How to Set SMART Goals and Accomplish More Every Day! + Free Goal-setting Template

A friend of mine recently came up with the idea to start a home stationery business. As we got talking about the business and her vision for growth, we agreed that she needed to put her vision on paper for more accountability and clarity. Naturally, one of the first things that came to mind was to create goals so she can measure the success and growth of her business. Among others, here is what she wrote as her goal:

  • Be the one-stop shop for all things in home stationery.

Let me add here that this is the first business she plans to launch. I applaud her for that. It takes guts! She quit her full-time job as a graphic designer 7 years ago to stay at home with her then-newborn daughter. Today, when her daughter has grown up and spends most of the day at school and after-school activities, my friend found herself with a lot of time on hand and she did not know what to do with it. Instead of wasting it on binge-watching a show on Netflix for the rest of her life (someone, please tell me it gets boring after a while!), she decided to use her design skills to start her own business. Yay to that!

Coming back to the goals…here’s a little background on my professional experience. I am an instructional designer, which means I analyze, design, and develop online and offline courses for corporate employees. An integral part of being in the education business is to know how to identify the goals and objectives of any program (or business, or any project really). This is what I do for a living and I couldn’t hold back. We spent the next two hours thrashing out goals. A tried-and-tested strategy to draft goals is to use the SMART methodology.

How to Set SMART Goals and Accomplish More Every Day!

What is the SMART Goal Setting Methodology?

A SMART goal stands for a goal that is:

  • Specific: Your goal should be as specific as possible. It should have an expected outcome attached to it. Explore the what, why, where, how, who of your goal. Making your goal specific to the last detail helps you identify the component(s) that you want to track. It helps make your goals clearer and more manageable, and consequently easier to accomplish. For example,
    • Vague goal: I want to grow my email list.
    • The problem: The aforementioned goal is vague because it does not address several questions, including (but not limited to):
      • Why is it important to grow your email list?
      • How many subscribers do you want to gain every month?
      • How will you grow your email list?
      • Do you have the necessary tools in place to grow your email list?
    • Specific goal: Grow my email list to 100 subscribers by October 31 so that I can pitch my eBook for sale.
  • Measurable: How will you assess and measure the success of your goal? How will you know that you have achieved your goal? Identify the metric and benchmark against which you will measure your specifics. Vague words such as “successful blog,” “life-changing post,” “awesome email list” are neither specific nor measurable. For example, if your goal is to grow your list of email subscribers from 0 to 100, every new subscriber will be a metric to measure. That each of those subscribers is “awesome” is an added bonus J
  • Attainable (or Actionable): It is important to remember that the goal must be realistic and achievable. While it is good to be ambitious and positive, it is somewhat unrealistic to set a goal of growing your email list from 0 to 50,000 in the first month. Another example is to aim for a goal for which you do not have the necessary resources available. “Aim for the stars” is a great motto but unless you are part of NASA or Elon Musk’s team, it’s pretty unattainable, don’t you think? Draft goals that set you up for success, not failure!
  • Relevant: Often, it’s easy to get carried away and lose track of the big picture. Does the goal align with your vision/big picture/ultimate goal? For example, gaining email subscribers may not matter for bloggers who analyze current affairs. Generally, such bloggers do not aim to sell anything on their blogs. A more relevant goal for such bloggers may be to have a high traffic rate.
  • Time-bound: Finally, the goal you draft should have an end-time so that you know when to measure efforts. In other words, define the range of time within which your efforts will come to fruition. This is the time when you will consider marking your goal either a success or failure. For example, if your goal is to grow your list of email subscribers from 0 to 100, determine an end date to this goal—such as, by October 31, 2017. This way when the time comes, you will know to measure your growth. Additionally, be realistic about the period. Keep your personality and circumstances in mind when deciding the end date.

Why should I use the SMART Goal Setting Methodology?

Why should you? Here’s why. A well-defined goal will act as an effective roadmap for you to gauge your growth. It is a productivity tool that helps:

  • Convert vague goals into actionable tasks
  • Visualize success
  • Prioritize
  • Monitor progress

Convinced? Here’s a little bonus resource for you.

But, if you need more convincing, keep reading 🙂

How to Achieve Goals Consistently

The great footballer (soccer, for Americans J), Pele, once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” Sure we all want to be successful at what we do. Sure we want to accomplish everything the universe has to offer. But success takes a lot of work and it is in our favor to define and approach success in a way that’s challenging but not overwhelming. Here is the step-by-step process that can help work accomplish your goals consistently.

