Today is the fifth and final part of my 5-part SMART Goals series, those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Basic information exists on what they are and how they are used, yet there are fewer resources for how to write and apply them to professional development goals. This application is the focus of this series.

Goals absolutely must be Time-Bound

Goals must be time-bound. If they were not, they would not be goals at all. They would instead be regular life, daily activities, and would not have a specific moment when we would plan for them to be accomplished or otherwise successful (or not!).

We can think of them short or long-term, dependent or independent, or any combination, though they share a certain time when they are intended to end. At times, goals go on past their time, and become both useless and forgotten. When this happens, it is in part due to the forgetting that goals have a best-by date, after which their time is past and we no longer need them. Our lives have moved on, and as a result our goals may need to develop as well.

If we know a goal ought to be accomplished by a certain time, such as by the end of the month or by the end of second quarter, we are really creating the first step in a time-frame for it, and as a result, using project management language, we have a project, a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It cannot be temporary if it is not time-bound.

Time-Bound Goals give us the Structure to make Action Possible

Without a structure, we cannot have goals, we would only have ordinary life. This is not as sad as it may seem, as our ordinary lives are what we do day-in and day-out. However, without having goals, our lives will not change through our own efforts, and we would merely be vessels afloat for others to direct in their own ways toward their own goals. Setting timelines for our goals provides us the structure to take our lives from the ordinary and move them to the extraordinary.

Putting Relevant into Practice

Let’s visit our colleagues one final time to see what these timelines can realistically look like.

Thomas, the Research Assistant

Thomas wants to manage staff and work through his fear of interpersonal confrontation. He decides to take a management knowledge and skills-based training program next month to help prepare for this next step in his career. That is specific. It is measurable as he will have a post-course evaluation that includes an achievable 3-month action plan for implementing what he learned. This is relevant to the job he wants, which he plans to begin applying and interviewing at the end of this period.

The 5 elements of SMART goals are present here, and we will only be able to see if this course and its plan was successful if he feels confident enough to change his job, after which he will likely have more goals related to his continuing management development.

Marcy the Middle Manager

Marcy wants her boss’s position, something possible once she learns how to effectively manage remote staff. She works with her mentor on this, using relevant and realistic role-play scenarios, engaging in an assessment tool to help her evaluate her progress. As her supervisor will be retiring and the job will become open, she has a concrete amount of time to develop this capacity, and as a result feels her progress in this effort is directly preparing her to apply for it.

The 5 elements of SMART goals are present here as well, and the concrete time before retirement allows her goal to happen at all, as without the structure this external timeline provides, Marcy may have just remained in her daily life, feeling stuck in place without the opportunity her goal will help provide her.

Andy the Senior Director

Andy is a workaholic, noticeable through his boundary issues that do not help him enjoy his family as much as he wants.In beginning a small amount of daily meditation, something which he is finding refreshing and grounding, he realized that with some more attention and a dedicated effort, he will progress to a daily cycle for a month after which he intends to be confident and grounded enough to take a full day off on the weekend without any direct work.

Andy’s situation can be the most challenging one with its being time-bound, as it can be difficult to plan some new behavior after a set amount of meditation. However, Andy has read up on this and is confident he will feel grounded enough to try the work-free Sunday after a month of daily meditation. He knows that nothing else has worked for him, and he believes a month is enough time for him to develop for this single step.

All aspects of SMART goals are present here as well, and while the time-boundedness may seem arbitrary, he knows that a month from now will be Labor Day, a time to mark a transition in the calendar that Andy really wants to embrace.

A Formula for SMART Goals

While all SMART goals can be written through using a few words for each of the S-M-A-R-T criteria, it is also possible to use a flow, such as, “Do ______ in order to ______ by ______.” You will find that the criteria readily fit within this process, and while no framework is perfect, this one is as close as possible to be something that really helps us to intentionally accomplish something worth doing.

I help people navigate their learning needs and take informed action, so in many ways live the world of SMART Goals every day. However, I know that many still find this difficult to work through on their own, due to having unclear goals for all sorts of reasons. If you find yourself challenged to write out or commit to your goals, I am happy to help through a free 30-minute coaching consult. This is often enough to help people clarify their goals and work through their stuck places. Likewise, if you find you may need some ongoing support, I offer that support through my educational consulting or coaching work.


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About Me

Jeffrey M. Keefer, Ph.D., is an educational consultant, institutional researcher and accreditation officer in higher education, professor of research methodology, nonprofit capacity building and strategic planning consultant, talent development coach, spiritual life advisor (chaplain) at New York University, spiritual director, and Wikipedian.