Perhaps you’ve been working extra hard towards a goal. You think you have the perfect plan, but you just don’t seem to be making progress. You don’t understand. Now you’re feeling a little tired, and you want to give up. Tomorrow won’t be any better, anyway.
Perhaps it’s true: you won’t succeed—just yet.
But the reason you get stuck isn’t that you don’t have the abilities to do it, or that you’re not putting in enough effort. Rather, you’re missing the point of goal-setting—you’ve made yourself the wrong goal in the first place.
To achieve what you want most, what you need is a SMART goal instead.
S-M-A-R-T is a set of 5 criteria to help you judge whether a goal is good or not. It helps you make better use of your time and energy, and achieve your goals effectively. Setting a SMART goal is the first step to success.
When setting a new goal, or making changes to a current goal, you should ask yourself whether your goal fulfils these 5 criteria:
S for Specific
It is important to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve. That way you can focus your time and energy on achieving your goal. Also, having a specific goal helps you stay away from distractions.
A simple trick to set a specific goal is to start with a verb. This helps you remember exactly what you’re going to do.
M for Measurable
You want to know it when you’ve achieved your goal. You should also be able to tell how far you’ve come during the process, and how much further to go. Be specific with how much or how many about your goal.
A for Achievable
Your goal should be possible within your abilities. Look at what skills you already have, and compare them to the skills needed to achieve your goal. If there’s a skill you don’t have yet, find out whether you’ll be able to learn it.
Make a plan of the exact things you’ll have to do for your goal, and make adjustments where you have to.
R for Realistic
Research into the facts and figures relevant to your goal. Then think about the resources available to you, such as your budget, time frame, the help you can get, etc. Ask yourself if your goal makes sense in your situation.
Also, be realistic about the effort you’re willing to put in. You may want to see if it’s a worthwhile goal to pursue in itself, or how it will fit in with your other goals.
T for Time-bound
Think about when you want to achieve your goal. Setting a time limit adds to your motivation. Also, work out a timeline to keep track of your progress.
Keep in mind the total time you have while deciding the daily or weekly target. It will be a constant reminder to keep you going when you’re tempted to slack off.
Adapting SMART goal is a bit tricky, try to start by learning from different examples.
Here’re some examples of how you can can use the SMART formula to set goals and make them achievable.
Goal Example 1: I want to be more productive at work.
My problem: By the end of my work day, I always have lots of pending works still and have to work over time a lot. I figured that I spent too much time on the first few tasks, leaving no more time for the rest of the works.
- Specific: Finishing all the tasks planned for the day requires tasks prioritization as well as effort and time estimation. Prioritization, and time and effort estimation for tasks are my weaknesses. In 30 days, I will prioritize tasks efficiently and accurately estimate each task’s time and effort and do as planned.
- Measurable: By the 30th day, I should be able to have my task list well-prioritized, with the time correctly estimated for at least 90% of the tasks. And I will be able to follow the estimated time and complete all the planned tasks on the list.
- Achievable: I will set aside 10 minutes every day to organize and prioritize the tasks I should do the next day. I will also set aside another 5 to 10 minutes to review whether my estimation of time and effort is correct, and whether I can follow my plan in completing tasks.
- Realistic: Setting aside around 20 minutes in total each day to plan for the 7 to 8 hours of tasks is realistic and beneficial to my work efficiency.
- Time-Bound: In 30 days, I should be good at prioritizing and completing tasks according to my plan, ensuring my tasks will be done on time without extra working time.
Goal Example 2: I want to start to read more books.
My problem: I often struggle to find the right words to express my ideas in my assignments. I also have trouble with my grammar, and make lots of mistakes when I write.
- Specific: I want to read more books so I can learn more vocabulary and sentence structures to use in my writing. In this semester, I will read books, take notes of new vocabulary and sentence structures, and revise them.
- Measurable: By the end of this semester, I should be able to score at least 8 out of 10 in the ‘grammar and style’ component of my essays.
- Achievable: I will finish reading 2 books of at least 300 pages each. I will read 15 pages each day, 5 days a week; and revise my reading notes for 45 minutes on each of the remaining 2 days of the week.
- Realistic: Reading 15 pages each day is manageable. Also, reading consistently is an effective way for me to learn writing skills.
- Time-Bound: I want to see improvement in grades from 6 to 8 (out of 10) by the end of this semester, which is 92 days in total.
Goal Example 3: I want to wake up earlier.
My problem: I am always 5 minutes late to work because I snooze my alarm too many times in the morning and don’t have enough time to get ready.
- Specific: I currently set my alarm at 7am, but I wake up at 7:30am. I have to leave for work at 7:45am the latest, and I need 45 minutes to get ready. So my goal is to wake up at 7am.
- Measurable: In 1 month, I should be able to get out of bed without pressing snooze. My first target is to press snooze only once within the first week.
- Achievable: I can train myself to wake up earlier by putting my alarm further away from my bed, so I’m forced to get up. Also, I can set my favorite song as my alarm ringtone so I don’t feel annoyed by the default sound early in the morning.
- Realistic: I usually go to bed by midnight. Waking up at 7am means I can get 7 hours’ sleep, which is enough for me. So waking up at 7am is a realistic goal.
- Time-Bound: I will get up at 7am sharp and stop pressing snooze in 1 month.
Goal Example 4: I want to eat healthier.
My problem: I am overweight. I know what I should and shouldn’t eat, but I lack the motivation to make the right choices.
- Specific: In order to practice making healthy decisions, in the next 3 months, I will make plans before meal times come around.
- Measurable: I want to lose 5 kg in order to get back into the healthy weight range within 3 months. I will eat healthy meals for 6 days a week, an indulge in a nice dinner on Sunday.
- Achievable: I can spend an hour on Sundays to plan my meals for the week. I can look online to see what restaurants near my office serve healthy options. I can also cook my own meals at weekends.
- Realistic: I have the knowledge to make healthy choices, and the ability to cook myself healthy meals. Also, allowing myself 1 ‘cheat meal’ per week makes my goal manageable.
- Time-Bound: I will make healthy food choices over the next 3 months, and build momentum for the future.
Goal Example 5: I want to spend more time with my family.
My problem: I don’t see my wife and son enough since I always let work take up my leisure time even when I’m at home.
- Specific: I will spend more time to chat with my family every day and do fun activities with them at weekends.
- Measurable: In the coming month, I will spend time with my family without thinking about work when I get home. I will spend an hour after dinner to chat with my wife and son every day, and go out with them on either Saturday or Sunday.
- Achievable: I can switch off the email notifications on my phone when I’m with my family. I can also take some time to discuss with my family what activities to do at weekends when we have dinner.
- Realistic: My job doesn’t require me to stand by outside of office hours. So having work-free time with my family shouldn’t be a problem.
- Time-Bound: I will spend weekends with my family and pay my full attention on them when we’re together for the upcoming month, and make it a habit.
Break down big goals and take small steps, and you’ll achieve them eventually.
If you’re looking for some motivation on achieving big goals, watch this cool doodle video about breaking big goals down and taking small steps to reach the goals: