Thursday, May 30, 2013

Achieving Writing Goals the SMART Way

We all have goals as writers. Some folks want to write more. Some want to get published. Some want to write better. Some want to finish their project. Others want to start. So many goals, so little time. So, what do we need to do to achieve these goals? Well, the details are different for everyone, but if we apply a standard formula, the steps are pretty much the same. Using the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound), anyone can create a path to achieving their goal.

So, let's take a look at an example.

SPECIFIC This is where you lay out your goal. It's important that your goal is as specific as possible so that it can answer to scrutiny. What do you want to accomplish? Why? As we're talking about writing, let's have a goal that most writer's have: "I want to increase my per day word count so that I can finish novels quicker and produce more content over the course of the year." Nothing vague there. Let's move on.

MEASURABLE It seems obvious, but this is where you define how you will measure the success criteria for achieving the goal. In this example, it's a matter of being able to point to a higher word total per day and, therefore, more finished projects and content (eg, I write 500 words a day now and publish a novel every year. I want to write 1000 words a day and publish 2 novels a year).

ATTAINABLE Is this a realistic goal? Is it achievable? Have I set the bar to high? And, if it isn't achievable now, what tools or resources do I need in order to achieve this goal? You may not even know the answer to this right away. Do some research. Find out how others have gotten over this hurdle. In our example of "writing more," I'm sure there are many answers out there. However, you need one that works for you. There may be several ideas that you can use at once (eg, carry a notepad wherever you go, write before you go to work, write on your lunch break, set your alarm a half hour early in the morning and write then).

RELEVANT How much does this matter to you? Guess what? If you don't care, you'll probably never achieve the goal you set. It doesn't matter what it is. You don't just accidentally accomplish anything, right? Well, at least for me it doesn't work that way. You have to want to get there. And, it has to make sense for you to get there as well. You may be at a point in your life where the additional stress of another goal, or a particular goal, isn't worth the hassle. But, you must also consider that by achieving the goal, you may relieve other stressors in your life (eg, writing 2 novels a year may increase my cash flow and pay a couple of bills).

TIME-BOUND When? When do we start? Now. How soon before I start evaluating my progress? Two weeks? A month? If you don't set a time boundary, you're setting yourself up for failure. We're creatures of habit and if your goal involves a new one, you've got to put it into motion right away. Even if your goal isn't habit related, you should still have a due date at which point you need to assess your progress toward your goal. Have you met it? And, if not, what went wrong? What can you do to get back on track? Do you need to adjust your goal, or the process that you're using to achieve it?

I hope this provides some guidance for setting and achieving goals. The SMART criteria were first described in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran as a method for writing goals and objectives for management. I think it's a good tool for just about any goal-setting objective.

What do you think?