Being SMART is not so Hard

Have you ever heard of a S.M.A.R.T goal before?

No, no, not a smart goal, but a S.M.A.R.T. goal (called SMART from now on because I don’t want to type that many periods). It’s a set of criteria for the creation of goals or tasks designed so that you don’t get overwhelmed or you don’t ‘finish’ because the original goal had ambiguities in it. SMART goals are just one way to use the SMART criteria to improve your processes and productivity. You can use the SMART criteria any time an important task needs to be completed. These criteria can apply to something as large and complex as a career path or something small like a chore list. The SMART criteria are as follows:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Assignable
  • Realistic
  • Time Related

The first criteria is Specific. Being specific is important because you need to know exactly what to do in order accomplish your goal. If you are not specific you run the risk of the ambiguity that I spoke of above. Say your goal is to get healthy. Well, that could be anything. You could eat better, go running, pretty much any kind of healthy activity could satisfy that goal. This uncertainty makes it hard to know when you are working on your goal or just doing any random thing. Having a focus is important when you are trying to accomplish something. Even the goal of losing weight is not specific enough. How are you going to go about losing weight? Being specific when you create a goal lets you know exactly what to do to accomplish that goal.

The second criteria is Measurable. Say your goal is to lose weight. If all you ever say or think about your goal is “I want to lose weight” you will never really know when you have accomplished that. Is one pound enough? You lost weight right? I don’t think I would call that goal accomplished but I may have a lot more to lose than others. If you say you want to lose 15 pounds you know exactly when that goal is accomplished. My goal for fitness is to come to the gym for at least an hour, twice a week. This must be accomplished for every week in a two month period. This goal is instantly measurable. Not only do I have to go to the gym twice a week, I have to maintain that rate for the span of 2 months. Making measurable goals allows you to keep track of your progress and know exactly when you have accomplished what you set out to do.

The third criteria is Assignable. This one seems pretty obvious because it really is. If you don’t define who does what in your goal, then nobody is going to know what to do. Most personal goals are only managed by the person who created them so the assignable criteria is a bit redundant. If, however, you and a significant other or a team of coworkers have a shared goal, then you can use this criteria to assign roles to each participant and expectations about those roles. Having goals with assignable parts makes them less confusing and allows for greater accountability for all participants. If you’re the only one in on this goal make sure to use words that specifically reference you in the goal.

The fourth criteria is Realistic. Creating a goal is about accomplishing a specific task or cultivating a skill (or any number of other things). The point of creating goals is to finish them. Lets say your goal is about learning to build furniture. If you expect to be carving Victorian era masterpieces by the end of your goal you have just set yourself up for failure. Unless of course, you are a master craftsman. If you create a goal that you cannot accomplish there is really no point in creating the goal in the first place. By creating a goal that you know you are able to complete it becomes easier to complete that goal. Keep in mind though, that goals are about progress. You want to strike a balance between realistic and challenging.

The fifth and last criteria is Time Related. Having the first 4 SMART criteria in your goal is all well and good but if you don’t set a date for completion you might as well not get started. Having a finish line is so important that the other 4 criteria (with the possible exception of Specific) pale in comparison. If you set a goal without an end date you don’t have any way of effectively maintaining it. You don’t have a clear way to track your rate of progress. On the other hand, if you set a ridiculously short deadline, you start to run into the Realistic criteria. Setting a time can be as specific as you want but the most important thing to realize is that if there is no specific ending date, you may unconsciously (or consciously) procrastinate. Setting a time for certain goals can be hard to do. You want to leave enough room to accomplish your goal but not so much room that you find yourself saying things like “oh, I can do that tomorrow.”

By following the SMART criteria, you can create goals where the end is visible from the start. You have a clear path and you know where you are going. This is an example of one of my goals:

“By the end of this year, I will go to the gym and workout for at least an hour, twice a week for every week in a two month period. I intend to continue going to the gym twice a week even after this goal is accomplished.”

Try making SMART goals for yourself. Start small so you get comfortable with the criteria. Once you feel ready start with more ambitious goals. Write them down and post them somewhere visible. I have found this a good way to get thing done. From getting into a cleaning routine to learning a new work skill. I am working on some goals for my writing and will share them in a future post. In the meantime, try it out for yourself and experiment.


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