Setting achievable goals can be a daunting task, especially when the goals are long term and are assumed to be achievable only if a significant amount of time has passed. This is where thinking SMART will actually help!

You may have often heard that short term goals, be they in work or in life, are much easier to accomplish than long term goals. However, this is not strictly true. Having shorter mini-goals are a way to keep you focused and on track and see your progress whilst aiming to accomplish the bigger goal that you have set. One can’t function without the other, and this is where SMART goals come into play. SMART is a mnemonic, used to help write goals that ensure productivity and are easily attainable. The letters work as a checklist ensuring that set goals are:

Specific: Your goal has to be specific, unambiguous and clear stating exactly what you will DO in the present moment. Something which isn’t complicated or complex, and doesn’t require you to attempt to juggle too many things at a time to achieve.

Measurable: Your goal has to be measurable, allowing you to be able to visualize when you have achieved it. It is also a good idea to have a checklist of some sort where you can see the progress that you are making.

Attainable: Your goal has to be attainable, in the short term AND the long term. If the goal isn’t attainable in the long term then as time goes on if motivation levels drop, rather than feeling confident that the goal is still achievable there is a risk of complete abandonment of it altogether.

Realistic: Your goal has to be realistic, according to what YOUR capabilities are. Working with your peers or colleagues on goals together is often a good way to keep each other motivated but you have to remember that your goals have to be personal to you and not to them. They have to be based on the time you can honestly dedicate to them, dependent on resources you have and based on your own personal work style.

Timely: Finally, your goals have to be time-bound or timely, but be careful as both too much time and not enough time can have a negative impact on the achievement of goals and your motivation to achieve them too. Ensure that the allocated time is short enough for the goal to keep you focused and on-task in, and long enough to actually be completed in.

Assignments and coursework are one of the most common pieces of work given to students throughout their time in education and are also one of the most common pieces of work that cause a lot of unneeded anxiety and stress simply because of fast-approaching deadlines and the overwhelmingly large word count that is expected. SMART goals can work really well for students in assignment writing and can allow for this experience to be a much more pleasant one!

For example, if you have been given a 3000-word assignment to be completed in 3 weeks how would you approach it? Most of us would probably read through the assignment, spend a lot of time on the internet for relevant literature and then suddenly feel overwhelmed with the blank document staring back at us as we begin to start typing. Thoughts of how it is humanly possible to write 3000 words on a topic we hardly know or understand come to mind, and it's usually downhill from there. Well, that is until there is only a week left and we end up in a panic mode and suddenly are drinking too many cups of coffee and attempting to stay awake all night just to finish the assignment on time!

Sound familiar? Don’t worry you’re not alone, we are all guilty of ignoring pieces of work simply because we feel they’re not doable! The key is to get into the habit of setting SMART goals allowing you to accomplish the assignment a little chunk at a time over the allocated time, such that you actually still get to have a life outside of that and do not feel overwhelmed or overburden by it. The goal we set is usually something along the lines of “Finish assignment by date in 3 weeks”. Even though that is a time-bound goal, it lacks the other necessary elements to ensure it’s actually achievable. So let’s look at how we can adapt this such that it becomes a SMART goal:

First start by being specific about what you want to do, saying ‘complete assignment’ is not specific enough and can often cause de-motivation from the onset. My advice is to SPLIT up the assignment into sections or headings (e.g. Aim, Introduction, Main 1, Main 2, Main 3, Conclusion, References). Having done so aim for a set word count for each section, although this information is often given to you in the assignment details.

Now that you have set up a list of actual sections you want to work on you can think about how to measure them. By setting yourself a goal to complete 200 words a day, you can aim to complete your 3000-word assignment in 15 days, which still gives you plenty of time every day to do other things. PLUS a few extra days to review your work and ensure that you’ve printed and stapled ready to hand in well before time. If you feel you could do more then maybe set yourself a target of 350 words a day, which would mean assignment completion in only 9 days, again giving you plenty of time to review and check through it.

Whatever word count you decide on it has to be attainable! If you have other commitments, part-time evening work or weekend commitments then do not try to over-burden yourself and aim to do too many words per day or you will not be able to follow the goal through!

Attainability of your goal is also linked to whether or not it is realistic. If you know, for example, that your typing speed isn’t that fast and writing 200 words will take you some time then DON’T set goals in which you expect yourself to write 1000 words just because you think you will finish the work sooner so can leave it until the final few days, as your typing speed will not magically gain pace and you will not be able to complete your work to the best of your ability.

Finally ensuring that there is a time constraint for each small goal is key. If you know you are busy 2 days a week and will not be able to dedicate any time on your assignment then make sure your goal reflects this and you state that you will only work on it 5 days in the week.

So our initial goal of:” Finish assignment in 3 weeks” can now be transformed into a SMART goal of: “Complete 350 words of assignment every day for 5 days each week“. Alongside this, ensure you have a daily checklist where you can tick off that you have attained the short-term goal of 350 words a day and the medium-term goal of doing this 5 days in the week, so that automatically by day 9 you will have a completed 3000-word assignment thus achieving your final long term goal of finishing the assignment (with plenty of time to spare!).

I hope this article has highlighted a method of setting goals, which will also enable you to confidently follow them through an achieve long-term success =)

All the best in your SMART goal setting, and feel free to leave comments of techniques you have used to ensure accomplishment of short-term and long-term life goals!

Academica Mentoring