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Published on February 26, 2020

What Are Smart Objectives? (And How to Use Them)

What Are Smart Objectives? (And How to Use Them)

Imagine you’re planning a road trip to a place you’ve never been. Before leaving, you would probably open up Google Maps and plan your route.

The same principle carries over to personal and professional goal-setting. Mapping out your journey with smart objectives is a strategic way you get where you want to go, when you want to get there — and to avoid time-consuming wrong turns along the way.

As the CEO of my own company, my most precious resource is time. I’m tasked with the role of leading my team to our organization’s goals, and I want to make sure we don’t waste time getting off track. Smart objectives help me accomplish that, and they can help you, too.

What are Smart Objectives?

Smart objectives are a framework for accomplishing your goals. SMART is an acronym consisting of five key elements on the road map toward efficiency. If an objective is “smart,” it will be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-oriented

These elements create an action plan for where you want to go and an assessment tool for measuring progress along the way.[1]

George Duran, a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company, developed the framework of SMART goals [2] to help managers lead their organizations toward their goals. However, smart objectives are an effective method for anyone who wants to accomplish something — professional or personal — in the most efficient way.

By clearly defining the steps and resources you need to move toward your accomplishments — and signaling progress as you go — smart objectives keep you motivated and on track, increasing the odds you’ll get where you want to go.

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How does this play out practically? Perhaps you’re tasked with increasing the SEO traffic to your company’s website. As is, this objective is quite vague. How much do you want to increase the traffic? And by when?

Smart goals add specificity to your objectives, making your desired outcome, along with your action steps, as concrete as possible.

How to Use SMART Objectives to Increase Your Efficiency

As with any new routine, implementing smart objectives requires a bit of time and intentionality, but in the end, they should save you some hassle. With the right steps and mindset, you will be able to move closer to your goals without wasting valuable time or energy.

The first step to implementing and applying smart objectives is thinking big. Take some time to zoom out and reflect on the big picture. What’s your overall vision for your project or organization?

Once you establish an idea of where you want all your hard work to lead you five or ten years down the road, you can use smart objectives to brainstorm the most effective steps to get there.

1. Be as Specific as Possible

When you’re venturing out on a road trip, you probably have an idea of where you’re going. If you don’t have a clear picture of where you want to go, you won’t know how to get there. That’s why it’s vital to be as specific as possible about the end result you’re seeking.

Think of this specificity as creating a mission statement for your goal.[3]

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For example, recently, my colleagues and I decided we wanted to streamline our customer service process. Ideally, this would result in happier customers, a respectable goal on its own. But what would this improvement look like, tangibly?

Customer reviews are one way to concretely determine whether our customers are thrilled with our product and service. Therefore, to make the goal more specific, we decided we wanted our five-star ratings to increase.

With a specific improvement in mind, we were able to develop practical action steps to get there. We also gained new motivation to make our customers’ experience great.

To create a specific goal of your own, write out exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, with the most specific wording as possible. Avoid words like “increase” or “improve,” which are vague, and choose a specific action instead.

2. Make Your Goals Measurable

To make your objectives “smart,” you need a way to track your progress and understand when you’ve met expectations.

Using my example, my team and I knew we wanted our positive ratings to improve. But by how much? How would we know when our work was paying off?

We decided increasing our five-star online reviews by 30 percent would be an accurate way of measuring our progress. We had improved our sales by this much before, so applying the same objective to our reviews seemed reasonable.

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When you create your own smart goals, make sure to establish a benchmark. Associating a number, amount, percentage, or frequency with your goal creates a “bullseye” target for you to hit. It’s your quantified picture of success.

3. Be Realistic

It’s important to stretch yourself when you’re chasing a goal. However, since time is of the essence for most of us, it’s crucial to be realistic. Can this goal actually be achieved with your existing time and resources, or does it need to be scaled down and integrated into a larger plan?

When my team and I set out to improve our user ratings, I had to examine the likelihood we could actually accomplish it. If I had doubted our ability to do so, I would have tweaked the objective. For example, I could have stretched the deadline, or decreased the measurement of success.

Looking back at past progress and analytics is one way to double check that your smart objective is realistic. Are you hoping for a spike in traffic to your company’s website? If your past few months have shown an increase of just two or three percent, a goal of 10 percent growth might be a stretch.

Save yourself time and frustration and aim to be as realistic as possible.

4. Opt for Goals That Are Relevant to Your Business

Another common time-waster is: Creating goals that are irrelevant to an individual or organization’s core values or strategy.

For my colleagues and me, happy customers are the primary benchmark for success. We built our product and company to save our customers time and improve their lives, so a goal of improving customer ratings made sense. It fit with the direction we were already going.

