Last week we gave you some simple tips and techniques to help you manage your time more effectively. This week we’d like to help you with another important aspect of your academic or working life – setting goals. While it may sound like a simple and straightforward task, many people don’t know how to go about setting goals in a way that improves your productivity and ensures you get through your workload. Goal setting is also important in a broader sense and can help you to make the right decision when it comes to choosing your course of study and career.
One very useful methodology for goal setting is called the SMART methodology, which can help you to clarify your ideas, focus your efforts and increase your chances of achieving what you are capable of.
Without a clear goal – whether it be in your professional, academic or personal life – life can seem a bit chaotic and beyond your control. We all make decisions about what we want to do and achieve, both in the short- and long-term, but this is often done without much structure and intention.
The process of setting goals that relate to the things we want to do and achieve can make a huge difference to our motivation and increase the chances of success. For example, rather than simply saying “I want to pass my upcoming test”, you can set yourself a specific target (maybe 60%) and have specific learning goals. Be clear on what you want to learn rather than focusing on just getting through and passing. The same applies in a bigger sense to your career choice – think about clear goals you want to achieve along the way to getting your dream job rather than simply saying “I want to be an engineer”.
One very useful way to help you in defining your goals and making them meaningful is the SMART methodology.
Setting SMART goals
The SMART methodology can be used for small or big goals and in your professional, personal or academic life. The acronym ‘SMART’ stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.
Think about exactly what you want to achieve when setting your goals. As in the above example, don’t just aim to pass your test but rather think about what knowledge you want to retain and why. For your career aspirations, be specific about the types of job and career you would like and do some research on what is required. Think about the ‘who, what, when, why and how’ of your goals and that will help you to make them more specific.
Break your goal down into measurable elements and track them at each stage. Think about the result you want to achieve on your test or the amount of work experience you would like to gain at each stage of your varsity career. This will help to better define your goal and it will also make you think about why you are aiming to achieve that specific thing.
It may sound obvious but it’s crucial that you set goals that you can realistically achieve. If maths isn’t your strong point, then don’t aim to get 90%. Set a goal that is achievable according to your time, energy, commitment and ability. That’s not to say you shouldn’t push yourself to improve your maths marks but make sure it’s not an impossible achievement.
This relates to the ‘why’ of your goal. A goal may be specific, measurable and attainable but if it’s not relevant to you and your interests then you shouldn’t be pursuing it. Ask yourself the purpose behind the goal and what you hope it will bring in order to gauge how relevant it is. This also allows you to prioritise your goals – some will be less relevant than others but doesn’t mean you should ditch them.
This relates to our post from last week about time management. One very important aspect of goal setting is to develop a realistic timeline that you can stick to. You can include specific milestones along the way that will help keep you on track and have a certain timeframe in which you want to fully achieve your goal. If you want to improve your academic results, set yourself a specific target and a time you’d like to achieve that target. Then set incremental milestones along the way so you can make steady improvements on the way to reaching your goal.
Setting goals using the SMART methodology can help with many aspects of your life. It will give some structure and purpose to your life and routine and allow you to feel like you are achieving what you are capable of.
Next week we’ll give you an example of how failing to set proper goals can lead to making the wrong decisions and cost a lot of time, energy and resources.