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The Keys to Achieving Your Goals

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Happy New Year! When I was very new to the collision repair business, I had a boss that always said the same thing on the morning of January 2. He said, “Everyone, the holidays are over; now let’s get to work!”

That boss scoffed at the idea of making New Year’s resolutions and he always seemed to know what to work on to be successful and move his business forward. Making New Year’s resolutions is a long-standing tradition in the U.S. and recent research shows that 61 percent of us admit to making resolutions each year. Unfortunately, only about 8 percent of us are successful in achieving those resolutions. Most people admit that they fail their resolution before January 31. 

An article last year in Inc. magazine cited a survey of 2000 people and listed these as the top five resolutions:

  1. Diet or eat healthier (71 percent)
  2. Exercise more (65 percent)
  3. Lose weight (54 percent)
  4. Save more and spend less (32 percent)
  5. Learn a new skill or hobby (26 percent)

It seems to me that we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to making these resolutions and several quotable notables agree. Mark Twain observed, “New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” 

Why is it so difficult to achieve our resolutions? I think that the resolutions we make are not framed properly to be achievable because they are vague and largely negative. For example, losing weight is a negative construct. Nobody likes losing, even if the losing results in something positive. Most importantly, though, is that resolutions are not S.M.A.R.T. goals. 

What do I mean by SMART goals? SMART goals are established using a specific set of criteria that ensures your goals are attainable. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. These terms are slightly different than those used by the inventor of the SMART goal setting process back in 1981. The November 1981 issue of Management Review contained a paper by George T. Doran called There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives. The paper discussed the importance of objectives and the difficulty of setting them. Here is a quote from Doran’s paper:

“Ideally speaking, each corporate, department, and section objective should be:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Notice that these criteria don't say that all objectives must be quantified on all levels of management. In certain situations it is not realistic to attempt quantification, particularly in staff middle-management positions. Practicing managers and corporations can lose the benefit of a more abstract objective in order to gain quantification. It is the combination of the objective and its action plan that is really important. Therefore serious management should focus on these twins and not just the objective.”

When writing a SMART goal, you work through each of those terms to construct a goal that states exactly what needs to be accomplished, when it needs to be accomplished by, and how you’ll know when you’ve successfully reached your goal. Setting goals this way is obviously better than making resolutions, because it eliminates generalities, guesswork, and negative verbiage and sets a definitive “win” opportunity all the while making it easy to track your progress to the goal.

Let’s unpack each of these terms and apply some real world examples to each one so we can better understand how to use this system.

The first term is “specific” and is the foundation piece of the system. Specific goals are more likely to be attained than general goals and resolutions. To set a specific goal, you have to address the five “W” questions.

  • “Who”: Who is involved?
  • “What”: What do I want to accomplish?
  • “Where”: Where will the actions occur?
  • “When”: When will the actions occur, within what timeframe?
  • “Why”: What are the specific reasons and benefits of accomplishing this goal?

As an example, a general goal or resolution might sound like, “I want to get in shape” whereas a specific goal is, “I will join Gold’s Gym and do workouts every week.” A financial goal that is general in nature might sound like, “I want to save more and spend less” whereas a specific goal is, “ I want to pay off credit card debt.”

The next element is “measurable” and, in a nutshell, refers to the ability to track your goal using numbers. If you notice in the examples above, we don’t have any numbers and measurements in place. A well-constructed SMART goal of doing workouts should sound like this: “I will join the gym and do four workouts of one hour each per week” Paying off credit card debt goals sounds like, “I will pay off $3,000 of credit card debt by applying at least $150 to that debt each month.” 

By adding a measurable element to your goal, you can easily track your progress and also be aware when you get off course toward your goal. 

I’ll go over the last three elements of SMART goals in my next column. For now, there is one very important step that you must take when establishing your SMART goals. It sounds so simple, yet most people fail to execute on it. The most important step is write it down. 

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