We all have goals and ambitions, things we want to accomplish, and changes we want to make in our lives. Why is it that we only accomplish some of our goals? I mean, if we have a goal, usually we want to achieve it right? So, why do we reach some goals while we don’t achieve others?
As I was attending business school one of the concepts we talked about a lot was using SMART goals. As I learned about setting goals I became more aware of my goal setting tendencies or lack there of… I realized that I set a number of goals on a daily basis, even if I didn’t physically write them down, and the more SMART those goals were, the more likely I was to achieve them.
“How do you write meaningful objectives? – that is, frame a statement of results to be achieved… think of the acronym SMART.”
Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related. – George T. Doran
The SMART acronym was originally developed for business managers to be more successful in setting and obtaining goals and objectives. Over the years the verbiage has changed (for example Assignable has been labeled as Attainable, Actionable, Agreed Upon, Acceptable…) but the value in setting SMART Goals has not.
My favorite version of SMART goals is as follows:
Goals should be clear, precise, and definite. If goals are too broad or too general, they will be hard to achieve.
For example, I want to do better, or I want to increase my skills are goals that are too vague. Better at what? What does better mean? Increase what skills?
Think about what exactly you want to accomplish.
When I started working on my MBA, the Specific portion of my goal was: To earn my MBA through the University of Phoenix online.
There must be a way to measure or there at least needs to be an indicator of progress so that you’ll know when you have achieved your goal.
Going back to the I want to do better example, how would you know when you’ve done better?
The Measurable portion of my goal to obtain my MBA: To complete the 12 courses required for the degree. I can easily measure whether I complete a class or not.
Be prepared to take action. Think about the steps required to achieve your goal. Break down each goal into tasks.
For my MBA I needed to complete 12 courses. Each course was 6 weeks long. To complete each course I needed to complete my reading, homework, posts, papers, and exams. I needed to break down what was needed for each course, each week, and what needed to be completed each day.
This section is one where I have run into trouble in the past. I set goals that were too hard and I failed because I set the bar too high.
Goals need to be attainable given our available resources. Set a goal that can realistically be obtained.
When getting my MBA I could have taken two classes at a time, but I knew that taking on that workload would be too much for me. I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goal. I would get burned out. Only taking one course at a time was more reasonable. It was hard enough to push me, but it wasn’t completely overwhelming.
Even though we don’t want to set an unrealistically hard goal, we do need to set goals that push us to grow.
This is another area I have struggled with in the past. I would set goals but not set any expectation of when they should be done.
A goal needs to be time-based. Specify when the result(s) should be achieved. Set a timeline.
This creates a sense of urgency. It helps keep us motivated to work on our goals now, not at some unspecified time in the future.
The timeline set by the University of Phoenix for their online program was a year and a half. That is what I set my goal for completing my degree.
All the elements of SMART work together to create a powerful, actionable goal.
My SMART goal for school was: In 18 months, I will complete the 12 courses required to obtain my MBA from the University of Phoenix online.
This goal for me was Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Related.
I took the time to write out my goal. I thought about what I wanted to accomplish but more importantly I thought about “Why” I wanted to accomplish my goal. I kept a checklist and when I completed a week in my class, I would mark it off. When I would finish a class, I would mark it off and record my grade. I kept my goal constantly in my mind and visibly in front of me.
On days when I was tired, and I didn’t want to do the work, I would look at my goal and dig deep. Somehow I found motivation, or maybe just determination, to do what I had to do to achieve the results I wanted.
When I make goals arbitrarily or halfheartedly… “I would like to…” then more times than not, I never achieve them.
There is something magical that happens when you change your mindset from “I want” to “I will”.
Are SMART Goals Necessary
Duncan Haughey in his article A Brief History of SMART Goals illustrates the pros and cons of SMART goals.
SMART goals are popular becuase:
- Clear and simple way to manage goals and objectives
- Easy to use acronym
- Reduces risk of creating a vague or unclear goal
Critics argue that SMART Goals:
- Lack flexibility
- Making a SMART goal doesn’t guarantee success
- Compels action but may stifle creativity
SMART goals may not work for everyone, but I have noticed more consistent success when I use SMART goals in my personal and professional life.
The act of setting a goal doesn’t mean that you will achieve it. Writing the goal is the easy part, the hard part comes afterwords. I think that there are a few key takeaways for achieving goals.
- If you want to reach your goal, you have to do the work.
- You need to revisit your goal. Sometimes, adjustments need to be made.
- Remember your “why”. There needs to be some deep motivating factor that will help you move forward when things get tough. Hold onto your “why” to help you get back into action and remember why you were excited to make the goal in the first place.
Going through the process of defining a goal in SMART terms helps you quantify what you want to do, and gets you thinking about what you need to do to achieve it. Each part works together. When any one part is out of balance, the goal may be harder to obtain.
What are you going to create a SMART goal for?
- Doran, G. T. (1981, November). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Manager’s Goals and Objectives. Management Review, 70(11), 35-37. Business Source Complete.
- Haughey, D. (2014). Project Smart. Retrieved from https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/brief-history-of-smart-goals.php