Goals: How Being SMART Works

Work-Life Balance: Part 3 of 5

Written by Karyn Patterson

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In our last post, we talked about habits, and what’s the point of them as a writer. Now, I’d like to talk about goals. The purpose of a goal is to get something done, but more importantly, it helps someone in the creative arts stay on top of their work. Without these, original work tends to happen on an “as you feel” basis. This doesn’t work, which is why goals are paramount. 

Lemme be honest. I have never set Goals (with a capital G) until very recently. Sure, I would have a specific thought (wish) that I called a goal: I want to be a New York Times Bestselling Author. But then I’d be lazy about setting deadlines for myself. If you read my blog on fear, you probably realize my hesitation to set a limit on my “goals” comes from my apprehension of what could come of a project.

But then, one day not so long ago, I ran into an oddly magnetic stranger at Starbucks. I’m not talking physical attraction here, in spite of the magnetic quality. No, it was more that I thought he might be an actual angel or some other supernatural messenger-on-a-mission. 

The conversation started quite naturally at first, and after learning more about me asked, “May I speak boldly?” 

I stammered, “Yes, very boldly, please,” as I scrutinized him for signs of normal humanity, like blood vessels and such.

After he honed in on my biggest desire RIGHT NOW, he said, “Okay. I want you to stop researching how to write and start writing this project. Start today, and give me a deadline.” First of all, how the heck did he know I used research as procrastination? And secondly, he was pushing me to set an actual date. This stranger. At Starbucks.

Most of you are familiar with the acronym for goals, which is SMART. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable (or sometimes called Attainable), Relevant, and Timely. It didn’t take me long to realize the guy at Starbucks walked me through this whole process. 

1- He made me get specific. He asked: What is the thing you need to do most, right now? It took me a minute, but I was able to narrow it down to one thing that was more urgent than the others. 

2- He asked me to contemplate how long it would realistically take and asked me to set a deadline (measurable), not accepting generalities. He wanted an actual date.

3- Achievable: He asked questions to judge whether I was giving myself too much time to slack off. Indeed, I was. But some important things to ask yourself are: how much time do I really have to put into this? Do I have other priorities that I need to give time to? Or can I “treat this like a crumb on the table” (his quote) and put all of my focus on this one thing until it’s done? Push yourself--but be realistic. When he told me, “I know you can do this by the end of August,” I felt a stir of excitement. I believed it, too.

4- To determine whether something is relevant is important. It means asking yourself if this truly is your highest priority and the direction you want to go. Remember, you are building the map of your life (more on that in the next post), so make sure it takes you to the destination of your dreams.

5- Timely: He suggested I cut my deadline back again and again, saying he knew I could do it faster, that I was holding back out of fear. It gave me a sense of urgency, and when he told me to treat it as a “crumb on the table,” he was essentially telling me to quit overthinking the HUGE IMPORTANCE of doing it “right,” and the more essential matter of getting it done so I can move on to bigger and better things rather than having spinning wheels that take me nowhere. 

So while I thought I had been setting goals all my life, I had not gone through the real, nitty-gritty homework until this guy pushed through my reluctance and made me start thinking about it. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Be SMART.

“Vision without action is just a dream, action without vision just passes the time, and vision with action can change the world.”

-Nelson Mandela