Anybody who wants to go anywhere learns to set goals, since doing so gives you a clear direction for your behavior and planning. And the best of the best learn to make SMART goals--that is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. These guidelines were proposed in 1981 by George Doran, Arthur Miller and James Cunningham in Management Review.
But this approach notably leans heavily on quantification. Learning to balance SMART goals with a more qualitative mindset might make the difference between going up just a level or two and being stratospherically different than your rivals.
So here are my personal recommendations for how to take SMART goals above and beyond.
1. Look at the long-term.
Some goals--making it through the commute without spilling your coffee on yourself, for example--are just fine designed for the short-term. But perhaps the most significant SMART goals are the ones that have ripple effects well into the future. So when you're selecting an objective, ask yourself how the goal is going to influence you days, weeks, months or even years out. If it's not going to have that much of an impact later, the goal might not be worth your time and effort.
2. Have a good, reliable support system at the ready.
Being able to set a specific date or look at a metric from a piece of software might let you objectively know if what you're doing is working or how far you have to go, but that's only so motivating. You also need encouragement from others. Have people at your side who can give their interpretations to you, point out your strengths, help you overcome hurdles related to the goal and give you empathy when you feel stressed or isolated. Those individuals also can help you make sure that the goal meets SMART criteria to begin with and that you continue to adhere to those criteria over time.
3. Consider interpersonal relationships.
Just because a SMART goal is good for you doesn't mean it's going to benefit others. This doesn't mean you never should move independently for your own wellbeing if you are in a toxic situation. But think about whether the goal is going to create stress or hardships for those around you and how you can mitigate those issues proactively. A good SMART goal ideally will leave you with stronger friendships in and out of the office, rather than straining your interactions.
4. Root out potential problems.
Few things in life go off without a hitch, meaning that even SMART goals can run into kinks. Failure to consider specific problems you could encounter leaves you ill-prepared to overcome those issues and to complete your objective.
Create action plans for each anticipated hurdle, not only because it keeps you logistically moving, but also because as John Tierney and Roy Baumeister argue in Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, simply having solutions at the ready can reduce your stress. This can make your experience much more enjoyable.
Know the strengths you bring to the table as you develop your solutions, and work independently or with others to gain skills or information that could benefit you on your journey. This can improve the growth you gain beyond the single SMART objective you're after.
SMART goals are intelligent in part because they bring a certain level of objectivity to what you do. But you don't have to implement them in isolation, and there's more to consider with them than check boxes. Approaching them under this broadened perspective will set you apart, no matter what the individual SMART goals you set might happen to be.