Setting SMART Goals for Your Tech Career
Confession-time: I’m kind of a goal-setting junkie. I LOVE goals. I love setting them, I love planning out how I’ll reach them, and I love actually achieving them (who doesn’t?).
Because I’m such a sucker for good goals, I’m a little bit obsessed with all of the different frameworks and processes people have come up with for setting and achieving their goals. There are so many ways to set goals, and finding the best one for you can be a little challenging. Like I said: so many options.
Let me tell you about one of my favorite systems for setting goals: S.M.A.R.T. criteria.
Way back in 1981, George T. Doran wrote a paper for Management Review called There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives where he detailed five criteria for creating business goals that were more clearly defined and achievable than other methods.
The great part about this method is that it can be applied to more than just business goals. You can use it for setting goals in any part of your life, including your burgeoning tech career.
Start with your general, broad goal—something like, “I want to learn tech skills.” Then apply the S.M.A.R.T. criteria to it and come up with something that’s both more defined and more attainable.
S = Specific
Every goal you set should be specific. That means “learn tech skills” isn’t going to cut it. “Tech” is a really broad term and could include anything from how to use specific computer programs to how to program the Space Shuttle.
Instead, you’ll need to figure out exactly what you want to learn.
You might decide you want to learn to build a website. Or design a branding package. Or maybe create custom WordPress sites.
The important thing here is to define something in particular that you want to learn. A few good examples:
- Learn HTML & CSS so that I can build my first website from scratch
- Learn to design a logo and visual identity for a new business
- Learn to develop WordPress websites so that I can start a freelance career
Each one of those is very specific and gives you a clear-cut idea of what you want to do.
M = Measurable
The next step in setting your S.M.A.R.T. goals is to make sure that they’re measurable. If you can’t measure your goals, how will you know when you’re finished? Goals that can’t be measured are too ambiguous to achieve.
This is another example of why “learn tech skills” isn’t an effective goal. How do you measure that? You could spend your entire life learning “tech skills” and never learn the things you actually want to learn or gain the skills that will help you get ahead.
Let’s look at our specific goals from the first step. Sometimes you’ll find that if your goals are specific enough, they’re automatically measurable.
- You can measure whether you know enough HTML & CSS to build a website
- You can measure whether you know how to design a logo and visual identity, because you’ll have those things to show when you’re done
- “Develop WordPress websites” is a little bit less measurable, so maybe you’ll want to add some criteria here, like knowing how to design a child theme or how to customize an existing theme (or go all out with designing and coding a theme from scratch)
The main thing to ask yourself here is, “How will I know when I’m done?” If you can answer that, then your goal is measurable!
A = Achievable (or Ambitious or Action-Oriented)
There are a few different words that are often associated with the “A” in S.M.A.R.T. My personal favorite is “achievable” but “ambitious” and “action-oriented” are great options, too.
If you go for Achievable, then make sure you’re not setting your sights too high. Learning to build websites is totally do-able. Learning to build a complex web app before next week, not so much.
Ambitious is another great word, but be careful that you keep it realistically achievable. A good way to judge: if you look at the goal and think “if everything goes as planned, I’m pretty sure I can get this done,” then you’re on the right track. If you’re 100% confident you can do it no matter what, you might not be ambitious enough.
On the other hand, if you’re looking at the goal thinking, “It’ll be a miracle if I pull this off,” then you might have gone too far and need to reign it in a little bit.
Action-oriented is another great thing to keep in mind when setting goals. Make sure that your goal is something you’ll actively need to go after, and isn’t something passive you’re waiting to happen to you.
R = Relevant
Think about what you want and make sure that your goals align with those wants. For instance, in the WordPress example above, wanting to learn WordPress so that you can have a career as a freelancer makes total sense.
On the other hand, if your goal was to get a job at a company that didn’t use WordPress, then learning WordPress wouldn’t be as relevant to actually landing that job you want.
T = Time-Based
Every goal you set should have some kind of time element. For example, you might want to create your first website three months from now. Or you might want to freelance full-time by the end of 2017.
My best advice when it comes to planning out time-based goals is to look objectively at the time you have available to you on a daily or weekly basis, and then decide how much time you can realistically devote to your goals. It might be an hour a day, or it might be a couple hours a week.
The specific amount of time doesn’t matter so much as having a time constraint to help keep you motivated to stay on track and actually achieve your goal. “Someday” is too open-ended to be an effective motivator.
But be sure you don’t set a time constraint that’s too short. There’s nothing more disheartening than seeing your deadline come and go when you’re not even halfway to where you want to be.
Some good examples of time-based goals, from the three goals we started out with originally, might be:
- I want to learn the skills to create my first website in three months
- I want to learn to design a branding package in six weeks
- I want to land my first WordPress freelancing client within six months
Those are all clearly defined, reasonable time frames for achieving those goals.
Following the S.M.A.R.T. criteria for setting up your goals can put you that much closer to actually achieving what you want.
July 7, 2018