Goals setting: make your SMART smart!

SMART is one of the simplest, most popular and most known tools helping people to set objectives. Still it happens that managers with years of business experience have problems recalling what SMART really stands for. So to be brief: SMART is an acronym that summarises qualities of a well-established objective. The names of the features may vary, but the most common are: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound. There are many extended and upgraded versions of this tool and it is a good idea to explore them. Evaluated is the one definitely worth considering.

Once you are familiar with a concept, it is a good idea to look closer at its applications. One of the problems with this technique is that they are usually taught with cliché examples. They are repeated so many times that they stop having a stimulating effect that every management tool should have. So let’s revisit the idea:

Specific is self-explanatory in theory. You say you want to eat healthy and it is not specific. You should transform it into a list of meals filled with good ingredients and a plan for every day. When you learn this technique it is a good idea to think of your own objectives and go way beyond cliché examples. For example, if your goal is to find an investor, you may come up with a list of names of people you are going to meet to make it happen. This is specific. But not every goal can be translated into SMART and it is good to see the limitations. There is an area of exceptions here and it is feelings. When you want to rest and you go on holidays, it is not a good idea to set a specific objective because you don’t know what you will feel like doing and how you will feel about specific experiences. For instance, when people who work too much go on holidays, they treat sight-seeing as a task to complete. Such behaviour means that their brains are not able to let go and set to a rest mode. Love, happiness, rest, joy – these are states you want to be in, but you cannot translate them into specific objectives.

Measurable is an extension of specific, just taking it further. Wanting to be fit is not SMART. Going to the gym three times a week is. Again it is a good idea to think about how (and if!) you measure your objectives. In business measuring is a must, although many times there is a problem with use of what was measured. In other areas of life measuring is often abandoned. Take this as an example: you take part in an election. How often do you check, if what is promised by a politician you support is SMART?

Attainable is the most problematic. Everything is unattainable until it is done. It has been believed for years that it is impossible to run a mile in less than 4 minutes until somebody has run it. Now there are over 1000 people who have repeated this result. What is really meant by attainable is that it may be achieved in steps you can imagine. This is why we may discuss a difference between SMART goals and SMART objectives. You may achieve goals that seem impossible in the beginning, as long as you are able to set smaller objectives to attain them.

Relevant is crucial but overlooked. Relevant means that what you do must serve your bigger purpose. Some people believe that setting goals in a SMART way is in an opposition to being visionary, but it is a misunderstanding. You need to have a vision to make your objectives relevant. Otherwise what you do is drifting without a compass. For example, it is always a good idea to learn a foreign language, but knowing why you do it will affect your progress greatly. If you learn a language, because you want to expand your abilities and you want to preserve agility of your brain while ageing, you may learn Latin or Esperanto, and it will be a success. If you want to learn a language to communicate with people (as most of us do), but you don’t know people who actually speak this language, it is likely you will fail. Thus relevant objectives go with a vision not aside or against it!

Time bound means that you need to have an idea when you are going to complete a task. Most of the time it will take longer than you presume, but if you don’t have a time schedule, you may never even start. So we need deadlines, because, however stressful, they are also motivating. The common trap is setting deadlines that are not treated like real deadlines. People are often surprised when asked how they use their watches. The truth is the way you use your watch or your calendar tells a lot about you!

Summarising, SMART is a really useful tool to set objectives. We forget about it too often. Still there are areas where application of SMART doesn’t seem like the best idea. SMART goals setting is related to the bigger picture contrary to what some may think. Finally, it is good to supplement SMART with extra features, especially with the factor of evaluation. (Revisit goals to see what you have accomplished.) It means that we benefit from looking back and checking, if the plan brought the expected fruit. It may teach us a lesson on how to use SMART in the future. So our SMART is really smart. Let me know if you need help with SMART goals setting!

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