The Musings of Two Long-Time Friends

First Monday Goals: SMART Goals

First Monday Goals: SMART Goals

Welcome to a new feature on Can’t Fake Time: First Monday Goals.

Each month, on the first Monday of the Month, I’ll post some kind of goalsetting strategy or reflection, usually geared toward writing and creative processes because that’s what I do. Then, I’ll check in on my progress from the previous month and invite you to share your goals and progress, too.

If you want to chat more about your goals, especially storytelling-oriented goals, consider joining my discord server: The Alliance of Storytellers.

September Strategy: SMART Goals

If you’re in education, you’ve probably heard of SMART goals. I’m starting here because it’s more or less the start of the school year, and I’m going to be talking about goalsetting with students soon. If you haven’t heard of the acronym, it comes from a 1981 article written by George T. Doran, titled: “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives.” Although it was developed for business management goals, I’ve mostly heard it in the school setting, geared toward helping students take ownership of their learning process and set their own goals for growth.

The strategy is this: When you set a goal, you want it to meet some specific criteria so that you can actually track your progress toward it. Tracking progress helps you feel a sense of accomplishment when you meet goals. It also helps you identify problems and adjust course if things aren’t going so well on your journey.

A SMART goal is:

  • Specific. When a goal is specific, narrow, focused on one particular aspect you want to improve on, it’s a lot less overwhelming. “Become a better writer” is a broad goal that can feel pretty overwhelming. Choosing one specific aspect of writing you want to work on, like character development or vivid descriptions or setting time aside to write, becomes a little less daunting. The more specific you can get, the better!
    • Questions to ask:
      • What skill or trait do I want to develop? Or, what exactly do I want to complete to feel successful?
      • Can I break this down into smaller, more manageable parts?
  • Measurable. When a goal is measurable, it becomes a lot easier to track. Some things are a challenge to quantify on the surface. “I want to write stronger vivid descriptions” is trickier on the surface to measure than “I want to set aside ten minutes each day to write.” The key here is to think about something that would objectively indicate progress toward the goal, preferably something that’s actually in your control. If you’re working on vivid descriptions, maybe the measurable aspect is researching how to use a certain number of new adjectives in your writing each day, to build up your personal word repository for describing things.
    • Questions to ask:
      • How can I quantify progress toward my goal? Time spent? Amount completed?
      • If it isn’t easily quantifiable, what quality
  • Attainable. When a goal is attainable, something within your reach, it becomes part of a journey of progress. Sometimes we underestimate or overestimate what is truly attainable for us. Personally, I have a bad habit of overestimating the amount of time I have in the day to work toward goals, and goals become unattainable just because I’m one human with too much to do and too little time.
    • Questions to ask:
      • What sort of resources are necessary to achieve this goal?
      • If I don’t have those resources, how can I either adjust the goal so it’s more attainable or gather the resources I need?
  • Realistic. A goal that you can personally control is a realistic goal. For example, you can’t control other people’s opinions and actions, so setting a goal to become a New York Times bestselling author might be a little too unrealistic. Great dream! Terrible goal. You can control your progress toward completing a book, your decisions on how to pursue publication for that book, and your marketing plan for the book. A realistic SMART goal can be inspired by a dream, broken down into the steps you can complete to try and make that dream a reality, but the dream itself doesn’t make a good goal.
    • Questions to ask:
      • How can I take control of progress toward this goal?
      • How do my dreams inform my goal, without overtaking the goal?
  • Timely. Timely goals have an end date, a point on the calendar where you come back to the goal you set and evaluate your results. Those timely check-ins help to ensure you are prioritizing the goal in the way that you should. Take a look at National Novel-Writing Month: When you shift from, “Some day, I will write a novel” to “This month, I will write a novel,” now the pressure is on. Deadlines are good for that.
    • Questions to ask:
      • How much time do I need to complete this goal?
      • When should I schedule a check-in for myself?

How SMART Goals Help

For me, the SMART Goal strategy helps when I want to make targeted, purposeful, intentional growth. It gives me a framework to reflect on so I can transfer a general desire or dream into actionable steps I can control.

It also helps me out when my thought patterns lean toward rumination and depression, and I start to feel that hopelessness that whispers I can never make progress. If I evaluate my thought patterns and see that I’m ruminating on things that are outside of my control and thus unrealistic, I can start to break those thoughts down and remind myself of the things that I did achieve that were within my control.

Another thing that’s great about SMART goals is the intentional timeframes and check-ins. Even when you fail to meet your deadlines within your goal, you can use those check-ins and time stamps to evaluate why.

SMART Goal Pitfalls

If you spend more time drafting up a goal, and you feel immense satisfaction that you made such an amazing plan for a goal, and then you never actually enact the plan because you already got the emotional satisfaction from making such a good plan, SMART Goals might not be the best help for you.

The acronym might also make you begin to feel like if a goal doesn’t meet all five criteria, it’s a bad goal, so it’s not worth pursuing. I see students getting frustrated or overwhelmed by trying to ensure that their goals have all five aspects, or writing overly lengthy convoluted goals just to meet the SMART criteria.

With anything when it comes to goal-setting, my advice is to take the stuff that works for you and drop the stuff that doesn’t. Maybe your goal for the month doesn’t need to be SMART. Maybe it just needs to be ST.

My September Goal

For the last two months, my life has been waylaid by a thousand different crises that all stacked up, so I’ll be real. September is going to be a month of setting the dominoes that all got scattered across the floor back into position to see if I can knock ’em over right this time.

My central focus is going to be establishing a healthier work/life balance as my class load shifts this month. For many teachers, it’s easy to bring grading and lesson-planning home and get wrapped up in it for hours, and especially since I’m working for a newly-established virtual academy, this has been a trap for me for the last month.

I hope to leave my campus no later than 5 PM each day, and bring home no more than 1 additional hour of work each day. Setting these limits ought to help me keep from getting burned out. By the end of the month, I hope to have established the routines that will help me maintain this consistently throughout the school year.

Specific? Yep. It’s focused on my work/life balance.

Measurable? Yep. I’ve got some easily-quantifiable pieces right there.

Attainable? Hopefully. I do need to ensure I’m meeting my students’ needs and providing timely feedback on assignments, and that’s where things become tricky.

Realistic? Definitely. This is in my hands, 100%

Timely? This goal’s all about time.

Boom. SMART goal.

Your September Goals

Share your goals with me! They can be SMART, or just a couple of the qualities of a SMART goal, or nothing to do with a SMART goal at all. I’d love to hear what people are working on this month 🙂



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