5 Steps to Setting Goals You'll Actually Achieve in 2021

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A whole new year might not mean a whole new year. At the stroke of midnight, we don’t get an entirely fresh slate or a complete reset. We bring things from our past into our present and future. And that’s okay—in fact, it’s a chance to use what you already have to get to where you want to be. A new year brings the opportunity to start something new: to finally work on that project, connect with that old friend, or learn that skill you’ve always wanted to try. 

Of course, saying we want to do something is a lot easier than actually achieving it. And when we’re making our big, exciting new year’s resolutions, most of our goals are long-term—things we can’t just accomplish in an hour or two one weekend. They take time and resources, some that we might not have already. That doesn’t mean they’re impossible. It just means we have to try a little harder to reach them. 

That’s where SMART goals come in—Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant, Time-bound goals.

SMART goals were originally developed by a management consultant to help organizations make their goals clearer and more effective, but their framework can be applied to anyone and everyone hoping to set and crush their dream goals. The five-step process helps define and measure goals to make sure you not only know exactly what you want to achieve, but exactly how and when you’ll get there, too.

1. Be specific.

It’s not enough to say that you want to “improve your career” or “focus on family.” Instead, clarify these desires by asking yourself exactly what you want to achieve. What’s the end goal? More importantly, why is it important to you? Answering the “5 Ws”  here—who’s involved, what you want to achieve, when you’re going to achieve it, where you might achieve it and why you want to set this goal—can help you refine your goal based on your time and resources. Clarifying your goals this way will make it easier to understand exactly what you’re going for. You can’t reach a goal unless you know exactly what that goal is—and why you’re going to work hard to achieve it.

2. Measure it.

Now that you know what your goal is, figure out the best way to measure your success. What metric will you use to know when your goal is completed? How can you use this metric to measure your progress along the way? For example, if your goal is to spend more time with family to strengthen your relationships, you might measure your progress in hours spent with your family. If your goal is to put yourself back into the job market, you might measure by completed job applications. No matter what metric you use, measuring your goals gives you a clear, strategic way to keep track of your progress and hold yourself accountable. 

3. Make it achievable.

This step isn’t to discourage you from achieving your goals; instead, it’s a gut check to make sure you have all you need to properly set yourself up for success. There might be resources or time limits that pose obstacles, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work toward that goal. Instead, adjust your goals to ensure you have everything you need to achieve them. For example, if your goal was to land a job you really love, there are other factors—people’s hiring decisions—that are somewhat out of your control. You can adjust your goal to make it realistic while still challenging yourself. Maybe your new goal is to best set yourself up for landing a job. To achieve that, you’ll work on your resume and technical, interviewing ,and networking skills to help you succeed in the job market. It’s crucial to set a goal you have the resources for while knowing you’ll still have to work hard to get there.

4. Make it relevant.

Like you assessed your goal to see whether it was achievable, make sure your goal is also relevant to your broader dreams and goals. This may take more self-reflection than the previous steps, yet understanding exactly why you want to achieve this goal now will help clarify your path to success. Does this goal fit into your larger life values? Is this the right time to achieve this goal? Why is this goal worthwhile to you? When you make sure that this is the right goal for the right time, the more likely you’ll be to follow through and achieve it.

5. Plan your time.

Whether your goal can be accomplished in a couple of weeks or a couple of months, setting up time-based progress points will help you reach your goals by blocking out the time to actually achieve them. Use the metrics from step 2 to measure your progress. If you were going to spend a specific amount of hours with your family, schedule those hours out as best you can. Where can you take an hour to spend one on one time with your daughter? When you can you plan a family dinner? Our plans and schedules may change, but cutting out time to achieve your goals will make sure you’re giving yourself the space to achieve—and succeed.

What goals do you want to achieve in 2021?