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Stretch Your SMART Goals

17 January 2017

Barbara read Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business and learned a new approach to goal setting.

Tags: barbara read, time management and prioritization

This is the time of year when we all think about resolutions. We make them or swear off making them. Or, we make them and break them by the end of January. Some people follow through, but they are not the stories you hear often.

In his bestselling book, Smarter, Faster, Better, Charles Duhigg "explores the science of productivity, and why managing how you think is more important than what you think." I found all eight of his productivity concepts to be helpful, but I especially appreciated how he combined two ideas to improve the chances of accomplishing your goals or resolutions.

SMART goals have been around for a long time. The acronym stands for “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and based on a timeline.” They were a refinement of a 1980s goal-setting process that GE began in the 40s, and they soon became an industry standard. GE managers and directors were sent back to their desks to keep working until their goals met all five requirements.

But recently researchers have found that people who have just SMART goals often pick the easiest tasks, do them quickly, and get them checked off their list. A rush goes with the feeling of accomplishment and closure, but Duhigg says, “You get into this mindset where crossing things off your to-do list becomes more important than asking yourself if you’re doing the right things.”

As Duhigg continued his research, he learned that GE eventually added stretch goals to SMART goals. After a trip to Japan to study how the bullet train was invented so quickly, Jack Welch said every executive at GE had to have a stretch goal as well as SMART goals—"an aim so ambitious that managers couldn’t describe, at least initially, how they would achieve it.” In my experience, a stretch goal also increases my creativity and the number of solutions I'm willing to consider.

However, stretch goals can cause a bit or a lot of discomfort so you need to be careful about looking at too many at once. Duhigg says, “If you’re confronted with a list of only far-reaching objectives, you’re more likely to get discouraged and turn away. So one solution is writing to-do lists that pair stretch goals and SMART goals.”

A stretch goal for me is that I want to write a book about how I changed my behavior when scary things happen—I learned a technique to help me relax instead of increasing my anxiety with negative self talk. I want it to include specific instructions that someone could choose to follow but also tell my own story of how I did it in interesting, suspenseful, and humorous ways. This is a stretch goal for me. A SMART goal that can be applied to it is to write three morning pages in my journal every day, take 1000 words to writing class each Thursday and edit the day after to incorporate my classmates’ suggestions.

Maybe you want to start a new business. Be imaginative and wild as you describe the business in as much detail as you can without knowing how you will achieve everything. Then think about what you can do in the next hour, day, or week that would move you toward that stretch goal. For example, put one descriptive paragraph and two pictures on your newly designed website each day.

How can you stretch your SMART goals in 2017?


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