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New Year’s resolutions never worked well for me. Lately, I have moved away from anchoring goals to this arbitrary starting signal. Why would the change of a number in the footers of all our websites trigger us to improve our lives? We don’t have to wait for next year, next month, or even next Monday. We can start on any day and at any time.

Regardless of when we start, how we phrase our goals influences how likely we are to achieve them. My resolutions were always too broad. I wanted to “read more books”, “improve my health”, and “watch less television”. When setting goals, the acronym of SMART is surprisingly smart. According to its criteria, a good goal is one that is:

  • Specific (expresses exactly what outcome we want)
  • Measurable (provides numbers to measure progress by)
  • Achievable (we have or can get the skills/tools to reach it)
  • Relevant (fits within our larger plan instead of distracting from it)
  • Time-bound (has a realistic deadline)

SMART goals help us weed out irrelevant ones and focus our time and effort where they matter most. My goal of “reading more books” was never about the act of reading. I do not want to read books for the sake of reading, but for learning something from them. A SMART version of this goal could be this:

I want to apply learnings from three books on management in my work to become better at developing teams. I want to share my findings by July.

Following this goal, it’ll be easier to judge which activities are worth doing. If you can use this pattern to rephrase your goals, I would love to hear how it went for you.

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