I tend to fly by the seat of my pants a lot as I’m just getting my projects up and running, but I find that the more mapping and planning I do before starting work, the more efficient my work day becomes. I feel that I’m at my best when pushing towards a goal I’ve set ahead of time, and I don’t think that’s uncommon for any of us: we’ve been told to set goals since we were little. Still, I find that most of my larger goals end up unreached in one way or another: New Year’s Resolutions, exercise plans, and writing objectives fall apart after a few days or weeks. I tend to feel a little stupid after I realize I’ve failed yet another New Year’s resolution…but I think the issue isn’t stupidity, it’s just that I wasn’t SMART about my goal.
I’m sorry. I definitely worked way too hard to create a situation where I could use that pun.
Too often we set nebulous goals, endpoints that would be pleasant to reach, but don’t provide us any focus while we work toward them (“Lose weight,” “Be a better husband,” “Read more”). These goals summarize the action we think will improve ourselves, but we never truly know when we’ve achieved the goal or how much progress we’ve made towards it. When we don’t feel like we’re making progress, after the initial jolt of reward from working on self-improvement” subsides, it gets really easy to slide back to old habits and fall off the wagon.
While I was working in healthcare IT, I learned about setting SMART goals: goals meant to keep you focused and oriented as you work towards success. It’s not about setting different kinds of goals, but instead refining the goals you’ve already created. SMART is an acronym that calls out five facets of effective goals:
- Specific. When will you know you’ve actually achieved your goal? Don’t just say “read more,” instead set a number of books you want to read, games you want to play, etc.
- Measurable. A big part of setting SMART goals is the focus on accountability, but you can’t truly be held accountable for what you can’t measure. Set a goal where you can monitor your progress over time and make adjustments if necessary.
- Achievable. You might remember the six goals I set for myself to accomplish daily if you’ve hung around the blog a while; today, I’d call that a Homer Simpson Goal because it wasn’t really achievable. 6 daily tasks, with an overall time commitment of maybe 4 hours a day (if I was fast) wasn’t going to be sustainable, and early failure brought me down quickly. Don’t underestimate yourself, but set a goal you can achieve!
- Results-Oriented. Why are you setting your goal? What results do you want to see? SMART Goals focus on the reasons why you want to achieve a goal, not all the specific steps you’ll take to achieve them.
- Time-based. Want to lose 15 pounds? Great! By when? Setting a time-frame is critical to knowing if your goal is achievable, and it also helps you measure your progress towards success.
Though I’ve little experience in it right now, I can say that one of the hardest parts about running your own business in the early stages is staying motivated when there’s no supervisor to keep you in line, no sales to motivate additional work, and no schedule to tell you when you should be working (or when you should stop working). The freedom to choose your own hours, schedule, and direction is one of the best benefits of working for yourself, but it’s also one of the most daunting: How do you know what tasks to take on first? How long should you work on them? When do you know the work is done?
I like to prioritize based on my Intelligame SMART Goal: In order to create a strong core audience for the site’s expansion, I will get 2,000 views on Intelligame by January 31, 2016. If I’d simply set a goal to “Grow Intelligame,” how would I know which work to focus on? Feasibly I could say that any work I do will “grow” the site, but now I have specific metrics to pay attention to, as well as a drive to put my focus towards. I want the site to reach an audience and change people’s opinions about gaming, not just serve as my echo chamber: right now, page views help me see if people think it’s worthwhile to read the content and be part of the community.
SMART Goals aren’t the key to success when working towards goals, but they’re a great tool in the toolbox of life skills that push us towards the objectives we want to fulfill in life. What are your SMART goals?
Featured image credit to Orange Shoe.