Activity is often mistakenly called Productivity – and Productivity is easily confused with Progresstivity.
A good way to differentiate between being busy (active) vs. making something (productive) vs doing the right things towards your bigger goals (progressing) is to use the SMART Goal (or SMARTER Goal) framework.
To illustrate this, consider three different mornings:
Morning A: You check all of your email, busily label and file each email, forwarding some, replying to others, all between fielding text messages and phone calls, and then catch up on your Slack messages while bouncing between different Zoom meetings and trying to be in three places at once. That is quite a busy morning.
Morning B: You blocked time on your calendar first thing in the day for writing so you write. Then you move on to making the 500 sales calls you committed to making and get some of them done. Next you edit a draft of an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure, i.e. a system, for your team to use). Lastly, you hop on a recurring team meeting that’s been on your calendar so you can connect.
Morning C: You blocked time on your calendar first thing in the day to write and publish a 500 word niche article for your ideal client. After that you knock out the 15 outbound sales calls you committed to making. Then you finish editing and publishing the SOP for your team to use and get it out to them to start using. Lastly, you hop on a scheduled meeting to run through the specific questions that your team has on the updated system which they’ve now had time to review.
Which of those mornings do you think had SMART goals, which do you think was merely using some time management, and which… looks like chaos and possibly a typical morning? (No judgement!)
How SMART Goals Help You Get Done What Matters
SMART is an acronym that breaks down the 5 more important characteristics of a goal – or an action/accountability item so you can actually make achieve goals on your action plan and make measurable progress towards your vision.
Let’s break down the SMART Goal acronym so.
S is for Specific Goals
A specific goal is the opposite of vague. A specific goal is narrow in scope, well defined, succinct, and clear. It may event include a who, what, when, why, and where.
A vague goal, on the other hand, is fuzzy and unclear.
Consider the difference between “Get more customers” and “Increase sales of our widgets to local fine dining restaurants to help them sell more wine.”
Getting the specificity of a goal dialed in is often like peeling back an onion with more questions.
We love doing this at our Mastermind meetings. You might have someone share a vague action item like “Get more customers” and a member will push for clarity like “What will the customers be buying? And why? And which customers? Where?”
M is for Measurable Goals
A measurable goal has a quantitative measurement so you know YES or NO if you accomplished your goal. You may even have a number attached to your goal to know if it’s been fully completed or not and how far along you are to getting it done. This lets you track progress as you go.
As Peter Drucker famously said “What gets measured gets done” and it’s no different for your goals or accountability items.
How do you know if you’ve accomplished your goal if you can’t measure it?
For example “Make sales calls” is not as measurable as “Make 15 calls”.
And “Publish 500 word article” is far better defined than a vague “Write”.
A is for Attainable Goals
“Shoot for the stars, and land on the moon!” is a great quote for setting big goals and being okay with a a less than desired outcome. But in the world of SMART goals, you want your goal setting to be focused on results you can actually achieve.
An achievable goal means that it’s realistic for you to get it done. In the example above “Make 500 calls” in the middle of a busy morning is likely not attainable. “Draft and publish my 1,000 page book” before lunch is likewise not attainable.
Setting unattainable goals that you then don’t hit sets up a cycle and habit of not accomplishing your goals.
What we want is for you to set goals and then accomplish them. That is a lifelong habit you can build on.
R is for Relevant Goals
Making a goal or an action items that doesn’t support your bigger picture mission, vision, or purpose may get an item done – but it won’t be impactful and help you longer term.
If you want to increase your sales and set a goal to pick a new bar counter top by the end of the week… it won’t be relevant to what you really want to accomplish.
In contrast, if you set a goal around making sales calls, sending estimates, and hiring sales team members, all of those are very relevant to increasing your sales.
T is for Time Bound Goals
Goals are great, but if you don’t time box them into WHEN they’ll get done, they may simply never get done, no matter how much time you put into them.
You’ll want clarity on when specifically you’ll complete an item on your list or hit your goal.
