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How do you set achievable goals?

September 19, 2021
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How do you set achievable goals

We all want to succeed, and we have been told so often that to win you need to set goals for yourself and your team.  But many people fail to stay focused, or do not properly define what they are trying to achieve.  Whether it is a New Year’s resolution, or a wish list from a team planning day, how many fail to bare fruit?   How do you set achievable goals that help you stay focused?  How can you set a level of urgency on a goal, so you actually succeed?  There is an art to this, but it is not complicated.


The SMART Goal method

We believe artfully crafted goals should be SMART.  That is, contain attributes that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  This is a well practiced method that really does work.   Like most things, how you start out is just as important as the journey itself.  You do not build a house without a plan, and the same is true for goals. So how do you put the art into your SMART goals?


Working SMARTer

First, to make a goal specific it needs to clearly explain what you are trying to achieve. Vague goals go nowhere, so give precise details.   Also make them measurable so you can monitor progress.   If there are no clear numerical ways to measure success think imaginatively how you might monitor outcomes.  Of course, goals will fail if they are not actually achievable.  That is, do not set yourself up to fail, but also do not be afraid to aim for aspirational results, just keep it realistic.

Now a goal also needs to be relevant to you, or your teams’ mission, or it just diverts time and attention away from what is actually important.  Always ask yourself how achieving a goal would contribute to either your own life (for personal goals), or teams success (for work goals).  And finally, make them time-bound by including realistic end date.   Not setting this invites procrastination and a lack of urgency, meaning “someday” will become never.


How do you set achievable goals?

Let us explore an example of a poorly defined goal, and how you could reframe them to make them SMART.  Say your goal was “To write a novel.”  That is pretty vague and lacks any kind of specifics.  You might think it is measurable because writing a novel means you have achieved it, but how do you measure progress?  What sort of novel?  How is it relevant to you?  Is it a subject you know much about, or do you first need to learn or study something? When do you want to actually achieve your goal?  There are no timeframes, which means goals like this often languish and are rarely achieved.

So, let's say you wrote your goal down as, “I am going to write my 45,000-word autobiography in the next 12-months.”  Now that is a SMART goal that you can focus on and break down into an actionable, achievable plan.  “I am going to write my 45,000-word autobiography”, is specific.  It precisely explains the goals details.  It is measurable, 45,000 words divided up into 12 months = 3750 words a month (minimum).  And it is achievable, 3750 words a month does not sound unreasonable.  You clearly know the subject material, so it is relevant, being an autobiography.   And finally, it is time-bound with a 12-month deadline.


Putting goals into action

As shown in the above example, writing down goals using the SMART technique allows you to break these down into an actual plan to succeed.  Knowing what it is you want to achieve provides the scope, how and who you will need identifies the effort or resources required.  What to measure enables you to check progress.  The time you set on your goal enables you to work backwards and define the schedule.  SMART goals help you think about the steps, priorities, skills and resources, dependencies, and risks.  That sounds like good project management!

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