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Goal Setting for 2022: Getting SMART

As I mentioned in an earlier post, not all goals need to be SMART. The Big Picture goals you use as North Stars don't need to be SMART, they need to be inspiring and exciting. But in order to get there -- to climb the mountain of your dreams -- you need to know where you'll be stopping along the way, and exactly what it will take to get you there.

That's where the SMART goals come in.

There are lots of different kinds of SMART out there, and mi

There are lots of different iterations of SMART, and the one I like is nothing new:






Let's break each of these down a bit.


SMART goals say exactly what you want to achieve. Narrow it down to the most detailed level you can. For example, “Increase my productivity in PowerPoint by 10%” rather than, “Increase productivity.” This is also where focusing on only one end result and writing your goal in only one sentence is critical.

If you're not super-clear on what you want, you can't be specific. So if you're having trouble with this step, spend some more time clarifying what you want to be different after you achieve your goal -- it might help clear things up.


How will you know when you’ve succeeded, when you're done? Find some way to measure what change has taken place in terms of quantity, quality, cost, etc. Unless you can monitor progress, you will not know if you have been successful.

This is the key to maintaining focus and tracking progress. I see people go awry when they're not able to identify what will be different and how they know they're done. The M in SMART keeps you from forever pursuing a goal because it defines the finish line for you.

The other thing to realize is that some outcomes aren't externally measurable. How will you measure being more confident or being less angry? For these, I like to use an internal (albeit totally subjective) rating of 1-10. On a scale of 1-10, where is your confidence when you start? And where do you want it to be when you're done? And what does that look/feel like? (This step is really helpful with some coaching. Just saying.)


Be realistic, but aim to stretch yourself. Too low and you won’t have any challenge. Unrealistically high expectations will sap your motivation and be disappointing. If you're not sure about what you need to get what you're going after, do some research. Get some feedback or input from others, asking things like, "can I really learn Japanese in a year?" or "what do you think it would take me to be able to run a marathon next fall?" Don't set yourself up to fail by not giving yourself enough time or resources or by not doing your homework.


It’s important that your goals relate to your situation at hand and are not in conflict -- and even better if they're aligned -- with the goals of whatever larger organization or ecosystem you find yourself in, whether that's a team at work or your family or community at home. There’s no point in setting a goal to ski a double black diamond if your ankle is broken this winter. Similarly, when your family is saving for a new purchase, it might not be the time to invest heavily in a new venture. Taking a step back and thinking about your whole picture makes achieving your goal more likely.


Set realistic target times. Many goals are Big Picture goals that will have supporting Milestone and Mini goals along the way. Pinpointing a time for achieving sub-goals can help break down what may seem an enormous task, and provide the motivation to start.

Often people are vague about the date by which they want to achieve their goals. The problem with this is that things can easily fall off the radar or lose your attention if there's no accountability for accomplishing them. Having a date by which you at least review your progress -- maybe you're not done yet, but you think you should be close -- helps hold you accountable for putting in the effort to make progress.

And that's my take on SMART. So what might it look like in practice? Check out the table below for some Not-So-Smart goals on the left and their SMART counterparts on the right.

I'm writing more regularly

I'm writing for at least one hour a day (except weekends) from now until April 1.


I'm waking up every morning and writing from 5-6 am for two weeks.

I'm getting better at communicating

I'm reading Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most and discussing what I learned with my coach by March 1.


I'm getting feedback from my manager on the clarity of the next ten client emails I send.

I'm connecting with my kids more

I'm spending at least one weekend day a month fully focused on my kids without interruptions from work or clients every month this year.


For two weeks I'm asking my partner to make lunch and breakfast for the kids so I can spend 30 minutes every morning connecting with them.

To me the main difference between these (besides the number of words) is that the goals on the left feel like Big Picture Goals -- I want to write more, be a better communicator, and connect with my kids -- and the ones on the right feel like real steps you can take -- and know whether you've taken them or not.

Want help making your goals SMARTer? Schedule a free sample session with me today!

Your brain on SMART goals

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