Think about something you’ve had on your todo list forever that just keeps getting kicked down the road and ignored. It’s missing a time frame!
Time bound goals are the difference between “Make $500,000 in new sales” and “Make $500,000 in new sales by the end of the quarter.”
“Respond to all requests for quotes” is not nearly as time bound as “Send out estimates within 4 business hours of receipt.”
Smart Objectives Drive SMART Goals
Smart Objectives Drive SMART Goals
Before you jump into writing goals using the SMART framework, you’ll want to have a bigger picture smart objective figured out. That can then let you relevance check your smart goal against your ultimate goal (or shorter term project goals).
(Related: A great read on setting your company Mission, Vision, and Purpose is Traction by Gino Wickman!)
How to Write SMART Goals
With your Smart Objectives figured out, it’s time to write your SMART goals.
Our Mastermind uses an interactive process to refine a goal or accountability item until it fits the SMART criteria.
Continuing the example above, if someone share a vague action item like “Get more customers” a member may ask for clarity like “What will the customers be buying? And why? And which customers? Where?” to get specificity.
Next will come questions like “How many new customers, or how much in new sales?” to make it a measurable goal.
Then questions along the lines of “Is this attainable?” followed by a relevancy check of “How does this support your overall business success, mission, vision, and purpose?”
Lastly, is the time box check of “When will you complete this action item?”
This iterative process lets you go from something like “Get more customers” to “Close 5 new paid retail client engagements with a minimum $10k retainer in the next 3 weeks.” Or from “Systemize my business!” to “By the end of the week, create and share with the group the org chart of my business as it is today with a box for each job function on my team and a name in each box and bullet points of the top 3 Key Result Areas for each job function.”
Where Did the SMART Acronym Come From?
This “SMART” goal was first outlined by George T. Doran in 1981 with SMART standing for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-Related. (The acronym has evolved since then and many versions exist).
Doran explained that a management goal should be measurable and achievable, and that a business objective should also have meaningful impact upon the organization.
Although its origins are from the world of management in business, it can be used for personal goals, and accountability, too.
Variations of the SMART Acronym
Alternatives exist for most of the letters in SMART beyond what Doran initially published.
For example, instead of Specific, S can also stand for Strategic.
M can stand for not just Measurable, but also Motivating.
A can stand for Achievable, as well as Assignable (originally), Agreed, Ambitious, Action Oriented, and more.
R can be Relevant, but also Realistic or Results Based
T is typically Time Bound (or Time Driven), Trackable, or Testable.
If you change one letter, just be mindful that it’s not a duplicate of something else in the acronym. For example, if you use A for Attainable, R for Realistic would be duplicitous.
SMART: More Than Just Goals
At the Bay Area Mastermind, we use the SMART Goal framework for group members’ accountability and action items. During each mastermind member hot seat, we take down notes of what each business owner is committing to get done.
At the end of their hot seat, we review what they’re committing to getting done over the next month between meetings, and then share that list of items out with the group for social accountability.
These action items are not so much goals as they are committed work ON the business between meetings.
This helps our entrepreneurs stay focused on building their business instead of getting stuck working IN their business.
Creating Achievable SMART Goals
So how do you know if your goal is an achievable goal?
Attainable goals have a relationship to the time you give them.
For example, completing a marathon 6 months from now in under 4 is an achievable goal if you’ve already been running recent marathons at 4:10. Crossing the marathon finish line in 2 hours next month when you’ve never gotten off the couch, on the other hand, may not be.
A measurable goal generally becomes more attainable the more time you give it. Your goal is to balance urgency with attainability.
“A measurable goal generally becomes more attainable the more time you give it. Your goal is to balance urgency with attainability.”
So the first step is to figure out by when you want to hit this specific and measurable goal on your action plan.
Then, consider what measure is reasonable in that time frame. If your target date is further out, you may able to do more of the thing you want to do.
With a clear understanding of the time you have to achieve the goal, use your past results to estimate what’s achievable.