  1. Identify your big SMART goal: Before you do anything else, do a brain dump on a piece of paper or use a digital worksheet…whatever works for you. Come up with ONE big goal that based on the SMART methodology. One ring to rule them all 😉
  2. Break down the big goal into smaller goals: Think of it as a funneling process. Identify the smaller goals (further filtered to task level) that will collectively help you funnel up and accomplish the big goal.
  3. Set deadlines: Assign due dates not just for the big goal but also for each individual task you identified in the previous step. This will keep you accountable and help prioritize. Also, small wins. Yay!
  4. Build-in review checkpoints: Have you ever set yourself a lenient deadline and still found yourself scrambling for the finish line on the last day? That’s Parkinson’s Law at work. ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ Let that sink in for a moment. Guilty? Here’s what you can do: set up 2-3 checkpoints between the start and end date of the big goal. Hold yourself accountable for meeting these smaller “deadlines” on your way to the checkered flag.
  5. Reflect, evaluate, and modify: At the end of a goal’s life cycle, it’s time to reflect and evaluate. Think back on the process you followed. Determine what work and what didn’t. Identify the roadblocks and think about how you can work around or eliminate those roadblocks from the next cycle. This kind of evaluation will help you modify your process going forward.

How to Set Yourself Up for Success

While the process will help you achieve goals, there are a few additional tips you can keep in mind when brainstorming your goals.

  • Set goals at regular intervals: January 1 is not the only date when you should think about reflecting and setting goals. No, I am not saying you should not set goals on that date…do it; it’s been a long-standing tradition and it’s good to follow some traditions. But please understand the logic behind this tradition…it plays on the word “new year” that is supposedly a clean slate to work on. But ultimately, it’s asking you to reflect on your wins and losses and determine how you can leverage that knowledge to succeed at your next mission. One year is a LONG time to not evaluate yourself or your goals. But, if you choose to follow this “tradition” every quarter or every month and line up fewer and smaller goals, leading up to a big goal, isn’t that more realistic, empowering, and achievable?
  • Set fewer goals: We are ambitious and success is great for our confidence. But are we setting ourselves up for failure by adding too many things on our plates? You bet we are! Take my example, I am a stay-at-home mom to a preschooler, I run a freelance writing business, I have a home to run, I have a family to care for, and now I have a blog too. That’s a mighty lot. But there’s a lot I don’t do—I have a help who dusts, mops the floor, cleans dishes, cleans the bathrooms, folds laundry, etc. Another lady comes in daily to cook our meals (Indian meal cooking takes a lot of time + I hate cooking). I had trouble giving away some of my household chores because it makes me anxious. But labor is cheap in India and I just had to measure the return on investment. For a few bucks each month, I have freed up the time to do other things that are more important to me. Those are my fewer, big goals I want to accomplish. Cooking a daily meal for my family is important but it’s not my big goal. As long as we are eating home-cooked meals, I don’t really care who is cooking for us.
  • Focus on the smaller goals: Keep your eye on the big goal, but focus on the smaller goals. Remember the funnel? These short-term goals are going to buoy you up and carry you to your big goal. Focusing on the smaller goals allows you to reset or refine your tactics continuously. Imagine going all the way to the big goal deadline and finding that everything you did was a waste of time.
  • Allow yourself to fail at times: Even superheroes fail at times. Give yourself the grace to fail occasionally. If you can learn something even from a failed opportunity, it’s not really a failed opportunity after all, right? Some goals can be tougher than the rest. Or, perhaps you didn’t allow yourself enough time to accomplish the goal. Or, maybe your measurement metric was wrong all along. Next time, you will know better than to repeat the same mistakes.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

What methodology do you use to draft goals? If you’d like to explore the SMART way of goal setting, I have created a template that will help you draft goals that are not only based on the SMART methodology but will also help you break the goal down into smaller, more achievable tasks. Simply sign up below to receive this free resource.

5 Ways to Slay Your To-Do List

Consider this: it’s early morning. You are full of hope on this beautiful day. You sit down to write down your To-Do list for the day. And it grows. And grows. You better get a head start on the day. It’s going to be a wonderfully productive day. Before you know it, it’s evening and you are only halfway through your To-Do list. You reflect on where all the time went. Well, you know it as much as anyone else where it all went.

Don’t we all want our days to be productive? I know I do!  But as moms, we often tend to bite off more than we can chew. Because, you know, there is just so much to do. It’s not that you cannot do it, but remember some of the items on your To-Do list may need to be tackled on another day. This really isn’t a race, so please allow yourself some grace (unintentional rhyming in play ;-))

So how can we become a little more (or a lot more) productive?

Top 5 Ways to Be the Productivity Queen

Eliminate Distractions

No surprises there! When you are distracted, nothing gets done. Would you believe it’s taken me 5 days to finish writing this article? Yes, this article that you are reading! I was distracted. We are in the middle of moving houses and I have a preschooler on spring break, and you know how that boat sails. So, I would sit every day in the middle of all this chaos and try to finish writing this article. And I would be either called away to either supervise something or by my child. It was very frustrating to not see any progress as far as this article goes. “My blog is going to suffer and I will NOT let that happen,” I said to myself. So, I ensured everything that can be done in the new house is done and then I requested my mother-in-law to care for my child for two hours while I finish my “work.”

