SMART Goals and How to Use Them
A word to the wise:
It’s pretty easy to think up a task like “do the laundry” and follow through. But what happens when you set yourself a bigger goal like paying off debt, completing a group project or hitting a new fitness personal record? For goals with greater significance, it is important to have structure and guidance. SMART goals are designed for success.
There are many interpretations of this acronym on the Internet. They are all so close that it really doesn’t matter how you phrase it, its the concept that’s important.
One of the quickest ways to fail at achieving a goal is to set one that has no clear path to success. SMART goals provide us with a simple template which can be followed with just a little planning.
First let’s get a bit more understanding of each individual component of SMART. After that we will dive into a little real-life example!
Have you ever heard someone say “who, what, when, where and why”? That’s a good place to start.
Who is involve? Is it a personal goal or a group project with multiple people?
What exactly do you need to accomplish? What are the benefits?
When do you need to start and how long until it must be accomplished?
Where is it located? If your goal is to travel to a specific destination this may be more applicable.
Why is this important? Why are you doing it?
Lastly, we can add Which. Which requirements and constraints must you follow?
Any time you are looking to complete an objective, there are measurable components.
- In an essay, you can measure your progress by how many words you’ve completed.
- In a weight loss program, you can track your success by the numbers dropping off the scale.
- When paying off debt you can calculate the remaining amount owed.
Take a moment to consider how you are going to track your progress.
Having an achievable goal is one of the most important aspects of SMART in my opinion. The achievability of a goal is the key factor of whether or not you will succeed. Here are my three steps:
First, is the goal achievable? Any good goal will take hard work and consistency to complete. But sometimes we can get ahead of ourselves and set a goal that is not achievable within the time constraints or within our financial limits! Consider the constraints and determine if it is a good goal or not.
Second, try not to get discouraged if there are obstacles. Try to use these obstacles as a way to improve something else. For example, at the time I am writing this post it is April 30, 2018. My goal is to have a fully functioning and user friend website that people will enjoy. Currently, I have very little knowledge of web design and this is a constraint on my ability to make the best website I can make. Because of this, I have set myself a goal within a goal; to learn basic HTML and CSS over the next 3 months. Hopefully, this will increase the chances of success. I will measure my progress along the way.
Third, when reality hits you in the face. Sometimes an obstacle or constraint is to hard to overcome. If that is the case, see if there is a way to alter the goal in a way to make it achievable.
This is more of a personal question you need to ask yourself.
- Is your goal really worth it?
- Is it the right time?
- Does it make sense to pursue it with your current finances?
Be realistic and make sure that the goal is relevant to your life. It may be that you need to postpone it until it is more relevant and realistic.
Having a time line is important. Without some sort of time constraint, we are all susceptible to letting things slide. Would you really finish that essay if it wasn’t due in three weeks?
Alright! Enough of the concepts, give me an example!
In this example we will use the topic of paying off Student Debt. I have used rough numbers for the purpose of the example only.
Be Specific about your goal! “I want to pay off my school debt as fast as I can”. Cool, so does everyone with student debt. Instead, try being more specific and state “I want to pay off my $15,000 debt in 3 years.”
Because my goal is now more specific it also becomes Measurable. To pay off $15,000 of debt in 3 years I will need to pay $416 (not including interest) in loan payments per month. This is easily measurable because it is monthly payments with milestones of $5000 each year. Wouldn’t it be great to see your debt drop by $5000 each year!
Is putting $416/month Achievable? You might be thinking “James, there’s no way I can pay that much monthly! are you crazy?”. For some people it is just not realistic to put that much money towards debt while they are stuck paying rent, buying groceries, supporting a child, working a minimum wage job, or any other life scenarios. Alter your goal to make it achievable by paying off your debt in 4 years, instead of 3 years, with payments of $313/month. Having the reduced payments will make you more likely to succeed!
Is paying off my debt really Relevant? Heck yea! Debt can hold you back from working on any other more exciting goals. Tackle debt fast and hard so you can get moving on the fun things in life!
Because our goal is now to pay off our Student Debt in 4 years time, we are Time-bound to complete it by that date. This gives us structure and pushes us to complete our goal of $313/month without fail. If we slack and miss 2 months of payments we will realize at the end of the first year we are behind by $616! That now increases our monthly payments for the remaining 3 years to $330/month.
The principles of SMART are tested and confirmed as an excellent blueprint for success. This theory can be used for group projects, personal finances, athletic feats and career goals. Give it a try!