For example, if a Mastermind member’s action item is around increasing sales by relaunching their Facebook ad campaign, they know they are time limited to the one month. So they likely don’t have time or budget to successfully run 30 split tests with statistical confidence of a winner. If they know in the past it takes their Facebook ad campaigns 5 days to generate a winner from a split test, an achievable action item might be 4 rounds of split testing their Facebook ad campaign over the next month to dial in the best performing ad for their top of funnel.
SMARTER Goals: Beyond SMART Goals
SMARTER Goals: Beyond SMART Goals
If you want to kick things up a notch, an iteration of SMART Goals are SMARTER Goals.
Adding onto SMART is E for Evaluate and R for Readjust
E is for Evaluating Your Goals
It’s not enough to just set goals or commit to your Mastermind or Accountability Partner what you’re going to get done. You want your goal front and center.
Measurable goals can be evaluated daily to see your progress. From losing weight for health purposes to increasing sales in your business, to writing a blog post a day, when a goal is measurable over a period of time, you can evaluate your progress from start to finish.
After you set smart goals, make the habit of evaluating your progress along the way before the due date. And when your goals are relevant to your long term goals (remember that R for Relevant Goals!) each of the smaller goals you accomplish along the way is a step towards the bigger picture end goal.
R is for Readjusting Your Goals
At times, no matter how great your goal seemed at the outset, it may lose it’s relevancy, or it may no longer be attainable in the time frame you originally thought.
When you regularly check on your progress during the Evaluation (above), you may find that what once seemed relevant and realistic, may, in fact, no longer be so.
At our Mastermind meetings, when we see person creating too many goals to achieve over the next month, it’s typically a red flag that many of them may get readjusted over the coming month.
Achieving goals is important – but so is flexibility to not see the wrong thing through to the end.
For example, if your goal was to sell 1,500 more of your widgets through a product launch in the next month, and you end up with a supply chain issue and the widgets don’t come in, or a box comes in damaged, or nobody wants to buy them… it may be time to readjust your objective.
The Cons of SMART Goals
SMART Goals are wonderful, but there are some downsides to be aware of. These aren’t reasons to avoid SMART goals, rather, they are counterpoints to be aware of when creating a SMART goal.
Oversimplification of Complex Tasks
Although SMART goals can help define and clarify goals, they can often cause an oversimplification of complex objectives.
If you want to achieve something complicated, consider splitting it into more manageable sub-tasks before you use the SMART Framework.
In the agile world, this is all about getting tasks to “DONE DONE.”
Too Short Term Objectives
If you’re working in an agile sprint, or on accountability items between Mastermind meetings, you’re looking at a matter of weeks to accomplish an item. Since we time bound our objectives, they tend to stay rather near term.
Yes, you can have a longer goal like “Retire by x age with y dollars in the bank” or “Own z cash flowing investment properties by such and such year” but like complex tasks above, you’ll want to break it down into smaller shorter term sub goals.
Too Specific and Tactical
SMART Goals can at times crimp your creativity and keep you too logically and tactically focused on the task at hand. If your work – or life – enjoys more openness or demands more creativity, a tight timeline and a measurable outcome can feel like a hindrance.
Consider your motivation for creating the time sensitive goal in the first place.
If your vision is to be a locally famous artist with a downtown gallery, and you set a goal of “Create 5 ground breaking paintings in the next week” that will likely feel overbearing. Give yourself the space and necessary resources to work on the goal in service of your bigger vision and then set the goal aside while you do what you do best.
What to do After Creating Your SMART Goals
What to do After Creating Your SMART Goals
Now that you’ve created your goals, what do you do?
GSD: Get [Stuff] Done!
It’s time to actually accomplish your smart goal.
When you set out your plan for the coming days and weeks, first schedule your rocks – the work on your goals. Then fill in with everything else.
Look at your accountability items every morning. And then get to work on them.
Between our Bay Area Mastermind Group Meetings, for example, we use our private Mastermind Slack group and email list to share and catch up on our action items. It’s where we share our wins, resources, feedback, and challenges as we go.
Now go create your SMART Goals, and GSD!
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