When you ask a typical person about their goals, often they will respond by detailing their dreams – their dream job, their dream house, their dream business.
Dreams are important; they give us a direction to move towards, but I think it’s important to note that they are not the same as goals.
Goals (when written well), like dreams, are aspirational — but they are also more specific. While a dream may be the roof of the building, goals are the steps and landings of the stairwell. For example, if your dream is to run a world-renowned restaurant, your goal-trajectory might be: get accepted into, and graduate from culinary school; land a job as a cook at a notable restaurant; move through the ranks in notable restaurants until you reach chef status; find a financial backer and open the restaurant; gain exposure and win accolades; etc.
The thing is, most people aren’t very good at setting goals either. While the goals laid out above are better at giving direction to someone’s career, they could be stronger. How? By making them SMART.
SMART stands for:
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound
A specific goal is a goal that has a bit of depth to it. It isn’t saying “I want to go to culinary school”, it’s saying “I want to graduate from The Culinary Institute of America in their baking program”. Specificity is important so that you know exactly what needs to be done in order for the goal to be deemed a success.
A measurable goal is one that is based on some sort of metric. Instead of saying “I want to have good knife skills”, a measurable goal would be: “I want to be able to finely and evenly dice 5 onions per minute.”
A goal that is attainable is a goal that you can accomplish. People have a tendency to get over-zealous with their goals when they are excited and passionate. However, setting goals that you will not be able to accomplish doesn’t make sense for anyone. It’s more important to be realistic than too aspirational here. Break down larger goals into pieces if you need to, in order to accomplish them. For example: if your big goal is to open a restaurant, but you aren’t very good at cooking yet, a smaller and more attainable goal would be to learn to cook well, or even learn to cook a few things well. As you attain certain goals and get better at something, new goals may become attainable.
Relevant goals are goals that help you progress to your dream. If you are trying to reach culinary stardom at any cost, it doesn’t make sense to waste your precious time learning to be an awesome mechanic. Sure, it might be super useful to you personally, but in this case, it doesn’t help you reach your dream or goals.
The best goals are also time bound. Adding this constraint is important so that you are able to keep yourself accountable. Setting goals is sort of like creating a to-do list. You have on your list what you want to do today, what you want to do tomorrow, etc. With goals you may have daily goals, monthly goals, yearly goals, etc. Be very specific with the dates you choose, and make sure that you would also be able to complete the goal without unreasonable stress.
Together, SMART goals help shape a roadmap for reaching your dreams. One SMART goal for an aspiring restaurant owner who has spent years perfecting their trade, and is now ready to venture off on their own may look like this:
By January 15, 2018, I want to have developed, and tested (have friends and family sample, and give rating on a 1-10 scale) five sample items for the menu.
Was This Specific? – They didn’t say: “I want to have a menu written” They said: “developed, and tested (have friends and family sample, and give rating on a 1-10 scale) five sample items”
Was This Measurable? – Five items can be measured. A rating scale of 1-10 is a metric. Is something developed/tested – yes or no?
Was This Attainable? – This blog piece was written in August 2017, so depending on the dedication and ability of the chef, this may or may not be attainable. We are going to assume that five items is, for our purposes, a reasonable number.
Was This Relevant? – Having a menu is the corner stone of a restaurant, so this is relevant.
Was This Time-bound? – Yes, by saying “by January, 15, 2018” the goal is explicitly time-bound.
There are many ways to set goals, and reach them. Making goals SMART has worked wonders for me and many others in the past. If you have trouble following through with actions, feel like you could be more organized, or are just looking for ways to be more efficient, I would highly recommend setting and following the SMART Goal framing.