“I find it fascinating that most people plan their vacations with better care than they do their lives. Perhaps that is because escape is easier than change.”
~ Jim Rohn

As summer ends and September begins, many of us think about making personal and professional changes. (It’s the traditional start of the school year, and we still feel it!) Whether you want greater impact in your current position, or expansion into a new role, or personal fulfillment and growth, how do you turn thoughts into reality? How do you get from here to there?

A written plan is the key. It helps organize your thoughts and actions. The plan can be one month, six months, a year, three years… whatever timeframe suits you best.

But here are the two keys: 1) You really have to write it down. 2) You really benefit if you do it the SMART way.

Chances are, you’ve heard the acronym, but it takes some practice to work with it and get results. With a future vision for your life and work firmly in mind, the idea is to make your goals SMART:

Specific – What, specifically, do you want to achieve? If you’re not sure, or you don’t articulate it, you’re less likely to achieve it. Saying “I want to manage my time better” is not nearly as specific (or useful) as saying “I want to use x and y time management practices every week so I can be more productive and leave work by 5:30 every day.”

Measurable – How will you know if you’re making progress or have achieved your goal? Ideally, goals include a way of measuring your progress. You might be able to identify the number of hours per week that you will do something, or the number of people you’ll talk with, or the dollars you earn, or a variety of other quantitative measures. Or you may need a more qualitative way of assessing (e.g., you have developed a more trusting relationship with a key client).

Attainable – Can you really achieve the goal you’re setting? This is a tricky question because you want to stretch yourself (possibly beyond your comfort zone), but you also want to set yourself up for success, not disappointment. It may help to take big goals and break them down into a set of smaller goals. Factor in potential obstacles. It helps to keep the long-term vision lofty and the goals practical and doable.

Relevant – How important is this goal? Does it really move you toward the most important things you want for your life and work? If not, then scrap it. Shoot for 3-4 priority goals, not a to-do list.

Time-Specific – Can you give your goal a limited timeframe (days, weeks, or months)? You’re much more likely to set a realistic goal if you know it needs to be done by the end of November than if you leave it open-ended. And for many of us, a deadline not only motivates but also helps us plan the day-to-day tasks/action steps that are necessary to achieve the goal.

Take advantage of the September sense of change in the air. No more disappointments from unrealized goals. SMART progress instead!

Photo Credit: PixelsAway/Bigstock.com

New York: 212.537.6897 | Pennsylvania: 610.254.0244