Taking action by creating SMART goals
From a plan to taking action
Did you create a super simple career plan for 2019? If so, you know what general direction you’re heading in. Most likely, there’s more than one thing that you’ll need to do in order to arrive at your destination. You may have a long or short to-do list but either way it’s important to know how to set a goal. One of the most effective ways of doing that is by making sure that it’s a SMART goal!
This post outlines what a SMART goal is and gives an example, along with tips for success so that you can set your own goals and take action.
What is a “SMART” goal?
A SMART goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. (There are different versions of what the letters stand for but they all mean essentially the same thing.)
Let’s say your goal is to write more. You want to publish an article, write a blog, or even a work of fiction – it doesn’t matter – the point is, this year you’re determined to make it happen and you want to set a goal that will motivate you and increase your chances of success.
If your goal is too vague – for example, I want to do more writing – then how will you know whether or not you've achieved it? How do you define "more writing"? Is it hours spent writing every day or every week? Is it word count? Is it the number of blog posts you produce or articles you write? Does that goal include taking notes, making revisions, etc.?
It’s all about the detail.
A much better goal would be: I want to write 500 words every Thursday, Friday and Saturday so that I can make revisions on Sunday and publish a blog post every fortnight.
You need some way of measuring your progress so that you know whether or not you’re achieving your goal. Silvia (2007), author of How to Write a Lot, suggests keeping a record of your progress in a simple spreadsheet but you could as easily use an app on your mobile phone.
Measuring or monitoring your progress means that you know at all times how you’re doing and whether or not something needs to change. It’s alright to tweak your goal if needs be but you can’t do that if you don’t know how well you’re doing.
There’s also nothing more satisfying than seeing the numbers grow!
It’s easy to overestimate how much we can do at any given time, especially with writing. What’s the point in setting a goal of writing 1,500 words per day if that’s practically impossible?
Set an achievable goal so that you make progress, stay motivated and can build on your success.
How difficult is your goal? You want it to be challenging but not so challenging that it’s practically impossible. Let’s take our example of writing 500 words every day except Sunday: can you do it? How do you know?
The key to success here is having a baseline to work from (David, Clutterbuck, & Megginson, 2016). If you’ve written regularly in the past, you probably have a fair idea of how much you can realistically write in any given day. However, if you’re only starting out or it’s been a while, you might want to start small and adjust your goal once you know how much you can do.
What are the timescales involved? Setting a deadline can be helpful in terms of giving you something to work towards, staying motivated and making your goal a priority.
Our example is categorised as an ongoing goal but you could as easily have a goal that has a deadline (e.g., a writing assignment with a due date in one month’s time). Make note of the word count and adjust your goal accordingly.
Consider what makes sense in the context of your other commitments. For example, setting a goal that will require you to work over the holidays doesn’t make sense. Better to set a deadline that is appropriate and doable.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
Hold yourself accountable. This is one of the reasons why working with a coach can be so helpful: someone who you can check in with and knows about your goal and what you want to achieve.
How will you reward yourself when you have achieved your goal? Don’t neglect this aspect of goal setting. We can rush from one task to another without ever stopping to reflect on our achievements. How will you recognise your achievements?
Make it easy to succeed and create a habit that supports your goal. For example, with writing – decide when you are going to do it and stick to that schedule. Have everything ready to go and minimise distractions (yes, that means putting your mobile phone in another room!)
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Set yourself a SMART goal and reach out if you need help!
David, S., Clutterbuck, D., & Megginson, D. (Eds). (2016). Beyond goals: Effective strategies for coaching and mentoring. Farnham, England: Gower Publishing.
Silvia, P. J. (2007). How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.