Productivity Fortnight+1: SMART Goals to Chunks

The previous posts defined productivity as being something we’re passionate about getting accomplished.

The next few posts begin to drill down on those high level dream goals and chunk out into actionable chunks. Along the way, we’ll look at quite a few productivity systems.

Goals to Chunks, Milestones and Tasks

The subject of breaking or chunking  down goals to sub-goals (or milestones) and tasks is one dealt with through many good online resources, and is dependent on your own time and other resources available. This post isn’t going to go over that, but here are some well known definitions –


smartGeorge Doran first used the S.M.A.R.T. acronym in 1981 in an issue of the Management Review. Since then, SMART has acronymised several elements of goal setting, but here’s some common ones –

Measurable (or Motivational)
Attainable (or Achievable or Actionable or Action Orientated (or Assignable or Accountable)
Realistic (or Relevant or Responsible or Recorded)
Time-bound (or Timely or Timed)

Depending on your definition, the acronym basically reminds us to set goals which are detailed, objectively measurable and have a time frame to act as deadline.

A derivative from SMART is SMARTER where the E and R may stand for Evaluate and Rewards as additional motivational factors.

You get the gist.

SMART Tasks as well as goals

Setting SMART goals is a well-used methodology, and big dreams and missions for the long term are not easily measurable towards success or otherwise in the short term, unless we also apply the same policy to the smaller sub-goals and actions (tasks) we do to ultimately achieve the bigger milestones. But at that point, we learn how easy it is to fail or not achieve our smaller goals,even when we made them SMART.

What are SMART Goals for, anyway?

We all know we should be setting smart goals, yes. But why? How often? And even with goals set smartly, how many of us actually still fail at them all, even with the most passionate of intentions.

We can all spend a lot of painstaking time writing and rewriting goals out until they look positively SMARTer than SMART yet still not succeed at them. So what’s the point?

Smart_cover_smaller-225x300Just because a goal or task is written SMARTly, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. But many productivity systems embrace failure as a learning experience as much as success.

In one of S.J. Scott’s many kindle books, ‘S.M.A.R.T. Goals Made Simple – 10 Steps to master Your Personal and Career Goals‘, he says –

“I set S.M.A.R.T. goals every three months…Do I achieve all of them? Not at all. Instead, goals help me gain regular insight into what I really want from life and what actions can get me there”.
So, take the time to set SMART goals regardless. Let failure teach you something about where your true passions lie.


Goals, Milestones, Habits, Routines and Tasks

Sometimes the terms habit and actions may seem interchangeable. In fact, in the above SMART ebook, it’s all about setting routines and habits to achieve goals.

“The point here is that when you know specific actions can lead to a positive result, it’s often better to focus on the routine instead of the arbitrary goal”.
Scott differentiates two different types of goals – outcome goals vs performance goals. Outcome goals are the high end milestone goals. Performance goals focus on tracking the effort and actions that go into a major accomplishment.
listly-square-logo_thumb.pngIn the large list of apps for habits which I collated in Listly, many call lists of actions “Habits” while others call them “Tasks”. Often, provided the item is a regular and scheduled easily defined thing, the apps work for whatever you call it.

But tasks and routine habits are different, of course, so a definition is in order (via Michael Hyatt) –

  • Goal: “Something you are trying to achieve.” I sometimes use objective, target, or even project as a synonym.
  • Milestone: “A significant marker that indicates progress toward a goal.” I sometimes use subgoal as a synonym.
  • Habit: “Something a person does often in the same way.” Habits are not usually an end in themselves; they are a way to achieve a goal. I often use rituals, disciplines, or practices as synonyms.
  • Tasks: “Actions a person takes that move them toward a goal or milestone.” I often use actions or to-dos as synonyms.

Tomorrow we look at some animal systems for tasks and next week we’ll be looking at focus and action planning.

Productivity Fortnight 4

7 thoughts on “Productivity Fortnight+1: SMART Goals to Chunks

  1. While setting & evaluating SMART goals is necessary in a business environment, I believe that doing the same in one’s personal life leads to an impoverishment in one’s personal life.
    We are pushed all the time to achieve & everything is ultimately tied to financial performance/rewards in business. But there is more to life than that. Reading a book, listening to music, visiting a museum have no financial pay-off & yet they are necessary for a person to grow & enrich themselves. Let’s keep SMART goals out of our personal life.

    1. Whereas I agree with your sentiment, I’d hasten to say that I’ve never smart goaled or indeed added things like “read a book” or “listen to music” to any of my own to-do’s or lists. Those kind of activities are both my motivation through hard work passages, and rewards to relax by. There is a huge chunk of everyone’s day where many tasks or simple things we do shouldn’t be quantified in such terms.

      However, as a work-at-home writer and one looking at self-publishing, it’s important to look at those tasks I do need to achieve towards projects with filters like those supplied by the SMART acronym. Also, setting good work ethics like using tools to help prioritise etc into personal life tasks s pay-offs will always supply pay-offs which may not be financial at all, but remain good habits and lessons. A simple example – my daughter has learnt about SMART goals and simple action plans within her classroom. She’s not paid, but there are payoffs for her in terms of getting organised in longer-term projects. I’ve seen those learnings also leave her in good stead as she applies them to long-term goals like her passion for improving and getting into district softball teams.

      As a creative artist I get that many artists feel constrained by too many business practices. This is one of the reasons why I personally don’t follow simple “writing rules” like write every day – I personally find those too confining to how I work creatively. But with the world opening up to more business opportunities for our artistic works, frameworks like SMART or even things like manifestos and the like, are simply another tool to call on when they fit.

      Thanks for offering your opinion. I don’t believe we’re actually in conflict here, as I don’t use SMART in my personal life either (although come to think – when I was organising our household’s second 12,000 mile move across the world, I did resort to having to think about making the huge task list very specific and timebound, but the only person measuring it was me, thankfully :-).

  2. I agree with you Hunter & I did not have you personally in mind. But S.J. Scott’s ideas mentioned above do talk about using SMART goals in one’s personal life (as well as one’s career). That’s what sparked my comment above.
    But you are right: you & I don’t disagree.

  3. Although I recommend some sections specifically out of some books, I hadn’t picked up on the personal life thing out of this one.

    Interestingly, I haven’t picked up S.J. Scott’s ebook specifically for writers – I personally like the creative side of me – the writer and artist – to have a little bit of freedom from constraints. (Which is why I once created an infographic on writing rules which actually had much about breaking a lot of them).

    But as an entrepreneurial writer, any tools I can apply that are helpful are fodder for this series. Like anyone, I’m only an expert on my own take on all of this, so I truly appreciate any discussion brought onto the comments here.

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