The Goal Triangle Setting and Achieving Ambitious Goals To Become… Unstoppable!


Better SMART Goals

pic: For Better SMART Goals, Focus on the M and the T

pic: For Better SMART Goals, Focus on the M and the T

Any discussion of goal setting would be incomplete without mentioning the SMART framework.  SMART goals stand for Specific, Measureable, Action-based, Realistic, and Timebound.

Or is it Stretch, Meaningful, Achievable, Results-Oriented, and Timely?

Or maybe the A stands for Agreed-upon?  Or maybe…

“Ah, whatever.  This is too confusing.  I’ll just set my goals the way I always have.  Which means I won’t really do it well.”

Unfortunately, you see this happen too often.  A cute acronym gets butchered by well-meaning managers and self-help gurus.  And what was designed to speed effectiveness ends up becoming a road block and maybe even the butt of a joke (I’ve been in meetings where someone next to me, bored with the lecturer telling them how to set goals, ends up finding some really hilarious word substitutions you wouldn’t want to show your kids).

While it’s easy to remember SMART, it’s hard to remember what each letter stands for.  And even if you do, it gets even harder when you’re writing your goals to make sure you’ve satisfied each criterion.

Let’s Simplify This A Bit

I’m going to help you simplify this.  The kernel of this idea came from a great business podcast called ManagerTools, so I credit them with the simplicity.

All you need for good goals is to make sure they are measurable and timebound.  That’s it.  The rest is common sense.

Every goal has to be measurable and every goal has to have a time-based deadline.

If they are truly measureable, they’ll be specific enough and certainly they’ll be results oriented (you are measuring the results, right?).

Timebound remains important because it tells you when to measure.  And we all know that goals set to be achieved “someday” are less likely to happen.

As for the possible SMART interpretations of “realistic” and “stretch” and “achievable” – why would you ever want to limit them?  Some goals should be realistic and some should be challenging.  Forcing every goal into one of these buckets is lame.

And goals should be easy to remember.  Encumbering them with extra words, just so that satisfy S.M.A.R.T. (whatever they stand for), reduces their effectiveness.

If you have staff that report to you, one sure-fire way to get them to roll their eyes is to ask them if their goals are SMART.  It’s a bit patronizing really.

Try It

Try it right now.  Pick an area in your life that’s important to you.  Any area…

Now, what would you like to accomplish in that area?  Start by trying to satisfy every SMART criterion.  I’ll wait…

Done?  Ok, how hard was it?  How long did it take?

Now pick a different area in your life.  Got it in mind?  Now, what do you want to accomplish in that area?   But this time, use just the M and the T – make it something you can measure and give it a deadline.

Done?  How long did that one take?

Look at the two goals?  Is the SMART goal any better than the MT goal?

I bet not.  I bet that the MT goal took a lot less effort and time and may actually be superior in terms of the way it’s worded – so that you actually achieve what you want to.  Do this enough times – say, for 10 goals - and you’ll be convinced that nobody needs the S, A, and R.

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  1. I still think the S is important, especially for someone whose goal is to “be a successful person and live a wonderful life”. But wait… If it isn’t specific, how can it be measurable??!

    The A and R are common sense. “I want to be able to run 20 km/s” is an example for a horrible goal to set. They can be easily omitted.

    This leaves the M and T. I guess I haven’t added anything new. Yeah, “MT” is sufficient and easier to remember. Thanks

  2. Do you ever get the feeling that reported effectiveness of goal setting is highly influenced by “confirmation bias?”

    That being said, if you are going to create a goal, nothing is more important than “measurable and time-bound.”

  3. Very smart post! I agree, S, A and R are all adequately covered under “measurable” and “time-bound.” Sometimes, the reach for a memorable acronym actually complicates things. You’ve done a great job of simplifying it!

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  5. I agree with your post, Darrin. Specific, Attainable, and Realistic are common-sense and/or redundant.

    The only thing I would add to this is that goal-setters should plan for roadblocks and setbacks. I see so many people who make a decisive goal, then create a detailed and step-by-step plan, but then abandon course when things don’t go exactly according to plan. So maybe throw in the letter “F” for flexible?

    Alex Work

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