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When you’re developing smart objectives of your own, ask yourself whether your goal lines up with your organization’s strategic plans and with industry trends. In other words, make sure your desired objective matters. You want your hard work to pay off.

5. Choose a Specific Time Frame

The final step in creating smart objectives is allotting a specific time frame to your goal. Every objective has mile markers and a destination, so make sure to ask yourself the question “When will this be done?”

Adding the boundaries of a particular time frame will keep you focused and on schedule. In our case, we were aiming for a 30-percent improvement in reviews within three months. This deadline created a sense of pressure that motivated us to work hard, but it also felt realistic.

With the time frame in mind, our objective went from “increase positive reviews” to “grow five-star ratings by 30 percent within three months.”

The Bottom Line

If you’re creating smart objectives of your own, you’re creating a road map to your success. The good news is, taking time to create these goals is a major part of the journey. As the famous author, salesman, and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said,

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

Want to learn more about how to create and implement smart objectives in your personal life? Check out 20 Examples of Personal SMART Goals to Improve Your Life.

Featured photo credit: Tim Graf via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Aytekin Tank

Founder and CEO of JotForm, sharing entrepreneurship and productivity tips at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

Why Working 9 to 5 Is Outdated

Bristol is the most congested city in England. Whenever I have to work at the office, I ride there, like most of us do. Furthermore, I always make sure to go at off hours; otherwise, the roads are jam-packed with cars, buses, bikes, even pedestrians. Why is that? Because everyone is working a traditional 9 to 5 work day.

Where did the “9 to 5” Come From?

It all started back in 1946. The United States government implemented the 40 hour work week for all federal employees, and all companies adopted the practice afterwards. That’s 67 years with the same schedule. Let’s think about all the things that have changed in the 67 years:

  • We went to the moon, and astronauts now live in space on the ISS.

  • Computers used to take up entire rooms and took hours to make a single calculation. Now we have more powerful computers in our purses and back pockets with our smartphones.

  • Lots of employees can now telecommute to the office from hundreds, and even thousands of miles away.

In 1946 a 9-5 job made sense because we had time after 5pm for a social life, a family life. Now we’re constantly connected to other people and the office, with the Internet, email on our smartphones, and hashtags in our movies and television shows. There is no downtime anymore.

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Different Folks, Different Strokes

Enjoying your downtime is an important part of life. It recharges your batteries and lets you be more productive. Allowing people to balance life and work can provide them with much needed perspective and motivation to see the bigger picture of what they are trying to achieve.

Some people are just more productive when they’re working at their optimal time of day, after feeling well rested and personally fulfilled.  For some that can be  from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m; for others, it could be  2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

People have their own rhythms and routines. It would be great if we could sync our work schedule to match. Simply put, the imposed 8-hour work day can be a creativity and morale killer for the average person in today’s world.

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Productivity and Trust Killer

Fostering creativity among employees is not always an easy endeavor, but perhaps a good place to start is by simply not tying their tasks and goals to a fixed time period. Let them work on their to-do list at their own pace, and chances are, you’ll get the best out of your employee who feels empowered instead of babysat.

That’s not to say that you should  allow your team to run wild and do whatever they want, but restricting them to a 9 to 5 time frame can quickly demoralize people. Set parameters and deadlines, and let them work at their own creative best with the understanding that their work is crucial to the functioning of the entire team.

Margaret Heffernan, an entrepreneur who previously worked in broadcasting, noted to Inc that from her experience, “treating employees like grown-ups made it more likely that they would behave the same way.” The principle here is to have your employees work to get things done, not to just follow the hands on the clock.

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A Flexible Remote Working Policy

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer famously recalled all her remote workers, saying she wanted to improve innovation and collaboration, but was that the right decision? We’ve all said that we’re often more productive in a half day working from home than a full day working in the office, right? So why not let your employees work remotely from home?

There are definitely varying schools of thought on remote working. Some believe that innovation and collaboration can only happen in a boardroom with markers, whiteboards and post-it notes and of course, this can be true for some. But do a few great brainstorms trump a team that feels a little less stressed and a little more free?

Those who champion remote working often note that these employees are not counting the clock, worried about getting home, cooking dinner or rushing through errands post-work. No one works their 9-5 straight without breaks here and there.  Allowing some time for remote working means employees can handle some non-work related tasks and feel more accomplished throughout the day. Also, sometimes we all need to have a taste of working in our pajamas, right?

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It’ll be interesting to see how many traditional companies and industries start giving their employees more freedom with their work schedule. And how many end up rescinding their policies like Yahoo did.

What are your thoughts of the traditional 9-5 schedule and what are you doing to help foster your team’s productivity and creativity? Hit the comments and let us know.

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