The path to self motivation isn’t easy. Last week we talked about setting a daily routine to help keep on track everyday, but having a routine can’t be the only element to productivity. You need a goal! Without a goal, it’s easy to get lost in a forest of due dates and large projects. But especially coming off of New Years when we set resolutions we rarely keep, we all know the struggle of setting a goals that don’t get accomplished. So what’s the difference between a resolution and goal that will keep you on task? The secret is surprisingly simple: Set goals that are POSSIBLE to achieve!
So what is a goal? A goal is an objective; something to strive towards. A goal is the end result of hard work. It sounds simple, but a lot of people struggle with sticking to their goals, or even setting them in the first place. Have you ever frozen up when a teacher, interviewer, or advisor has asked you what your 5 year goal is? I know I have. I’m certain that the reason is because "What is your goal" is just too big of a question to answer, and that’s the biggest mistake anyone makes when setting any goal: they set themselves up for failure goals that are too vague, too large, too complicated, or simply have no due date for accountability.
The idea for this blog comes from the well documented SMART goals criteria. This popular set of criteria has been around at least since the early 80’s, but I first learned about SMART goals at Starbucks during career advancement meetings. It’s endured because it makes a lot of sense! When thinking about goals, the SMART criteria asks “is this goal: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound?” Having a set qualifiers to judge if a goal is worthwhile is much better than picking something nebulous and scratching your head wondering why you failed.
The smart criteria are fairly self explanatory, but I’ll break them down here. Before picking a goal, ask if it is:
Specific refers to a goal that is very well defined. Nebulous goals like “I want to grow as a person” won’t cut it.
Measurable refers to a goal where progress can be measured in concrete terms. A goal like “I want to be fluent in French” isn’t measurable, but “I want to be comfortable enough with French to understand a children’s story book” is.
This is the harshest criteria to face. Achievable refers to a goal that it's reasonable to assume can be completed. Be honest with yourself; yes, we should always be pushing ourselves, but if we can’t realistically expect to achieve the goal, it’s not worth putting ourselves through the stress of trying and failing.
Again, this one is a bit harsh, but important to ask. Does it matter? Hopefully, if you’ve gotten this far with measuring up your goal, you should be able to easily answer “yes,” but if you find yourself doubting, maybe it’s time to rethink what you’re spending your time on.
Time-bound refers to a goal that can be achieved in a specific time period. This forces you to set a timer on your goal. Borrowing the French example from above, we can say “I want to be comfortable enough with french to understand a children’s story book … In 3 months.” This will set a check in point somewhere in the near future, as well as putting some time pressure on you to complete it. There’s nothing worse than saying that you’ll do something “eventually.”
Sub-goals can help guide the way to a bigger goal, too. Big goals can be unwieldy, and in fact, probably wouldn’t pass the “Specific” criteria during analysis. Even a proven director would admit that “writing and directing my new buddy cop movie within the year” lacks specificity. Breaking big goals down into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound chunks will act as rungs in the ladder bringing you closer to your big goal. “Hire the leading man for my buddy cop movie this week” is a much SMARTer goal, and will get our proven director closer to having the next blockbuster in theaters by the time pool season rolls around.
It’s also important to think about what will happen if you cannot achieve your goal, because goals are challenging and failure is a part of life. Using the SMART criteria to plan is a good roadmap for succeeding, but it's sometimes hard to tell if your initial assessments were correct. Maybe you needed more time, or maybe the goal wasn’t achievable in the first place. Whatever the reason was, don’t stress out about it. These things happen. Try to do a post analysis of the goal to see what you can change, and either re-adjust given what you’ve already learned, or move on to a new goal. Either way, you’ve learned something and that will inform the way you go forward.
Goal setting is hard, but don’t let that stop you from starting! Don’t stress out, and let the SMART criteria help you plan your work in specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound chunks. Now that we’re almost to the end of January, how is your resolution going? Are you still at it? If not, take a look at your goal for 2018 and analyze it; try to make it SMARTer, and it may be easier to get to French fluency and a better you!
What was your New Years Resolution? What strategies do you employ when setting your goals for an upcoming project or for the year? Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook, and don't forget to subscribe to Professional Geek to never miss the latest interview!