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SMART-ly Redefine Your Career Goals

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In September, I shared with you ways to identify and set strategic goals. We reflected on our interests and where we want to dedicate more brain space. We developed action plans for working these goals into our daily lives as well as ways to consciously check in on our progress and tinker with our plans when needed. As you’ve been following this process, you may feel confident in your abilities to reach achievements and the resources needed to replicate them on an ongoing basis.

Next, we focus on planning - taking an unconventional goal you have identified and making it happen. To do this we need to craft a SMART goal, establish what actions will lead to accomplishing that goal and planning how to make your action steps fit into your life.

Building upon the work we did a few months ago, during which we sketched out where we are based on our hobbies, relationships, personality traits etc, next we will choose our destination by setting a personal goal and plotting how to get there.

Setting a SMART Goal

Look back at your “I would feel incredibly accomplished, if over the next 4-12 weeks I __________” statement. You may have filled in the blank with a broad statement: “rode my bike more” or “spent time practicing Spanish.” The first thing we need to do with those high-level goals is to make them SMART:

Specific – focused

Measurable – there are some metrics to tell us whether or not we achieved it

Achievable – ambitious, but not unattainable

Relevant – realistic given your context, location, abilities, time of year etc.

Time-bound – having a deadline

Take a few minutes now and make your own goal SMART, checking the list above to ensure it meets all of the criteria.

Brainstorming Your Actions

Once we have a SMART goal, we have to figure out how to achieve it by identifying which actions will get us there. Think innovatively – performing well in a bike race does not only depend on logging hours on your bike, but being active generally and maintaining healthy sleep and eating habits. Similarly, having quality conversations in Spanish isn’t just about drilling vocabulary words, but watching a movie in Spanish, or going to dance or listen to merengue, rumba, salsa, or other types of Latin/Spanish music. Below are examples of actions I can take to support my SMART goals. 

As you do this for yourself, notice how most of the example actions are also SMART. This will help in balancing your plan – we are not just learning 300 vocabulary words in 6 weeks, but 50 per week and reviewing all of the ones we have learned so far at the end of every week. SMART actions will allow you to check on your “Measurable” progress every week and will prevent you from cramming to learn 300 in the last week. You want to avoid the possibility of feeling overwhelmed and discouraged and just not doing it. Go ahead and do this now.

Planning Out Your Actions

Your planning format must be useable – you have to want to use it. I love spreadsheets – I fill them out, color code them and have a digital record of my goal progress. I also like keeping it separate from daily tasks like picking up the laundry or meeting a friend for coffee. That said, if you use a paper planner or e-calendar for most everything in your life, then integrate these goals into that system.

A few reminders and things to think about before scheduling when we are going to fit our actions in:

Stay present – multitasking can be really helpful to work towards our goals, but we have to maintain the balance of not letting our relationships or other areas of our life suffer because of it

Identify what you need from others – bring the people around you into this process. Explaining how important a goal like this is to you and what others can do to support you will help ensure success

Dedicating time – some goals require more dedicated time than others to achieve. After you have created your plan, review it to make sure it is still “Achievable” and if not, tweak your SMART goal and go through the process again

Spend some time now to identify when you will do each of your action items. I normally plan out a week at a time and review my progress and plan the next week every Sunday, but think about what will work best for you.

Create Accountability

Once you have taken the time to do these steps and have dedicated yourself to the process, the last planning step is to create some accountability. Often times, planning is the fun part, but the doing is harder. Tell friends and family about your goal, creating positive external accountability. You can also find a friend or a group that meets regularly to help increase your accountability. Ultimately the more people in your life who ask you “how is training for the bike race?” or “how is the Spanish coming along,” the better.

I look forward to continuing this process with you in our next installment, where we will cover how to reflect on and celebrate your progress, both during the goal period and after you have finished.


About the Author | Laura Robitzek works at a public charter school network, helping school leaders and teachers leverage data in their classrooms – not the overwhelming kind of data, but the “exactly what I need to help kids learn” kind. Combining her BA in economics and an MPA in Public Policy, she loves writing content, whether it is numbers-focused or focused on actionable ideas. In addition writing this series for Idealist Careers, she coaches and plays in a competitive women’s softball league and tries to spend every free moment near the ocean.

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