Goal Setting Strategy: How SMART are your goals?

How often do you achieve the goals you set out to do at the start of each year? You probably achieved some of them, and the others – perhaps you ran out of motivation, the goal was too big or overwhelming or perhaps deep down, you just didn’t want to do it. By developing your own goal setting strategy we can use it in conjunction with SMART to ensure we set clear, attainable goals year on year.

Most people have heard of SMART goal setting but we don’t all use it to full effect to help us achieve our goals, both in and out of work. Just think of the last time you set out to achieve a goal and didn’t – which aspect of SMART did you miss? Maybe it wasn’t specific enough, or maybe you just didn’t want to do it – it wasn’t Realistic. Having a tangible goal setting strategy and using the SMART framework as a checklist is a great way to create well-formed goals.

Develop a Goal Setting Strategy

If you don’t have a specific goal setting strategy here is one that’s easy to use – typically this can be done once or twice a year. January is good time to do it as it gets us focussed on the year ahead and gives us something fun to do in what sometimes feels like the longest, coldest month of the year.

To start: draw out two columns. In the left-hand column make a list of all the goals you set AND achieved last year. Then in the right-hand column list those goals you set out to achieve but didn’t. Now compare the two lists to see what you can learn about your natural goal setting strategy.

If you look at the items that you did achieve you can pretty much guarantee they were SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Timed).

You knew Specifically what you wanted. You had a way of Measuring it, and knowing when it was completed. It was Achievable, as you could physically/mentally do it. It was Realistic – you actually wanted to do it, and you probably set some dates for when you’d achieve it – making it Timed.

Comparably, if you look at the list of the goals you didn’t achieve they would have had at least one or more aspect of SMART missing.

Sense check for success

Using the SMART framework is one of the best ways to ensure our goals happen – we can use it as a sense check for success

But before we get into the detail of setting your SMART goals, let’s have a bit of fun planning what you’d like to achieve for the forthcoming year. A great way to do this is to start with the Wheel of Life – a popular tool from the field of life coaching. It focuses on the 8 main areas of our lives, which are listed below:

  1. Health and Fitness
  2. Money and Wealth
  3. Personal Development (Spirituality/Learning)
  4. Fun, Recreation (and Possessions)
  5. Relationships (Romantic)
  6. Business and Career
  7. Friends
  8. Family

And if you feel there are other aspects of your life that aren’t listed here, just put them into one of those main areas, we can then follow a three-step approach to set our goals for the year.

3 Steps to Success

Step one Where am I now?

For each of the 8 areas of your life give yourself a score on a scale of 0-10 of where you feel you are currently. This isn’t where you would like to be, this is a true representation of how fulfilled each of the areas is for you at the moment. For example, if you start with Health and Fitness, you might score that as a 7 for where you are now.

Do the scores for the other 7 areas of your life – it may look something like a broken wheel – with uneven spokes. When our wheel of life is out of kilter – our journey through life can be a little bumpy. Ideally we want a fully inflated tyre and even spokes. Now that doesn’t mean to say you have to give an equal amount of attention to each area – it’s just making sure they are fulfilled enough for you.

Step two Where do I want to be?

Next we need to re-score where you’d like to be over a specific period, for example, 6 months or a year. Make sure these scores are realistic. Don’t just simply put them all as 10. If we start with Health and Fitness again – you might want to keep it the same as it is now and simply maintain over the next year or maybe increase it to say an 8 over the next year. Repeat for the other 7 areas.

Step three How am I going to get there?

Now that you know where you are now and where you want to be for each of the 8 areas of the wheel of life we can brainstorm how we are going to achieve that and start setting some goals. This is where we can have a bit of fun and link as many of the areas of life together as we can. For example, if you wanted to increase your Health and Fitness score, but you also wanted to have some Fun and maybe spend time with Friends you might come up with a fun, fitness activity that you could do with your friends once a week.

Personally, I like to do this on a large sheet of A3 paper with a pack of sharpies, and some Post-it notes. You can write each of your headlines of the things you’d like to achieve on a Post-it note (holiday to Europe, run 5k, get promotion) , and then over the year as you achieve them, you can take the Post-it note off your poster & feel that sense of accomplishment in having achieved your goals.

Once you’ve generated lots of potential goals for each area we can work them up into tangible SMART goals with an action plan to make sure they actual come to fruition. You can use the SMART checklist below to help.

SMART Checklist

Specific: be specific in outlining what you want to achieve – enough specificity so that you know what actions you need to take to achieve it but not so overly detailed that you never even get started.

Measurable: make sure you outline how you will be able to tell the difference between now and when you’re setting your goal for – particularly if it’s around something less tangible like levels of confidence – how would you know you’d achieved that? What would you be able to do differently that you can’t do now.

Achievable: means in terms of can you physically and mentally do it? If the answer is yes but it’s just too overwhelming then try breaking in down into smaller component parts – stepping stones of what you can do by when.

Realistic: this is often a big sticking point for people as it’s all about motivation and drive to actually want to do it. So often we set a goal that we could easily achieve but we just don’t want to – so make sure it’s really realistic and identify what might stand in your way and how you could overcome those potential pitfalls.

Timed – always make sure your goal has a specific date/month/year – not just a period of time such as two months. Two months will always be two months away and we lose track of the time and other priorities tend to take over.

By using the SMART framework we can craft far more achievable goals – and remember simply writing them down isn’t enough we also need an action plan – with dates and the specific actions we need to take to make our goals a reality. Happy goal setting.