You've done so much work setting the foundation for your personal strategic plan! While it may seem like you've done quite a bit of work, it's all about to pay off. Now is the time to get to the heart of the work.
Take a look at the priorities that you've set. In each area that you've prioritized, you want to create at least one goal for the year. What is it that you want to be able to accomplish in this area?
You've probably heard of the concept of SMART goals at some point in your life. It's used in so many different fields that it's hard not to have heard this acronym used somewhere. But if you haven't heard of it, don't worry - I'll give you a quick primer!
As you can see in the graphic above, SMART goals refer to those which are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. As you look through the priorities that you've identified, you'll want to create a goal (or goals) that is specific - you'll know what you meant when you look at this goal in 6 months. It's so clear that there is no question what you are supposed to do. And it will be very apparent whether you've accomplished this goal or not because the terms are so well defined. Perhaps one of your focus areas is around improving your personal finances. That's pretty vague. So as you think about setting a goal, you'll want to get specific. Perhaps your goal could be, "I will get out of debt." What kind of debt are you talking about? All debt? Student loan debt? Paying off your mortgage? After thinking it through, you've decided that you really just want to have your credit card debt paid off, so you revise your goal to say, "I will pay off all my credit card debt."
You'll also want the goal to be measurable. In other words, how will you know that you've accomplished your goal? Returning to our example of credit card debt, you may decide to change the goal to say, "I will pay off my credit card debt so that all of my credit cards have a zero balance." That gives you a very clear finishing point. When your credit card statements all read "0" you've accomplished your goal.
Goals must also be attainable. You don't want to set yourself up for failure. Is it feasible for you to pay off all your credit card debt this year? After evaluating this a bit, you might decide that it's something that will take more than a year to accomplish. Perhaps you'll decide to make your goal something less ambitious - but still something to strive for: I will pay off my credit card debt so that the total of my credit card balances does not equal more than $7,500.
Surprisingly one of the common things that we see with strategic planning are goals that aren't relevant. How could this be possible, you ask? Often it's the result of not connecting goals to overall priorities - not doing the early work that we did first. Sometimes people will list a goal that is easy to accomplish. Or they will list a goal that sounds good, rather than what they really should be prioritizing. If financial status is a problem for you, then paying off credit card debt may be a perfect way to help with that problem. It's an incredibly relevant goal! However, if you're goal to address your financial status was about reducing stress at the office, that may not be the most relevant goal. Accomplishing that goal won't help your financial status.
The final piece of the puzzle is to make sure that your goals are time-based. Simply put, you need a deadline. Otherwise, you could be working on that goal for a long-time to come. By using an annual personal strategic plan, you've already essentially committed to accomplishing this goal in a year. But you may want this goal to be something you'll accomplish in 6 months. Or maybe this goal will take a year, but your next goal (to address something like the amount of time you spend with friends and family) is something you could accomplish much sooner. The key is to have a time stamp on it. This way you won't put things off too long and you'll have some motivation to work towards that goal. To bring our example full circle, let's see where our goal ended up: "I will pay off my credit card debt so that the total of my credit card balance at the end of year does not equal more than $7,500."
That's a solid goal. It meets all of the SMART criteria and sets you on a path towards success. Keep in mind that you may have multiple goals toward improving your financial status. Or you may decide that is sufficient for this year, and you'd rather focus on other areas more intensively.
Return now to the priorities that you've established. Determine what you want to do to focus on each of these areas. Write out a goal or two for each area, keeping in mind the SMART criteria. Once you've written out the goals, take a look at them as a whole. Can you accomplish ALL of these goals? Or should you pare the list down a bit? Write out a list of goals that you feel comfortable with. You may wish to challenge yourself a bit, but don't overwhelm yourself with so many goals that you can't possibly keep up.
Next time we'll explore how you can put those goals into action!
This post is the fifth in a series of posts about personal strategic plans.