So that was an example of “offline” distraction. The best way to tackle this type of distraction is to remove the source of it until you are ready to get back to it. But remember, in today’s age, “online” distraction is also a real thing. I know I get distracted by Lord Google. I will log in with the intention to research for my post for about 15 mins and then I find myself hopping from one site to another and soon I find myself reading or watching something that is just not related to my original query. Or, how about the time I wanted to check my Twitter feed and soon I had spent 45 minutes not only checking the feed but also click on the various links that people had shared. How would you handle these distractions? Well, if you are strong-willed and disciplined, maybe you can chide yourself every time you get carried away in the virtual world. But, if you are anything like me, consider using a productivity application like Cold Turkey, which is a free productivity program that can be used to temporarily block websites that you find getting distracted by while working. Cold Turkey offers both free and paid versions, but for me, the free version works well enough.

Identify and Work During Your Peak Hours

Okay, so you have dealt with the distractions but still can’t find yourself getting any work done? Perhaps the hours you are working are not really your “peak hours.” Let me give you an example: I am sure you must have read a few articles highlighting how people who wake up early are more productive. Apparently, it’s true. They get more done because they start early and usually do not have any distractions around at that early hour. But hey, no matter how hard you try, if you are not naturally a morning person, it may be very, very taxing for your mind and body to change its natural cycle. So, it is important to recognize your body’s natural rhythm and schedule important work during those hours. Now, I understand it may not be possible to schedule every important work late in the evening (for night owl mommies), but try and pick your battles. Remember, not everything needs to be done today!

That said, if you would like to give this “becoming a morning person” phenomenon a try, here is a post I wrote earlier listing my top 5 ways to become a morning person. There is no harm in trying, right? After all, it is a scientifically-proven fact. Good luck!

Break Up Your Work

While we are on the topic of picking your battles, remember it’s about winning the battles, not the war. How often do you have a big house or work goal you need to accomplish…and one week (or, one day!) before the deadline, you are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that needs to be put into accomplishing this goal. Many of us make this mistake of trying to tackle the giant and win the war. But if you simply plan ahead, break your goal into smaller tasks, and schedule these tasks accordingly, you will not only be in control of the situation when the big day comes but also you will have the satisfaction of checking off the smaller goals. Now, that’s being productive!

A very popular tool to draft goals is to follow the SMART goal methodology. When you follow this methodology, you break your bigger goal into smaller goals that are specific, measurable, agree-upon (or attainable), realistic, and time-bounded.

Top 5 Productivity Tips | next time, you find yourself working towards a big goal or project, break it up into smaller, easily accomplished tasks.

Prioritize High-Value Work

Now that you have identified your peak hours and broken down your big goal into smaller, achievable tasks, it’s time to prioritize. Take a look at the small goals (or even your everyday To-Do list). Is every task listed there equally important? Perhaps. Then, ask yourself, will accomplishing each task give you the same amount of return on investment? The most likely answer is NO! Let me give you an example: you have slogged yourself over the gas for two hours to prepare a feast for your family. At the dinner table, you notice your family reaching for 1-2 staple dishes while the fancy dish you spent one-hour preparing lies mostly untouched. Was that productive? Was it really worth it? You might as well cook your dinner in one hour and utilize the remaining one hour working on something else that is more valuable….like your body or mind. Learn where to draw the line. If your family is being fed nutritious food that can be prepared in 30 minutes, why would you want to spend two hours on the gas every day? Save the feasts for special occasions so your efforts are appreciated (and consumed) more.

Many of you must have heard of the 80:20 rule, also known as Pareto (here’s a very well-explained article about the 80:20 rule). Pareto charting is a very popular business principle, which we used frequently during my corporate stint. It is a principle to identify the high-value 20 percent input that will help achieve the 80% output. Tasks that are not high-value or of any value at all must either be delegated or eliminated. Think about it.

Take Scheduled, Strategic Breaks

The most important point to boost productivity. As moms, we want to be a superwoman, but please believe when experts say that breaks are necessary. It’s natural to get carried away and trying to do strike off every item on your list at one go. The sudden burst of energy and improved productivity may lead you to expend more energy than your mind and/or body may allow. The adrenaline rush will inhibit signs of exertion but soon you will find your brain fogging up. It is, therefore, important to take regular breaks while working on finishing your To-Do list.

A very common productivity technique doing the rounds is the Pomodoro method. This method introduces a time factor in your workday by dividing your work day into several chunks and breaks. It is up to you to decide the duration of the work windows and the break windows, but the developers of the Pomodoro technique recommend working in bursts of 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoro windows, the user is expected to take a longer break of 20 minutes or so. Personally for me, working in 90-minute windows followed by 15-minute breaks work the best. I schedule my break times into my calendar so that impromptu meetings can be avoided.

Now, taking breaks is half the battle won. But there is also the matter of how you utilize that break time. Washing dishes or dusting the furniture during the breaks do not count as “break.” Please be mindful of why you are taking the break and ensure you utilize the time to relax your mind and body.

So, there you go. Five ways you can boost your productivity. I hope you will give these a try.

What are some of your productivity tips? Please leave a comment to share. I would love to learn from you.

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Top 5 Ways to Slay Your To-Do List Everyday!

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