SMART Goals for the New Year

Happy New Year, Phriends of PhaseWare! With just the slightest touch of luck, you’re already providing exceptional customer service and support experiences to your irreplaceably awesome customers. And with just a bit more luck, some of these irreplaceably awesome customers are also NEW customers!

With the coming of each New Year, most of us spent a considerable, if not significant, amount of time thinking about and planning for the coming year. At work, we call this strategic planning, budgeting, goal-setting, or prioritizing. Everywhere else, we call them New Year’s Resolutions.

Of course, New Year’s Eve marks a turning of the calendar, the conclusion of one thing and the beginning of another. It’s a time to reflect on what’s come to pass and what we hope to see in the future. People anticipate a big night, fun with friends and family, an evening to remember. Except it’s usually none of those things. For many years in fact, I rang in the year waiting in line for a fresh cocktail and vigorously high-fiving the stranger behind me.

Does this seem like a good time to be going forth in changing your lifestyle?

Because it’s already January 3 and many of us have already broken our promises for 2013; rather than suggesting clever ideas for New Year’s Resolution, I’ve decided to share a few thoughts on why our resolutions tend to fall so flat and how we might do better in making resolutions and measuring our progress.

Business Goals versus Personal Resolutions

In abstractly and accidentally thinking about business goals and New Year’s Resolutions—parallel processes along the work-life spectrum—I found obvious similarities, surprising differences, and a predictable disparity in results. Coincidentally, each process occurs annually and climaxes around the same time with a particular focus and veracity arriving right after Thanksgiving. Each process has goals and we all assign some level of personal expectation to the results.

When it comes to differences in goal-setting for business versus New Year’s Resolutions, there’s one striking difference, which, in my opinion, leads directly to a huge gap in success and failure. As our business selves, we update project lists and priorities, consider meaningful metrics, write new plans, fill out budgets, and also secure buy-in from the people we’ll rely on in executing the plan. And for the next 12 months, our performance will be largely judged by how well we deliver on what we promise.

In our personal lives, the process itself isn’t all that different; though are goals are often related to less tangible aspects of our overall health and wellness. In one sense, this is where we aim high. Take part in the community! Run a marathon! Lose 50 pounds! Quit smoking! These are the things we would celebrate the longest and the loudest. Look at me! Look at what I did! Unfortunately, a large majority of New Year’s Resolutions are quickly gone and forgotten.

But why is it so hard for people to stick to their goals?

Unlike our professional goals, we are only accountable to ourselves when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions. If you don’t mean it, if you’re not committed, if you’re just a little too lazy to go running on a Sunday morning; there will be no reprimand from your boss, and perhaps just a slight pang of guilt. Essentially, it’s very easy to let it slide when the only consequences come from within.

When we’re talking about lifestyles changes, or breaking long-ingrained physical habits, success requires planning, desire, commitment, and resilience. In some cases, people have already been thinking about specific changes and have some sort of plan. If these people succeed, it’s only because of the planning and effort that went into it. The arbitrary start date plays no role.

On the other hand, if you have things you’d like to accomplish but haven’t put much thought into it; wedging your overly optimistic and unrealistic desires into a poorly planned, deadline-driven set of resolutions rarely delivers the desired results. No amount of deadline setting, teeth gnashing, whining, or professional counseling can adequately fortify your will enough to overcome a bad plan.

Fluid and Dynamic: Not Just for Business, Anymore!

In business, even good plans are revised throughout the year. Projects are set aside as new needs arise, critical resources leave the company, people take unexpected vacations, budgets are scaled back, etc. When these things happen, people in the business world adjust and adapt. When a project goes by the wayside, you don’t mark it as a failure; it goes to the back burner, or maybe the boneyard; you revise the plan and move on.

Not so when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions. People often resolve to give up pastries or quit smoking only to find themselves smoking a cigarette with a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant two days later. Naturally, that’s not the ideal scenario, but if you haven’t put some real thought into your resolutions; it’s a likely outcome. When this happens, don’t give up. Act like a business, adjust the plan, move on. This is where step goals come in handy. Give yourself milestones to measure the progress along the path to success.


