Defining Your Goals
One common, yet powerful technique in the field of productivity and goal-setting is creating S.M.A.R.T. goals. This involves clarifying and defining your goal according to the following criteria:
The best way to explain this process is by example.
Example 1: “I want to eat healthier.”
How easy or difficult is this goal to achieve? I would argue that, from one perspective, it is impossible to achieve this goal. No matter how healthy you eat, isn’t it always possible to eat healthier? The person who has this goal is likely to always feel in progress. He or she won’t have a sense of fulfillment or the satisfaction of achieving the goal. Let’s clarify this goal according to the S.M.A.R.T. criteria.
Specific: What does it mean to eat healthier? Maybe it means snacking less. Or eating more fruit and vegetables. Or only eating certified-organic food. Do you see how I’m clarifying the goal by being more specific?
Measurable: How do you measure your progress and success? Maybe your goal is to limit snack foods to less than 10% of your grocery bill. Or to eat five one-cup servings of vegetables each day. If you can’t measure your progress, you can’t achieve your goal.
Achievable: How big is the challenge? I shy away from using the word “realistic” because in my experience it’s often used by pessimists to keep themselves and others from stretching their boundaries. On the other hand, it is self-defeating to set goals that are far beyond your abilities. In my opinion, it is better to set easier, possibly intermediary goals that allow you to build some positive momentum. Once you achieve that first goal, you can build on your success and set a new goal to take you further.
Results-oriented: What results do you want? There are many results of eating healthier. Maybe you want to feel more energized and less tired. Or maybe you want to look more fit. Or maybe you want to think more clearly so you can perform better at your job. Getting clear on the results you desire will help motivate you to achieve your goal. It will also open your mind to other ways to achieve those same results.
Time-bound: In what time-frame do you want to achieve this goal? One month, six months, by September 1st? Without setting a time-frame, you always have a psychological escape. You can tell yourself you’re “working on it.” It’s a way to keep yourself from failing, but it’s also a way to keep yourself from succeeding.
Note that these criteria are interrelated. For example, is your time-frame achievable? Are your results specific and measurable? Often, clarifying one will help you clarify the others.
So let’s redefine our original goal.
Original goal: I want to eat healthier.
S.M.A.R.T. goal: To feel more energized and less tired, I will limit my purchase of snack foods (cookies, ice cream, soda) to less than 10% of my grocery bill, and increase my purchase of organic fruits and vegetables to 33% of my grocery bill by September 1, 2008.
Example 2: “I want to get organized.”
Specific: What does it mean to get organized? Maybe it means to sort through all of the papers in your office. Or to use a planner to schedule your appointments.
Measurable: How do you measure your progress and success? Maybe success is an empty inbox at the end of each day. Or it’s a desk or workspace free of mystery piles of paperwork.
Achievable: How big is the challenge? Organizing your office might be something you want to tackle before you organize your whole house. And organizing your desk might be a preliminary step to organizing your office.
Results-oriented: What results do you want? Maybe you want to reclaim all of that time you waste searching for paperwork. Or, you want your office to look more professional to your clients. Or, you want to eliminate the stress of uncertainty that comes with disorganization.
Time-bound: In what time-frame do you want to achieve this goal? In one month, one week, by the end of the day?
Original goal: I want to get organized.
S.M.A.R.T. goal: To reduce my level of stress, I will complete and file all of the paperwork on my desk (performing all tasks that take less than ten minutes and scheduling the rest into my planner) by the end of the day Friday.
Pursuing Your Goals
Clarifying your goals is so powerful that using the S.M.A.R.T. goal technique by itself will explode your productivity. But it falls short, in my opinion, because it does not directly address the daily pursuit of your goals. That is, you know exactly what you want, why you want it, and when you want it by, but how do you make sure you do what needs to be done to achieve it?
I’ve added two more criteria to help describe your approach to achieving your goals.
I will explain these two elements of SMARTER Goals in next week’s blog post.
©2005, 2008 Curtis G. Schmitt
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