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SMART Goals for Measured Growth

by Taylor Slattery | July 9, 2020

Even if you are lucky enough to be working right now, chances are, your day to day life has undergone a drastic change. Normal routines have been interrupted and many of us find ourselves with more time on our hands than we know what to do with. Right now is actually a great opportunity to evaluate your routine and reset if need be. Use this time to take stock of the things that matter to you. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try leatherworking. Maybe there’s a part of you that wants to become a baker. We all have something we’ve put on the back burner. That thing we’ve always wanted to do but never found the time to try.

So how do you get started? Simple. You set goals. Everybody has heard of goals. And for good reason, too. They work. But I don’t mean to set just any goal. You need to set SMART goals.

In an environment like college, the path to completion is clear. You have to take a certain number of classes to complete a certain number of credits, within a predictable timeframe. Once completed, you receive some form of diploma to acknowledge your achievement, thus marking the end of your journey. When you embark on something for yourself, the path forward may not be so clear. This is where SMART goals come into play. So what is a SMART goal?

Your goals need to be specific. Let’s say you want to be a painter. While that may feel specific, it’s actually pretty vague. What kind of painter do you want to be? Will you be painting large scale murals, portraits, or maybe just houses? What type of paint will you be using? What will your subject matter be?

A better goal would be, “I want to create oil paintings of people’s pets.” This is a better start, but we’re not quite there yet. There are a lot of different aspects that are involved in painting portraiture. Mixing colors, taking photographic reference, lighting, anatomy, brush economy, the list goes on and on. For the sake of our overall goal, a better starting point might be to first learn the anatomy of a dog. Compared with where we started, this is much more specific.

Your goals also need to be measurable. How will you know when the goal has been completed? How will you measure success? There are a number of different ways to answer this question. Building on our previous example, this might mean finishing 25 figure drawings of dogs, memorizing their skeletal structure, or even just learning the planes of their face. If you are unable to answer this portion that’s a good indicator that your goal is too vague.

Is your goal within reason? If you have no prior experience drawing dogs, it may be unreasonable to expect to achieve a perfect likeness right off the bat. By all means, aim for the stars, but be realistic. In this case, we aren’t aiming for perfection. Completing 25 drawings feels within reason.

Is your goal relevant? Will its completion contribute to a larger goal? In the first step we decided we wanted to be a painter, more specifically, we decided that we wanted to create oil paintings of people’s pets. First learning to draw dogs is relevant to our overall goal.

What is your deadline? Consider how much time you can afford or are willing to contribute to this goal. Again, be reasonable. Your goal should be challenging but completable.

The whole purpose of setting SMART goals is to bring goals from the abstract into reality, to move something from an idea into a set of actionable steps. SMART goals are about efficiency and clarity of purpose. Learning is a skill in and of itself, and without clarity, you will undoubtedly waste time. If you’ve ever spent a whole day feeling busy but gone to bed feeling like you’re no closer to your goal, give SMART goals a try.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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