In learning about business management over the years, especially process management, acronyms became a part of my life. I think of them often, I send them Christmas cards, I miss them when they’re away. Specific to goal setting, one acronym comes immediately to mind: SMART. I don’t know where it originated, but I’ve seen it many places over the past several years, and I think it’s time we get SMART about our New Year’s Resolutions.

What is SMART?


What’s your goal? Why are you doing it? And how will you do it?

For instance: To improve my overall health and feel better about the way I look, I resolve to lose 25 pounds this year by following the South Beach Diet and joining a gym that offers cross-fit training. Ambiguous goals rarely work out as planned because you haven’t really set a challenge or given yourself a first step. Simply losing weight isn’t a goal, it’s an idea, or a desire. To achieve your goal you have to clearly and specifically define it (i.e. lose 25 pounds), why you’re doing it (improve health), and plan for it (South Beach Diet and cross-fit).


How will you measure progress and success?

Again, with weight loss as the resolution, the measurement will obviously be the amount of weight lost, but it can be a little tricky. Some people lose weight quickly, while other people’s bodies need more time to adjust. Rather than getting frustrated by slow weight loss, use other measurements to track progress along the way. How well are you following your nutrition plan? How often are you exercising? If you’re keeping pace with those measurements, try to remember that you’re already leading a healthier lifestyle. Who knows? As your physical and mental wellness improve, perhaps those 25 pounds won’t mean so much anyway.


The goals must be important to you, present an actual challenge, and deliver a meaning benefit; however, it must also be reasonable.

With weight loss, or a resolution to quit smoking, it’s best to consult with your doctor with implementing your plan. For some people, rapid weight loss could cause other unforeseen complications. With smoking, there are a lot of options for cessation. A doctor could help you figure out what’s best for a person in your health.


This DOES NOT mean easy. It means possible, or “do-able.” With the right amount of planning, proper resources, and good preparation; a realistic goal WILL be accomplished.

If you plan on cutting sugar from your diet the week before leaving on a three-month, food-tasting tour of Candyland; how realistic is your goal? While giving up sugar may be attainable and offer great benefits to your health, you must also consider the context. And that doesn’t mean you should scrap the goal. Actually, it’s a pretty good one. Just revise the start date, enjoy your time in Candyland, and kick sugar in the tail as soon you’re back.


Set a timeframe and step goals with specific dates to reach each milestone.

Again, if your New Year’s Resolution is to lose 25 pounds, don’t get be discouraged if you’re off to a slow start. Progress on February 1 is absolution not an indicator of what your progress will look like on September 30. Break up the total into manageable chunks. Five pounds by March 30, 10 pounds by June 30, 17 pounds by September 30, and finally, 25 pounds by December 31.

Measure your interim success against the baseline, not the overall goal. When you’re engaging in a healthier lifestyle to the goal of weight loss, even if you’re not losing at the rate you’d like, you’re still leading a healthier lifestyle. And the benefits of physical fitness go well beyond whether or not your body looks exactly as you’d like. Regular exercise and improved diet will change the way you feel. When you’re healthy and feel great, your demeanor changes and even though you’re still 12 pounds over your desired weight, you’ll still look like a million bucks.

Don’t go into it with an all-or-none attitude. Every lifestyle change takes time to adopt, patience to adapt, and the resolve to get through slips. When you eat a cookie you’re “not supposed to,” don’t get demoralized and eat the whole bag because you’ve “failed.” If you miss a day or two at the gym, don’t dwell on the missed days, figure out how to get back on track. Maybe you could invite a friend to workout with you, or change up your workout, use new machines, play racquetball.

By using SMART goal-setting techniques, we can remove some of the ambiguity from traditional New Year’s Resolutions, and seriously scale back on the pressure. Regardless of your goal—kicking a nasty habit, training for a 5K run, or losing 15 pounds—going cold turkey on habits that are part of your lifestyle, or using drop-dead dates like New Year’s Eve clearly sets you up for failure from the outset. Think, plan, give yourself a break.

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