Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)


Strategy #3b: Create Quarterly S.M.A.R.T. Goals

The simplest way to focus on what’s truly important in life is to create S.M.A.R.T. goals that will be achieved in the immediate future. This means you’ll set goals for each quarter (i.e., three months) instead of the yearlong goals that often take you out of the present moment.

To begin, let’s start with a simple definition of S.M.A.R.T. goals:

George Doran first used the S.M.A.R.T. acronym in the November 1981 issue of the Management Review .

It stands for: S pecific, M easurable, A ttainable, R elevant, and T ime-bound.

Here’s how it works:

S: Specific

Specific goals answer your six “W” questions: who, what, where, when, which, and why .

When you can identify each element, you’ll know which tools (and actions) are required to reach a goal.

·                   Who: Who is involved?

·                   What: What do you want to accomplish?

·                   Where: Where will you complete the goal?

·                   When: When do you want to do it?

·                   Which: Which requirements and constraints might get in your way?

·                   Why: Why are you doing it?

Specificity is important because, when you reach these milestones (date, location, and objective), you’ll know for certain you have achieved your goal.

M: Measurable

Measurable goals are defined with precise times, amounts, or other units—essentially anything that measures progress toward a goal.

Creating measurable goals makes it easy to determine if you have progressed from point A to point B. Measureable goals also help you figure out when you’re headed in the right direction, and when you’re not. Generally, a measurable goal statement answers questions starting with “how,” such as “how much,” “how many,” and “how fast.”

A: Attainable

Attainable goals stretch the limits of what you think is possible. While they’re not impossible to complete, they’re often challenging and full of obstacles. The key to creating an attainable goal is to look at your current life and set an objective that seems slightly beyond your reach. That way, even if you fail, you still accomplish something of significance.

R: Relevant

Relevant goals focus on what you truly desire. They are the exact opposite of inconsistent or scattered goals. They are in harmony with everything that is important in your life, from success in your career to happiness with the people you love.

T: Time-bound

Time-bound goals have specific deadlines. You are expected to achieve your desired outcome before a target date. Time-bound goals are challenging and grounding. You can set your target date for today, or you can set it for a few months, a few weeks, or a few years from now. The key to creating a time-bound goal is to set a deadline you’ll meet by working backward and developing habits (more on this later).

S.M.A.R.T. goals are clear and well-defined. There is no doubt about the result you want to achieve. At its deadline, you’ll know if you have or haven’t achieved a particular goal.

As an example, here are S.M.A.R.T. goals related to the seven areas of your life that we mentioned in the previous section:

1.                 Career: “I will acquire five new projects for my Web design consultancy through referrals, networking, and social media marketing campaigns within two months.”

2.                Family: “I will strengthen my bond with my family by taking them for a vacation at least once in six months. This will be accomplished by setting aside an hour each month during my review session and planning out future trip ideas.”

3.                Marriage (or love partnership): “I will identify three things I really love about my partner, and tell her about them on Friday night. This will be done by scheduling a 30-minute block on Tuesday so I can reminisce about all the good times we’ve shared together.”

4.                Spiritual/personal growth/self-improvement: “I will take five minutes each day to give thanks for everything that’s good in my life. I will develop this habit by setting aside time right before my lunch to remember what’s important.”

5.                Leisure/social: “I will dedicate three hours every week to learn and practice watercolor painting. This will be done by eliminating unimportant habits like watching TV.”

6.                Life management: “I will save 10 percent of every paycheck and invest it in index funds through my 401k.”

7.                Health and fitness: “I will work out a minimum of 30 minutes per day, three days per week by December 31.”

Hopefully, these seven examples give you an idea of how to create S.M.A.R.T. goals that lead to a balanced life. Now let’s go over a six-step process that will turn this information into action.

Step #1: Identify What’s Important to You

The key to achieving meaningful goals isn’t to focus on all of the areas of your life. The reason is simple: If you want to find meaning in what you do, then you’ll quickly feel overwhelmed if your days are fixated on a laundry list of goals. Yes, it’s important to be forward thinking, but you also want enough time to live in the present moment.

Our advice is to focus on three to four areas of your life . You can do this by looking at the seven areas we’ve discussed and identifying what’s most important to you right now . From there, simply create goals that tap into an outcome you find both challenging and exciting.

Step #2: Focus on Three-Month Goals

It’s been Steve’s experience that long-term goals are constantly shifting. What seems urgent today often isn’t important next month. So the strategy that works for him is to take the major priorities in his life and then break them down into three-month (or quarterly) goals.

Why should you focus on three-month goals?

Because your life is fast-paced and constantly shifting. In order to keep up with all these changes, it’s often better to create goals for the short term because this helps maintain consistent effort and a high level of motivation.

It’s also been Steve’s experience that lengthy goals (i.e., anything over six months) are often demotivating . When you know an outcome is months away, it’s easy to procrastinate on taking consistent action. You keep putting off your goals, promising you’ll work on them next week . Next thing you know, it’s a year later and nothing has been accomplished.

So to keep things simple, we recommend identifying the three to four areas of your life that are most important to you right now, and then creating a specific S.M.A.R.T. goal for each one that you hope to achieve within the next three months.

