While many will mourn another holiday season gone by, a certain subset of futurist folk are about to thrive. From Type-As to Virgos and ENTJs, the world’s fiercest planners are rejoicing as they wield their highlighters over their newly minted 2023 planners. They go by many labels, but they are all bound by one core practice: a “smart” goals acronym by the name of SMART.
However, for such a dominating system we still find ourselves on Google every January typing, “what does SMART stand for?” Somehow the particulars of the beloved method evade our memory every single year. So, let’s break down this goal setting acronym in a way that bumps our career intentions into momentum through 2024.
The term “specific” is ironically rather vague. Who and what decides its parameters? In the context of SMART, what does specific mean? While there may never be a universal definition, you can certainly define it for yourself by designing your goal in a tangible way. Write a journal entry about what your day-to-day looks like in the new role you’ve had your eyes set on. Which projects do you crave to oversee? Who would be reporting to you? Or, create a digital mood board for the big campaign you want to pitch to your seniors by end-of-year. Think of it as a pitch deck for yourself. Fill it with colors, photos, and words you associate with this goal. Whatever your goal is, it will be specific to you if you can map out the world it lives in.
When we have daydreams of that new position we want with higher pay and enviable remote work flexibility, we often picture how we would feel once accomplished. The reality is, when we chase a feeling, our goals evolve into something else without us noticing. If we don’t celebrate an achievement by numbers, we will be at the mercy of the plethora of other emotions that life carries. If the goal has a number, it is a nonnegotiable win when achieved. This will help you celebrate your work no matter how you feel about it.
A measurable year career goal and its goalposts could look like:
- Increase yearly performance metrics from ___ to ___ (with quarterly check-ins)
- Earn a professional certification (each unit is a benchmark)
- Finish an educational book (5 pages a day)
The best way to decide if a goal is achievable or not is to ask yourself, “Does this goal require the accomplishment of an incalculable amount of other goals first?” Do you work backwards from your goal and come across a dizzying amount of prerequisites? This is how we can identify that we’re thinking too big. It may be time to zoom in and think of one of those prerequisites as your main focus.
This will go hand-in-hand with Attainable if you worked backward to find your sweet spot. As you trace back and forth between your prerequisite and your main goal, does every step add up? Reposition your ladder as much as needed to make sure that when you reach the top, your overarching goal will still be there.
If there is one letter you remember in this goals acronym every year it is probably T. Much like Measurable, goals will get away from you without warning if they aren’t given time restraints. But the key here is to create a diverse collection of deadlines. Deadlines should be spooky enough to heighten your productivity but not so big and frightening as to leave you in flight, fight, or freeze. 4 sets of week-long timelines have a much less imposing presence than one singular end-of-month date. If you find yourself choosing a timeline arbitrarily, it might be a good idea to collect data to inform your decision. Reach out to mentors, family friends, or even post on social media. If you have a solid sample size, you could find the median length of time it takes others to accomplish the same goal.
Maybe you now understand how to frame your career goal, but it is still unclear what goal to make. Harvard Business Review suggests working backwards from what you don’t want. Create a chart that tracks the trajectory of a few attractive career paths. Maybe one lands somewhere you don’t want to be, like weekend hours or frequent business trips. Your answer could reveal itself by process of elimination.
Ultimately, as long as you find verbiage for your goals that leaves an impression on you the whole year round, however you define SMART is smart.
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