Being SMART With Your Goals

Ok, I might be a little late here.  A goal-oriented post usually belongs at the beginning of January, not at the end.  But…

I want to discuss setting real goals vs. setting non-goals.  You’d be amazed (or, perhaps not) at how many writers I’ve seen this month declare non-goals for 2013.  Non-goals don’t help anyone, least of all the person who sets them.

Non-goals are more easily defined as dreams–something you wish would happen, but don’t actually have any control over.

A real goal is entirely self contained and under your control.

Example of a non-goal: Qualify for SFWA.

Example of a real goal: Write ten short stories and submit them to SFWA qualifying venues.

See the difference?  Some people don’t.  At least, not right away.

There’s a well known model for goal setting that has circulated widely in the business world.  Which, naturally, means that writers are the last to hear about it  (I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but if you want to SELL something you’re in a BUSINESS, so we artsy types can all stop acting like ‘business’ is the eight-letter ‘b’ word).

This model is called SMART.  It’s an acronym that stands for Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-bound (actual words may vary depending on who you’re talking to, but the system remains the same).

Specific.  This one’s easy.  It’s the What, Where, Why and Who portion.  What are the requirements and restrictions? Where do I have to go/send/be in order to accomplish this?  Why is it important that this goal be accomplished?  Who is involved in making this goal happen (hint: if the goal requires someone in addition to yourself they have to be working towards the exact same goal.  Most editors are not working towards the same goal as you are, neither are agents or publishers.  They do not count as goal partners)?

Measureable.  This means you must have a concrete way of assessing your progress towards the goal and the goal’s completion.   You are looking for quantitative, not qualitative criteria.  How questions prominently figure in here.  For example:  I must write X number of stories and submit them.  Not: I must write a bunch of good stories and submit them.

Actionable.  This means the goal can be implemented and attained through your direct action only.  Which means it must be within your power to attain.  It is not a goal so lofty that you cannot reach it.  Nor is it only attainable if outside forces or circumstances happen to aid you.

Relevant.  Is there a point to this goal?  Will your career suffer should you fail?  Will it be aided should you accomplish it?  If the answer is no, it’s not really a relevant or worthwhile goal.  Is the goal of stamping and addressing twenty envelopes in a row relevant to your career as a writer?  The action might be necessary at some point, but it should not be a focal point.

Time-bound.  This one is especially important, I think, to writers.  It’s all about When.  How many people do you know who say, “I’m going to write a novel one day”?  I’m guessing a lot.  Most likely those people will never write that novel (they might never even start it, let alone complete it), because they have not deemed it important enough to put a time frame on.  A worthwhile goal must be constrained by time.  I will write ten stories someday will most likely leave you feeling unaccomplished come 2014 when you’ve failed to meet that non-goal.  Whereas if you say, I will write ten stories by June first, you have given yourself a time limit, an area of temporal space in which to work, and most importantly, complete your task.

So, it might be time to reevaluate your most recent goals.  You’ve lived with them near a month by now, how far along are you?  How close are you to completion?  When will you finish?  What is there still to complete?  If you have no way of concretely answering such questions, you might want to scrap your non-goals and set some real ones.

Non-goals only leave you with heartache when they are left incomplete.  We all want to have real goals that pull our dreams down to Earth and help make them our reality.  Otherwise, what’s the point of setting them?

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Was this post helpful?  Did you reexamine your goals?  Were your goals solid the first time around, or did you need to change a few things?  I’d love to know!  Leave me a comment.

~Marina

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2 thoughts on “Being SMART With Your Goals

  1. My goals are solid through March, after which point I’m not sure what I’ll be doing yet.

    So anyway, since you brought it up, what are YOUR goals for the year?

    • Ah ha, yes, I suppose I should post them:

      *Finish editing and sub 2 current novels
      *Write 2 more novels
      *Write 10 short stories, sub all.

      Which should equal roughly 300,000 words if my shorts go long. I’ve written 4 flash stories so far, so it might turn out that I set my bar too low in that camp (or that I should focus more on the word-oriented part of the goal).

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