Unlock your Productivity with SMART Goals


I first embraced the use of SMART goals in graduate school, but working from home over the past few weeks has truly reaffirmed their value. However, when I enthusiastically encourage the students I work with to use SMART goals, I’m often met with eye-rolls and comments like, “Yeah, we had to do those in grade 3/planning 10/skills block.” So here’s a reminder of how helpful SMART goals really are.

I remember sitting down to write a paper that would take six weeks or to study for exams that were months away, and feeling paralyzed because the job was just too big. In response,  I did what anyone experiencing the flight or fight response of anxiety would do—I procrastinated. What SMART goals allow us to do is be specific, rather than attempting to work at a task that is either vague or too long to be completed in one sitting.  SMART goals stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound; read on to see how using them can simplify your work.

SMART Step 1: Establish designated work times

The first step is to set up blocks of time for work. A student whose classes have moved online might decide to work from 9:30–11, 12:30–2:00, and 2:30–4 each day. Each of these blocks might be allocated in advance to a certain class or task, or students might wait to see what needs to be done.

SMART Step 2: Break up big tasks

At the start of each work block, students should set SMART goals for the time they have. In order to do this, the student will need to break down a larger task into smaller pieces. Let’s say my larger task is “study for my AP Psychology exam.” I will specify that my SMART goal for today is to review Chapter 1, unit 1, and answer review questions #1-10, between 9:30 and 11:00 am.

SMART Step 3: Get to work

So now I have a SPECIFIC goal: read Chapter 1, unit 1 and answer 10 questions. It is also MEASURABLE because I have specified which pages to read and which questions to answer (in other words, I will know when I have accomplished my goal). It is ACHIEVABLE because I looked at the reading and questions and decided I could do them in the allotted time. This work is RELEVANT to my overall goal, which is to prepare for my AP Psych exam. (By contrast, I can always tell when one of my daughters has an upcoming exam—she starts frantically cleaning her room. Here we have an example of work that is not relevant). And it is TIME BOUND—I will stop at 11:00 and know I have accomplished my goal, so I can move on to the next thing.

Compare the two: 

  1. I’m going to do some psychology later today.
  2. I will read Chapter 1, unit 1 and answer questions 1–10 in my AP psych textbook from 9:30–11:00, to prepare for my AP Psychology exam. 

SMART goals allow us to take control of our time, and of larger tasks, allowing us to accomplish our goals without feeling paralyzed or falling into the trap of procrastination. I encourage you all to implement SMART goals into your routines this week. I’m sure you’ll find this method helpful in increasing productivity and ensuring peace of mind. Happy goal-setting!

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