Goals (II): Formulating precise and actionable goals: How to be SMART about it

image of a ruler as a metaphor for smart goal setting

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

It’s very hard to achieve something which is about as graspable as two jellyfish in an oil wrestling match (where the hell did that metaphor come from?). Worse yet, a goal which doesn’t tell you when you have gotten there. You can endlessly chase your tail running after something without ever accomplishing it if you haven’t defined what “it” is.

A good tool to turn more nebular ambitions into something precise and doable is the SMART formula. It is used in project management and other places where you need to set achievable objectives. The formula enables you to take a very vague goal and break it down to specific, actionable items, which you actually stand a fighting chance of achieving.

The acronym SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Let me give you an example of something I have set for myself this year.

My goal for 2014: One blog post per week

That’s right, from now on you will find one of these babies on here (at least) every Monday. Now I could have gone with “write more blog posts”, then sat my ass down the couch, stuck my hand down my pants, and kept watching Friends reruns in Turkish. Because this goal wasn’t going to get me anywhere.

Instead I went with this: “I will post one high-quality blog post of about 1000 words every Monday morning”. Now, is that a SMART goal or what?

  • One post per week is specific
  • Number of posts and their length can be measured
  • I have written blog posts of this length before and am therefore confident I can do it again
  • A regular posting schedule is definitely relevant to my goal of taking my blogging habits to the next level
  • Publishing is scheduled to the first day of every week

Good, now that I have my goal, the next question is: How do I make sure I move towards its attainment? Goal setting is just one part of the equation and will not automatically lead you to the end result. You need to create a plan to get there. Specifically you need to plan the new behavior – in detail – which will move you towards your goal. The next post will talk about exactly that. Sign up to the newsletter (upper right, thanks!) to be the first to know when it comes online.

What is one of your goals? Is it precise enough? Use the SMART formula to break it down and post what you came up with (in one sentence) in the comments.

Image: antoine/flickr

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