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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 May 22, 2020

10 Practical Ways to Improve Time Management Skills

10 Practical Ways to Improve Time Management Skills

Do you often feel stressed out with too much work or too many responsibilities? As time passes, do you feel like you have more tasks on hand than you have time to do them?

The trick is to organize your tasks and use your time effectively to get more things done each day. This can help you to lower stress levels and improve your productivity both at work and at home.

Time management skills take time to develop and will look different for each person. Finding what works best for you and your busy schedule is key here.

To get you started, here are 10 ways to improve your time management skills and increase productivity.

1. Delegate Tasks

It is common for all of us to take on more tasks than we are capable of completing. This can often result in stress and burnout.

Delegation does not mean you are running away from your responsibilities but are instead learning proper management of your tasks. Learn the art of delegating work to your subordinates as per their skills and abilities and get more done. This will not only free up time for you but will help your team members feel like an integral piece of the work puzzle.

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2. Prioritize Work

Before the start of the day, make a list of tasks that need your immediate attention. Unimportant tasks can consume much of your precious time, and we tend to offer these too much of our energy because they are easier or less stressful.

However, identifying urgent tasks that need to be completed on that day is critical to your productivity. Once you know where to put your energy, you will start to get things done in an order that works for you and your schedule.

In short, prioritize your important tasks to keep yourself focused.

3. Create a Schedule

Carry a planner or notebook with you and list all the tasks that come to your mind. Being able to check off items as you complete them will give you a sense of accomplishment and keep you motivated.

Make a simple ‘To Do’ list before the start of the day, prioritize the tasks, and focus on the essentials. Make sure that these tasks are attainable, too. If there is a big task you need to complete, make that the only thing on your list. You can push the others to the next day. 

To better manage your time management skills, you may think of making 3 lists: work, home and personal.

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4. Set up Deadlines

When you have a task at hand, set a realistic deadline and stick to it. Once you set a deadline, it may be helpful to write it on a sticky note and put it near your workspace. This will give you a visual cue to keep you on task.

Try to set a deadline a few days before the task is due so that you can complete all those tasks that may get in the way. Challenge yourself and meet the deadline; reward yourself for meeting a difficult challenge.

5. Overcome Procrastination

Procrastination is one of the things that has a negative effect on productivity. It can result in wasting essential time and energy. It could be a major problem in both your career and your personal life[1].

Avoiding procrastination can be difficult for many. We tend to procrastinate when we feel bored or overwhelmed. Try to schedule in smaller, fun activities throughout the day to break up the more difficult tasks. This may help you stay on track.

6. Deal With Stress Wisely

Stress often occurs when we accept more work than we are capable of accomplishing. The result is that our body starts feeling tired, which can affect our productivity.

Stress comes in various forms for different people, but some productive ways to deal with stress can include:

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  1. Getting outside
  2. Exercising
  3. Practicing meditation
  4. Calling up a friend
  5. Participating in your favorite hobby
  6. Listening to music or a podcast

The key is to find what works for you when it comes to lowering your stress response. If you don’t have time for anything else, try a couple of breathing techniques. These can be done in minutes and have been proven to lower stress-inducing hormones.

7. Avoid Multitasking

Most of us feel that multitasking is an efficient way of getting things done, but the truth is that we do better when we focus and concentrate on one thing. Multitasking hampers productivity and should be avoided to improve time management skills.

Make use of to-do lists and deadlines to help you stay focused! This way you can do better at what you’re doing. Wait until you finish one before starting another. You’ll be surprised by how much more you’re able to get done.

8. Start Early

Most successful people have one thing in common — they start their day early as it gives them time to sit, think, and plan their day.

When you get up early, you are more calm, creative, and clear-headed. As the day progresses, your energy levels start going down, which affects your productivity, motivation, and focus[2].

If you’re not a morning person, you can just try waking up thirty minutes earlier than your normal time. You’ll be amazed by how much you can get done in that bit of time. If you don’t want to use it to work, use it to do a bit of exercise or eat a healthy breakfast. This kind of routine will also contribute to your productivity during the day.

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9. Take Regular Breaks

Whenever you find yourself feeling tired and stressed, take a break for 10 to 15 minutes. Too much stress can take a toll on your body and affect your productivity.

And even better, schedule your break times. It helps you to relax and gets back to work with energy again later. If you know a break is coming, you’ll likely be able to overcome boredom or a lack of motivation to push through the task at hand.

Take a walk, listen to some music, or do some quick stretches. The best idea is to take a break from work completely and spend time with your friends and family.

10. Learn to Say No

Politely refuse to accept additional tasks if you think that you’re already overloaded with work. Take a look at your to do list before agreeing to take on extra work.

Many people worry that saying no will make them look selfish, but the truth is that saying no is one of the best ways to take care of yourself and your time. When you take care of this, you’ll find you have more energy to devote to the important things, which the people around you will ultimately appreciate.

Final Thoughts

When you get clear about what’s on your plate, you’ll be more focused and get more done in less time.

Good time management requires a daily practice of prioritizing tasks and organizing them in a way that can save time while achieving more. Use the above strategies for few weeks and see if they help you. You may be surprised just how much more time you seem to have.

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Featured photo credit: Brad Neathery via unsplash.com

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