Making SMART Goals – What Have You Been Meaning to Get Done?

At the beginning of each year, many people consider resolutions and bucket lists in hopes of achieving new levels of success in a variety of areas in their lives. Common goals include breaking a bad habit or gaining a good one, reducing stress, getting more sleep, reading more books, making healthier choices, taking more trips, and tackling big projects. Some people choose theme words to help guide their year, while others will make a list of things they hope to achieve. Others consider new year resolutions arbitrary, and don’t set any goals at the new year, but may set goals to coincide with milestone birthdays or big life events.


Experts have found that a majority of these resolutions will not actually be achieved because people fail to make SMART goals. These types of goals are characterized as:


S – Specific: you have clearly identified a specific item you want to achieve with this goal

M – Measurable: you have a way of tracking your progress toward the goal

A – Achievable: your goal is realistic given your life circumstances and available resources

R – Relevant: your goal is meaningful to you, and is congruent with your identity of self

T – Time-bound: your goal has a deadline


So, if your goal is to reduce stress in your life, you can design SMART goals that will help you become less stressed out. For example, you could decide that you will walk for 10 minutes each morning before work. This goal is specific – you will walk to reduce stress. This goal is measurable – you will aim for 10 minutes of walking, five days per week. This goal is achievable – you have set your alarm ten minutes earlier in the morning to make time for a walk. This goal is relevant – you aim to be a more peaceful person who experiences less stress, and you’ve decided that time spent walking is a good indicator of a less stressful life. This goal is time-bound – you are going to do this for an entire year.


When you compare the goals “reduce stress” and “walk for 10 minutes each morning before work,” it becomes clear that the SMART goal is more likely to be achieved. Breaking your goals down into these step by step plans really increases the odds that you reach some level of success in achieving your goal.


Although SMART goals are helpful, there are a variety of strategies that can increase your chances of achieving your goal of reduced stress. For instance, walking for 10 minutes each morning before work may not be an effective solution for you. First, you must identify what is bringing stress into your life. The deeper you follow these lines of thought, the more likely you are to identify and select a SMART goal is that is most relevant to you and your specific situation.


In the case of reducing stress in your life, many people fail to identify the specific source of their stress. Does your heart drop every time you hear of an accident on your spouse’s commute route? Are you kept up at night wondering if your family would be okay if something happened to you or your spouse? Would getting a resolute answer to this question give you better sleep, make you feel more prepared, and therefore reduce stress in your life and improve your relationships? Quite possibly. Although I find each person has a unique reason for starting the estate planning process – maybe they recently lost a loved one, started a family, purchased a new home, had a medical scare, celebrated a milestone birthday, retired, or experienced any number of other motivating factors – I always find that they are relieved, less stressed, and have a greater peace of mind when they finish their estate plan.


Estate planning might seem like a stretch when it comes to reducing stress in your life, but chances are, it ties into an overall improvement you would like to make in your life, or as part of your new year resolution. Maybe you want to reduce stress by being prepared for emergencies. Maybe you want to sleep better by knowing your affairs would be in order and your children would be cared for if something were to happen to you or your spouse. All of these broad goals can easily be addressed with one simple item: creating an estate plan. No matter your attitude toward new year resolutions, there is a good chance that estate planning overlaps the themes, lists, and achievements you are most excited to accomplish this year.


Making SMART goals can be helpful even if you have just one thing you’d like to accomplish. At this time of year, we get a lot of phone calls from people who meant to do their estate plans last year. The changing of the year reminds them that they missed their goal, so they have a certain urgency when they call, even if there doesn’t appear to be a real emergency to their situation. How is it that these people could have taken more than a year to accomplish a singular task? They failed to break it down into SMART goals.


So, what does it look like when you want to achieve a singular task using SMART goal setting principles? Let’s use estate planning as an example. Now that you’ve identified the creation of an estate plan as the SMART goal that will help you become less stressed, more prepared, or better rested, you can identify the necessary steps to achieving that goal. Make a list of what it takes to get an estate plan put in place, and set a timeline for when each of these specific items will be accomplished and assign yourself a reasonable amount of time to do each step. Here is how I would suggest making a SMART goal for estate planning that is more manageable:


Specific: the specific item you want to accomplish is the completion of an estate plan.


Measurable: the way you will measure your progress on this goal is by making a list of the steps it takes to create an estate plan. You may consider finding an attorney, calling an attorney, meeting with an attorney, starting the process, and finishing the process, as your steps for this specific goal.


Achievable: estate planning is an achievable goal for most adults. There is little to stand in the way between you and the peace of mind that exists when you have an appropriate estate plan in place. Identify barriers (time, cost, fear) and develop a strategy for overcoming them. Our blog has articles about overcoming many of these barriers that you may find helpful.


Relevant: the relevance of estate planning likely encompasses many areas of the life you want to lead. Maybe you want to be less stressed, more prepared, more thoughtful, or more considerate, and having an estate plan in place would help you become more of all those things.


Time-bound: once you have identified the steps required to complete your estate plan, you can implement timelines to achieving each item. You can say, in January I will research local attorneys who are Certified Specialists in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law. In February I will call my top choice for an attorney and schedule an appointment. By March, I will have started the process with the attorney I select.


Breaking your goal down into these smaller, SMARTer steps greatly increases your odds of achieving your desired goal and sets you up for future success. At the beginning of each year, our office receives a tremendous amount of calls for people who “had been meaning to” create their estate plan the previous year. We know that by using this guide to SMART goals, you won’t be one of them next year! By the end of this year, you’ll be relieved when you’ve completed your resolution of becoming less stressed, more proactive, better rested, and better prepared by implementing your own estate plan.


Happy planning!