motivated to achieve it.
The 5 W’s – who, what, where, when, why – are a good place to start (Plus 2 H’s for good measure):
- Who is involved?
- What do I want to accomplish?
- Where do I need to be?
- When does it start and end?
- Why is this goal important?
- How do I complete it or get started?
- How much do I need in terms of time, money and resources?
Answering these questions will cover most areas of the SMART goal setting model.
Imagine you want to learn to play a song on the guitar for your best friend’s wedding in one year.
A specific goal could be:
“I want to gain the skills and experience needed to play a song at my best friend’s wedding next March by practicing with John, my guitar instructor, twice per week from today and also practicing for 4 hours every weekend. This will cost me around £40 per week in tuition fees. It is important to me because I want to do something nice for my best friend.”
What are measurable goals?
A range of measures can be used to track your goals, such as:
- How much?
- How many?
- How long?
- When does it start and end?
- How will I know when it is accomplished?
- When will this be accomplished?
Measuring your progress is important in order to provide you with enough feedback and stay motivated.
You will often have to tweak your goals in reaction to the feedback from the measurements taken.
After three months of guitar practice you might not be at the level expected by your tutor and therefore you may need to increase practice time.
Alternatively, you may be exceeding expectations and can save costs by reducing tuition time – be careful with this one – never rest on your laurels.
What are achievable goals?
Successfully defined goals need to be realistic and attainable enough to be motivating, with just enough challenge to stop them from being boring.
In other words, they need to stretch your abilities but remain possible.
An achievable goal can simply be set by asking “how achievable is this?” alongside other questions like:
- Can I accomplish this?
- How can I accomplish this?
- How realistic is this based on time, money and other resource constraints?
- Do I have what it takes to do this?
- What happens if I fail?
Learning to play one song after a year’s worth of practice seems achievable at face value but do you have £40 per week to spend on tuition? Do you have the time to complete 4 hours practice every weekend and two tuition sessions? Do you have access to a tutor? Do you have any finger missing that may delay the learning process?
Set goals which you have as much control over as possible.
The best way to do this is to ensure your goals are performance or identity related, not outcome related.
Results almost always follow performance or identity.
Who you are and what you do are the only real things you can control.
Outcomes like getting someone to like you, getting a promotion or earning £10m are not always within your control, but playing the guitar, attending the gym every day and being the type of person that doesn’t complain, are.
What are relevant goals?
Goals must be relevant to your overall mission, purpose or dreams.
You also must care about them, otherwise you’ll lack the motivation to achieve.
Make sure that your goals drive you, and everyone involved, forward, considering questions like:
- Does this fit the overall mission/dream/vision/purpose?
- Is this worthwhile?
- Is it important to me?
- Is this the right time?
- Am I the right person to for this goal?
- Is it applicable in the current circumstances?
- Are other goals more relevant now?
Being able to play a song on the guitar at your best friend’s wedding is a good purpose and makes the goal relevant to your values.
Starting to practice a year in advance seems like a good time to start but if the wedding was in a week and had nothing prepared, it may be wiser to focus on preparing a speech.
What are time-bound goals?
Every goal needs a set target date, otherwise you could go forever without achieving anything. A deadline gives you something to focus on and work towards.
Time bound goals also create a little pressure to prevent mundane daily tasks from taking priority over your most important goals.
It’s Parkinson’s law that “work expands so as to fill the time which is available for its completion.”
Create time-bound goals by answering these questions:
- When will this goal be completed?
- When will I review my next performance?
- What can I do today?
- What can I do tomorrow?
- What can I do one week from now?
- What can I do six weeks from now?
- What can I do three months from now?
- What can I do six months from now?
- What can I do one year from now?
Having a deadline of your friend’s wedding next year is a perfect time-bound goal as there is a definitive end point and, hopefully, once you get into the habit of practicing guitar, you will continue well past your friend’s wedding.
You may want to set smaller, micro-goals in order to track your progress; for example, can you play the chords after 1 month, can you play the chorus after 3 months, the verses after 6 months and the whole song after 8 months. Can you sing along with it after 10 months, etc.
Refer to the achievability section here to ensure your goals are realistic to your time frame.
Pros and cons of SMART goals
The SMART goal setting model is useful for identifying your path and focussing precisely on your future missions.
It makes you think about things that can sometimes be overlooked in everyday forward planning and provides a framework for measuring your progress against clearly defined objectives and set completion dates.
It’s simple and requires no specialist tools or training.
However, the SMART model is just a future planning tool. It is not something that forces action and success. Action and success derive from daily systems, habits and routines.
SMART goals are good for overall directional guidance, feedback and momentary motivation, but you cannot rely on motivation and overall directional guidance to get things done.
You must rely on your systems, habits and creating an identity of a person that; for example, plays the guitar, works out every day or tells good jokes.
Some people also suggest that SMART goals don’t always work for long-term planning because it lacks flexibility, while others suggest that it might stifle creativity, but that’s their opinion.
If it works for you, use it.
Meaning, we don’t rise to the level of the goals we set, we fall to the level of our daily habits and practice.
So make a plan but, more importantly, do the work!