Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is a useful tool for staying focused on tasks that you want to accomplish (and a “but” offering a qualification follows soon!). The more commonly accepted meaning of the acronyms for S.M.A.R.T. are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The beauty of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is in becoming unmistakably clear about your endpoint and laying the steps to make sure you arrive there. It’s hard to duck your accountability for not achieving a S.M.A.R.T goal, but easy to feel proud when you do.
Here is a personal illustration of the difference between a fuzzy and a S.M.A.R.T. goal:
· Fuzzy goal: “I want to blog more.”
· S.M.A.R.T. goal: “I will publish two blog posts each month, beginning 30 days from now.” This is a S.M.A.R.T. goal because it is:
Specific: my focus is on blogging, not other genres of writing.
Measurable: I can measure my effort: two blog posts each month.
Achievable: By planning in advance, I can reach my goal.
Relevant: Blogging more frequently increases my audience.
Time-bound: I must achieve my goal every 30 days.
With a little forethought, I’ve transformed my vague goal into a S.M.A.R.T. goal. I could misunderstand “blogging more,” but my S.M.A.R.T. goal is unequivocally clear. I know what I need to accomplish, when I need to achieve it, and I can allocate time each week to keep me on task.
Take a moment to think about a goal that’s nagging at you because you haven’t yet achieved it. Now, take a few minutes and turn it into a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals takes more time upfront, but returns much more energy. You’ll longer fret about procrastinating because you’ve created a realistic action plan to achieve your goal.
But… there’s a downside to setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you set S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’ll achieve much more than you otherwise could. But what happens if you achieve many S.M.A.R.T. goals and realize only later in life that they’re as significant as you had expected? The answer: change a word and change your life. Instead of the letter “S” in S.M.A.R.T. standing for “specific,” change the word to “significant.”
Let’s return to my example. Without getting too philosophical, I generally try to spend time on significant efforts. My books or blogs haven’t changed the world. But when people who have read my blogs tell me that a particular post influenced the way they think or behave, my writing is more personally significant. Will that individual move from an initial to a sustained change in action? Who knows?! But my significantly achievable goal in writing a blog post is to help someone see an issue from another vantage point.
By substituting the word “specific” for “significant” when writing a S.M.A.R.T. goal, I think about intention and purpose. What is my intention in having this goal, and will its significance potentially outlast the goal once I’ve achieved it? There are many external efforts designed to hijack our attention and achieve someone else’s purpose (for example, increasing a company’s bottom line or voting for a political candidate). Let’s face it, the Internet is a world wide web of distractions. By swapping out “specific” for “significant,” we untangle ourselves from these stealthy distractions and assert our ability to define and pursue efforts that are significant for ourselves.