Step #3: Use a Weekly Review to Create a Schedule

It’s not always easy to consistently work on your goals when you have a dozen other obligations. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to this dilemma—schedule a weekly review session where you create a daily action plan for the next seven days.

The weekly review is a great concept that David Allen teaches in Getting Things Done . It’s a simple process. Once a week (Steve prefers Sundays), look at the next seven days and schedule the activities/projects you’d like to accomplish.

You can accomplish all of this with three simple steps:

1.                 Answer three questions: Think carefully about the next seven days and answer these three questions: What are my personal obligations? What are my priority projects? How much time do I have?

Your responses to these questions are extremely important because they will determine the amount of time that can be devoted to your goals during the next seven days.

The lesson here is that you shouldn’t schedule your week with hundreds of activities. That’s the quickest path to leading a mentally cluttered life. Instead, it’s better to recognize, ahead of time, a realistic amount of time that can be dedicated to your important goals.

2.                Schedule project tasks: After answering these three questions, map out the next seven days. The simplest way to do this is to look at the list for each goal and schedule time to follow-up on the most important activities.

3.                Process captured ideas: If you’re like Barrie and Steve, then you probably have dozens of great ideas every week related to your goals. The question is, how do you follow up on them? My advice is to process these notes, making one of two choices: 1) Take action on it immediately or 2) schedule a time when you’ll follow up on it. Here’s how that would work:

If the idea is actionable… then write out a step-by-step plan for how you’ll do it. Simply write down a series of actions you’ll take on this idea and then schedule these ideas into your week.

If the idea is NOT actionable… then put the idea into an archive folder that’s reviewed every month. If you do this for every idea you have, you won’t forget to follow up at the right time.

The weekly review is an important part of achieving your goals. When you plan out each week, you create a sense of urgency, making it more likely you will follow up on each goal. Your weekly review will also help you create a schedule you can turn into a list of daily activities.

Step #4: Take Action on Your Goals

It’s impossible to achieve your goals without action. In fact, the trick to getting what you want is to schedule time into your week that’s solely dedicated to your goals. That’s why we recommend the following actions:

·                   Turn your goal into a project : The easiest way to do this is to look at the target date and work your way backward. Visualize reaching this milestone. What are the specific steps you completed to get to this point? Once you identify the actions, you simply put them down into a simple, step-by-step list.

·                   Schedule time to work on goals : How much time you spend on each goal depends on what’s required for each activity. Some tasks might only require a few minutes each week, while others require hours of your day (that’s why it’s important to understand the time commitment of each goal). Figure out how much time you’ll need for each task and schedule them into your week.

·                   Turn goals into priority tasks : We all have those busy schedules full of activities that conflict with one another. The solution? Start your day by working on goals first thing in the morning, or some other time when you feel the most energetic.

·                   Schedule time for single actions : Many people get bogged down by the single actions that are important but not immediately urgent. A quick fix for this is to schedule time each week to complete a number of single actions.

The tool that Steve uses for these single actions is the ToDoist app . Whenever he sets a three-month goal, he creates it as a project in ToDoist and then he adds all the single actions that are required to achieve it. Finally, he schedules specific actions into his weekly calendar.

(For more on how to do this in ToDoist, here is a comprehensive guide they put together that will walk you through the entire process .)

Step #5: Review Your Goals

The key to achieving anything in life is consistency . That’s why you should review your “goal project” on a daily basis and make sure you’re hitting every important milestone. We recommend creating specific measurements for each step of the process and using a weekly review to make sure you’re touching on those as well.

Setting aside time for a daily review is a key step to achieving any goal. It doesn’t matter how busy you are—if you are not reviewing your goals every day, you will be less likely to succeed.

The truth is, sometimes life can throw major curveballs in your pursuit of a long-term objective. Often, these challenges can be frustrating and cause you to feel less excited about a goal. So our advice is simple: Review your goals at least two to three times per day. That way, you can keep them at the forefront of your mind and remind yourself why you’re taking a specific action on a daily basis.

Step #6: Evaluate Your Quarterly Goals

You work hard on your goals every day. You even review them on a weekly and daily basis. The problem? Some people never take a step back and understand the “why” behind each goal. In other words, people don’t review their goals to see if they’re actually worth pursuing. That’s why it’s important to evaluate your goals every three months, make sure they are aligned with your life purpose, and then create new goals based on what you’ve learned.

You can complete this evaluation by answering a number of questions:

·                   Have I attained the desired outcome?

·                   What were the successful and unsuccessful strategies?

·                   Did I put 100 percent of my effort toward completing these goals? If not, why?

·                   Have I achieved results consistent with my efforts?

·                   Should I create a similar goal for the next quarter?

·                   What goals should I eliminate or alter?

·                   Is there anything new I’d like to try?

Even though it takes a few hours to complete this evaluation, you should always take time do it every quarter. It will be your ultimate safeguard against wasting time on a goal that doesn’t align with your long-term plans.

So, that was a brief introduction to the value of setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Now, the best way to make sure you’re actually setting goals that you truly want is to connect them with a personal passion. In the next (and final) strategy we will show you how to do this.