There’s an old saying: “Work smarter, not harder.” I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me that, or I’ve had to tell myself that. It’s so easy for me to get into the rut of approaching a goal from a disorganized process – it becomes an arduous process that has little to no intrinsic value, seems to drag on forever, and ultimately becomes a discouraging and frustrating process. Today I’ll cover a common (or is it?) approach to accomplishing goals that has helped me to work SMARTer and not harder.
What Are SMART Goals? – A little history
In the early 19th century, a fellow by the name of Elbert Hubbard, a renowned American philanthropist, observed that many individuals would fail in their endeavors. He concluded that they failed not because they had little intelligence or where with all, but because they failed to organize their efforts around a goal. However, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that a new method arrived in the form of SMART goals.
Later, in 1981, we find the first record of the SMART acronym written down in a paper published by George T. Doran, a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company entitled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”. While the SMART acronym words have changed over the years, the overall concept has remained the same – it approaches goals in an organized fashion to maximize one’s efforts. So, let’s dive into SMART with some definitions and some examples.
S Stands for “Specific”
I like to equate the first step in the SMART process to choosing a topic for that thesis. You may love airplanes, but you can’t just write on every airplane. It’s hard to write an exhaustive paper with such a subject that folks can read in its entirety before falling asleep.
In the same way, a goal must be very specific. Too broad and you find yourself getting frustrated because you don’t seem to make much progress – too narrow and you may not be feeling very challenged or accomplished.
A good example of a specific goal is to say: “My goal is to get my Instrument Rating.” An example of a non-specific goal is: “I want to fly.” The difference is that a specific goal has a narrow focus, i.e., the Instrument Rating, as opposed to a general want to fly.
So, let’s run with the goal of an Instrument Rating for the rest of our SMART process.
M Stands for “Measurable”
To be measureable, a goal should be shaped in such a way as to measure success or progress. For instance, when training for an instrument rating, you should be able to measure your success upon completing the hours of training, completing ground school, or taking the written and practical exam (and passing).
Too often we get into a rut where we’re working on some project, but don’t really have a way to measure what we’ve accomplished, or not accomplished. This could be especially challenging when studying for the Instrument written exam, but perhaps try approaching it by measuring your progress based on what chapters or sections you have studied. It might help to break the study guide into sections and measure your progress that way.
A Stands for “Attainable”
I often feel like this third step should really be somewhere closer to the beginning of the acronym just because it could save you a lot of time and grief. That being said, it is an important step, regardless of where it is placed.
Having a goal that is attainable in the first place is crucial in your success in accomplishing a goal. For instance, you really can’t make a goal to get your Instrument Rating if you don’t even have your Private Pilot’s License (PPL) yet. If you find yourself in that position of needing one thing to make another goal happen, this might be the point to go back to the beginning and further narrow the specificity of your goal.
For instance, “My goal is to get my PPL, so I can get my Instrument Rating.” Now you have your true starting point, which is getting that PPL. This narrowed focus allows you to discover the underlying action items for a particular goal, or to realize that one goal is really subset of another goal.
R Stands for “Realistic”
This goal seems to go hand-in-hand with the previous goal, but not always. This step really seems to fit into the phrase “time and money.” For instance, you may have the time (it’s attainable), but you may not have the money (it’s not realistic). I actually experienced this the first year I was at the University of North Dakota (UND).
I had the time to get my Instrument, and eventually my Commercial Ratings, but I didn’t have the money. So, while my goal was specific, measureable and attainable, it wasn’t realistic because dollar bills really do make an airplane fly. If you get to this point and realize your goal isn’t realistic, it’s very important to not get discouraged and give up. It really means that you need to further narrow your focus into something a little more specific.
Now, I can speak from experience that giving up something as enjoyable and rewarding as flying is not easy. However, finding an alternate path, maybe a diversion of sorts, is a very smart option. When I realized this, I chose to switch degree programs from Commercial Aviation to Airport Management. This switch kept me in the field of aerospace and aviation, and I found that I really enjoy the business side of aviation, but I still get my dose of being an aviation nerd. I also found out I love being around airports almost as much as being in the airplane.
I haven’t given up flying altogether, but I’ve adjusted my course to include those additional flight ratings down the road when that goal becomes more realistic.
T Stands for “Time-Bound”
Lastly, we come to having our goals being time-bound.
Let’s start with a bad example of this: “I want to get my Instrument Rating sometime in the future.” Now, we can see right away this is going to be a problem. This gets us into the mindset that we’ll finish it sometime, and then sometime comes and we still haven’t made any progress. This is frustrating, to say the least, and really is a hindrance to accomplishing some very specific goals. A lack of a deadline actually keeps great people from accomplishing great things!
Now, a good example of a time-bound goal is: “I want to get my Instrument Rating by next June.” Now, this is good! You have a rough date and you know what you need to do to accomplish this goal. You can further break down this goal by planning to take the ground school for 7 weeks in the fall, start your actual flight instruction after that, and then schedule your written exam in early spring, and practical exam by June. You could further be specific by putting in actual dates and updating your progress as you go in addition to deciding how much time per week (or day) to spend working towards that goal.
The great thing is, you can be very flexible as long as you don’t get into the habit of doing something maybe someday.
Work SMARTer, Not Harder
Overall, I wouldn’t say that the SMART process is a fail-proof method, but it has been very successfully used by individuals, management, and corporations alike. However, you can’t just plug things in and go. You need to commit to following a goal through and periodically reevaluating your progress as you go and make changes as needed.
So, do you have a goal that you used the SMART process on that you’d like to share with our readers? Feel free to comment below with your story and how you used the SMART method.
Happy SMART Planning!
All images courtesy of Google.com.