If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed by all the things you need to do and all the tasks you need to catch up on, you’re not alone. Sometimes it can feel like you are scrambling to finish things all the time but nothing really feel completed.

When you add the stress of a global pandemic, upended work schedules and processes, and a family dynamic that may have changed radically amid all the upheaval, it’s no wonder that your productivity feels like it’s taken a hit lately. But there are ways to help get yourself back on track.

If you’ve never tried the SMART approach to productivity and getting things done, now is the time. SMART is an acronym that helps break your goals, large and small, into manageable steps.

SMART stands for

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

How can you use the principles of SMART to your advantage? Start with thinking of an overall goal and naming it. Think of what you might need to reach that goal—it can be as big as earning an advanced degree and as small as cleaning your closets. Consider your umbrella goal and think of SMART as the step-by-step map of how to get there.

To use SMART, you need to have an idea of your steps—that’s the specific part of the goal setting and how you want to increase your productivity. Be precise on naming what you need to do. Do you want to earn a degree? You’ll have some specific steps to take including researching requirements, finding the right program, and taking any required courses.

When you have some specifics, you’ll need some measureable feedback to see if you’re on track. For an advanced degree, that might mean making sure you have the necessary requirements for a program and a timeline for when you need to have any exams or applications completed. You might need to take a prerequisite course, but to have a measureable goal, you’ll need an application or completion date to stay on track.

Your goals are, of course, goals and they should challenge you. But your goals should also be attainable. Don’t set a goal to earn your PhD in a year because you can’t. Look at your specific goals, establish your measureable results and then realistically figure out how you can achieve them. If a degree is in your sights and you’re concerned about paying for the tuition, for instance, set steps for how you can earn credits through work, earn additional income to afford the tuition costs, or take out loans without going into significant debt. Have a plan that makes your goal realistic and doable.

Your goals should also be relevant to your life and what you want to achieve. Is your goal of an advanced degree going to help your career in the way you expect? Will your current role be expanded and will you achieve a higher pay or get a promotion if you earn this degree? Is an advanced degree relevant to your career right now and to how you define success?

Lastly, be open to the amount of time it takes to achieve this goal. Break it down by courses and by semesters and take into account all the other SMART steps to ensure you have a goal that you can finish in the expected time. If you’re expectations on timing are on target, your other steps will support your actions and help you achieve your goal. With clear goals, your productivity will get a boost.

The SMART approach can be used to many areas of your professional and personal life. Breaking down a goal into steps and strategies helps you consider all angles, predict roadblocks, and set yourself up for success.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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