I’ve written a lot about SMART goals and I thought I would use this post to explain what I mean by that, for those of you who might not be familiar with the acronym. I first learned of SMART goals in a PE class I had to take while pursing my recent degree. At the time, I didn’t pay as close attention as I should have. I’ve always been a goal setter. I routinely set 1, 5 10 and 25 year goals and review them every year right after New Years. I know this is a somewhat cheesy time, with all the New Years resolutions being made and soon dropped, but I don’t have an active lifestyle in January and so it’s a good time for me to review how things are going.
I was taught to make goals by a high school teacher. He said it was good to have a roadmap of where you wanted to go, so you could use it to help make difficult life decisions. That sounded good to me. I knew at the time where I wanted to end up… Academy Award winning actress with a long list of movie credits to my name. If you’ve been reading the rest of my blog, you’ll know right away that somewhere along the line I detoured far away from that path. It was on my goals list, but I never even came close to achieving it and there’s a good reason why.
In the past, I made goals much the same way most people do. I thought about where I wanted to be in 1-25 years and wrote it all down as “goals”. Maybe I wanted to be a millionaire in 10 years? I would simple write down, “have a net worth of $1,000,000” on the 10-year page and move on. The goals were general, had no supporting interim achievements, and the time limits were rather fuzzy. That “have a net worth of $1,000,000” goal has been on my 10-year page since high school. Since I wasn’t near achieving it, I never moved it to the 5-year or 1-year page. It was more like a wish than a goal, and that was the problem with the vast majority of my goals. Sure, I achieved a few of my goals here and there… most often the shorter term goals that I was already working on and had a plan to finish.
When I completed the PE class, I quickly forgot about SMART goals. After all, they were only for fitness and who had time for any of that in architecture school! I was busy, busy, busy and my singular goal was to graduate, first with my bachelors and then with my masters degree. I knew exactly what I needed to do to achieve my goal. I showed up for the classes I was signed up for, I did the work to the best of my ability, I increased my abilities, and then I was permitted to take the next semester of classes and repeat the process until I finished. School is an easy goal. Sure the work is hard and the hours can be brutal, but most schools have the path laid out for you… all you have to do is walk along the path until you reach the finish line. Many others have walked the same path and achieved the same result. When you are setting your own goals, the path isn’t always so clear.
In my 5th year professional practice class, our professor asked us to write goals and whipped out that long forgotten SMART acronym. This time, I paid closer attention. Turns out, it wasn’t just for fitness, but for all goal setting exercises. The key to a SMART goal is that it is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely…. SMART! This is what my goal setting needed all along and is why getting through college is such a good example of how to set a goal. Lets break this down.
- Graduating college is specific. It requires you complete a set number of credit hours in specific subjects, maintain a specific grade point average while doing this, and show up to class a minimum number of days. It is incredibly straightforward in its specificity.
- It is measurable. At any point along the way, you can measure your progress, You can determine how many credit hours you’ve completed and what your GPA is. You also know exactly how many credit hours you have yet to achieve.
- It is attainable. As I said before, many people before you have made it through the process and many will make it through after you as well.
- Is it relevant? Not every career requires a college degree, but for me, architecture does. If I want to be an architect, I have to have that degree to even begin the testing. Therefore, in my case, it’s relevant. It’s aligned with my other goals and essential to their achievement.
- It is timely. There is a time limit. A bachelors degree is supposed to take 4 years, and in my case, the master of architecture degree was scheduled to take another one year. You could argue that some people take breaks, or do fewer classes at a time and stretch out their degree, but an architecture degree doesn’t make that option very practical. In architecture school, you take a studio class each semester. Each studio follows the one before it and is only offered one time a year. This means that you put yourself an entire year behind if you don’t stay on schedule. This timely schedule forced me to hustle down the path instead of talking my time. Regardless, when you take on college, you usually have a target graduation date and a plan to achieve it.
You don’t start college by just opening up the course book and playing a game of eenie-meenie – minie – moe or picking classes on a whim. If you just said, “I want a degree” and started taking whatever classes you wanted to, you might one day take enough of the right classes to earn a degree. However, this is not the best strategy… it’s not SMART.
The same is true for my $1,000,000 goal. If I keep putting it on the 10-year list, I may one day achieve it in spite of myself, but I’m not as likely to. The better option is to look at those who have done it before me and figure out a clearly defined SMART path that I can take to achieve my financial goal. I’m currently still partially in the research phase of this goal, but I’ve also taken positive action in several areas. I’ve set up my accounts to generate long-term passive income, instead of just paying my bills today.
This is the better path to actually creating a set of goals and not just a simple wish list. My next step is to take all of the other items on my lists and transform them into SMART goals. I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion and you will consider transforming some of your own goals into SMART goals. Please tell me about them as you go along.
By the way, I ate the frog again this morning! Day 2 of accomplishing my treadmill and clutter reduction goals… Woot!!! Now THAT is SMART!