29 December 2008

SMART Resolutions

It's that time of year--time to make the dreaded New Year's Resolutions.

I have a few things to say about that. Some people say that they are horrible. They just give people an excuse to binge for a few more days before they start to fail yet again. I think people do that, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Another angle is that a quest for perfection can be damaging by itself. I'm not going to address that aspect, but for now, simply accept that people have worthwhile goals that they want to achieve.

The New Year can be a convenient time to take stock and refocus your efforts in important directions. But just like with your job evaluations at work, your resolutions or goals should have specific characteristics and there should be some kind of accountability.

Be Smart

The SMART framework is pretty good for goal setting. SMART is an acronym for:
1. Specific – The objectives should be specific. Don't leave rationalizable loopholes.
2. Measurable – You should be able to determine without ambiguity whether you are meeting the objective.
3. Achievable - Is the objective achievable and attainable at all within the time frame?
4. Relevant – Something you actually care about?
5. Time-Constrained – When do you want to achieve the set objectives?

So here's a bad objective: Cure most of world hunger.
It is not very specific or measurable, may not be achievable at all, and certainly not with the resources I have available, and there is no time frame specified, it is relevant to the world at large.

So in a world hunger frame, a better objective might be something like:
Write one blog post per month on the importance of nutrition for the poor. If you are President of the USA, you might have a more ambitious world hunger objective such as: Reduce the amount of non-voluntary hunger in the US by 10% by end of year 2012 as measured by World Health Organization standards..


The other part of it is accountability or support. At work, there is typically some person who judges whether you achieve your objectives. If you do, you get a promotion or a better raise, or maybe you get to keep your job. If you fail to achieve your objectives, there may be negative consequences. The problem is that not all objectives are under the auspices of someone to reward or punish you, so you need another kind of accountability. A support network can be useful for that.

Ask your spouse or a friend, or even your boss to be your accountability partner on non-job related goals. Stickk.com can also give a framework for accountability and support. You specify a goal, name supporters and/or a referee, and you can even specify monetary consequences for failure to meet the objective(s). I am currently using Stickk for a weight loss objective.

X marks the spot in the diagram.

Why New Year's Day?

There is actually nothing magical about New Year's Day. Set your objective now. Don't allow the pre-start binge that some people object to. Just Do It!

Emotions For Engineers Resolution

I recognize that I have not been as diligent at posting here as I would like to be. I have about fifty posts and ideas started and in various levels of completion. So my resolution is the following:
I will publish at least one Emotions for Engineers post per month in 2009.

Specific - One post per month. Good.
Measurable - One post per month. Not 12 per year, but one per month.
Achievable - It should be. I can do it if I prioritize well. Resources are not an issue.
Relevant - It is relevant to my personal mission.
Time-Constrained - Monthly targets are good.

Accountability - I ask the readers of this blog to please get on my case if I do not fulfill this objective. Thanks, and a happy and prosperous 2009 to all.

Addendum: 1/1/2009

One other factor occurred to me regarding resolutions or goal-setting. If your goal is a long-term one, you should have milestone along the way. My resolution above is a good example. If I had said that I will make 12 posts in 2009, knowing me, I might do none until November, then try to cram them into two months. Making the goal one per month puts pressure on me not to procrastinate.

There was a very short
article in Business Week about research that demonstrates that shorter-term goals are more effective than longer-term ones.

Addendum 7/29/2010: Bob Lewis had an interesting talk where he said that S should stand for Specific and Strategic. I like that. It means that the goal should have some significance as well.