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Becoming a successful PA using SMARTER goal setting


Welcome to a new read by Lindsay Taylor, co-founder of Your Excellency Limited on something that’s is highly topical right now, with all the promise of a sparkly new year and exciting things on the horizon for us all. Lindsay takes a look at SMARTER goal setting, instrumental to you becoming a successful PA

So, hands up! How many of you have set a New Year’s Resolution?

Now keep those hands up if you’re “smashing it” with sticking to that Resolution!

Hmm, as I suspected! (and what a lot of sheepish looks!)

So, why don’t New Year’s Resolutions work? Why aren’t you “smashing it”? And (more importantly) what can you do to ensure you stick to and successfully achieve any resolution, objective, goal or outcome you set?

SMART needs to be SMARTER in goal setting

The star of “goal setting” since the 1980s when first introduced by American Consultant George T Doran in his whitepaper “There’s a SMART Way to write management goals and objectives”. SMART is the simple and effective framework to ensure your goals can be defined, measured and achieved.

You probably use this for your work objectives particularly at appraisal time right? So,did you use it for your New Year’s Resolution too?  I bet you’re really proud when you can run through the SMART acronym:

S = Specific
Is my goal clearly defined and can it be interpreted correctly?

M = Measurable
How will I measure my goal so that I have tangible evidence that I have achieved it? Is there a number associated with it?

A = Achievable/Attainable
Is this something I am able to do? Have I got the balance right between stretching myself and ensuring I have the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities to achieve the goal?

R = Relevant
Does my goal fit with my needs and wants? Is it fulfilling for me? How does it fit with my other goals?

T = Time bound
When will I achieve my goal? What target date will I set to achieve it?

But in today’s demanding and fast-paced society, I’d question how robust Doran’s method is. It most definitely needs to be SMARTER in my opinion.

The SMARTER goal setting way

Here’s the SMARTER option. You’re going to add the “E” and the “R” to your SMART

E = Exciting
It’s all very well identifying your SMART goal but unless you have the excitement and motivation to achieve that goal, it will remain just that. A written goal. There is more likelihood of you achieving your goal if it’s something you REALLY want.

Hone in on the “R” of your SMART goal by ensuring the Relevance also has an element of “E” excitement in it.

Ask yourself:

  • How exciting is this goal?
  • What score out of 10 would you give it? (10 being the most you want this)?
  • If you’re scoring it 7, 8 or 9 what can you add to your goal to make it a 10?
  • Imagine you’ve achieved this goal. Does it really excite you?
  • What are you going to gain from it? What’s in it for you?

Now identify the first step you will take. However small that first step is, this is the momentum that will ensure you’re on the path towards achieving your goal. Write your first step in SMART terms and set your Timebound criteria as the next 24 hours.

R = Recorded

Brilliant. You’ve recorded your SMART goal by writing it down.

Now take this “recording” one step further. Share your goal with someone else. To you’re your work colleague, your mum, your partner, yourself in the mirror!  You’ve shared your goal with others and by doing so you’ve “put yourself on the line” and are likely to be more committed to achieving it.

It’s also a matter of time…

So, there’s this thing called “time inconsistency” which rears it’s ugly head when we set ourselves goals. You see, human nature is such that we favour immediate rewards over future rewards.

When we set goals we are imagining what it will be like when we have achieved that goal in the future. This satisfies our “future self” in valuing long-term rewards.  However (and herein lies the challenge folks) only our “present self” can make a decision and take the action for our “future self”. And our “present self” favours instant gratification rather than a reward that’s way off in the distant.

The good news is there are things we can do and strategies we can employ. Right now, In the present.  And here are two of my favourites for you to try:

1. Bring forward the negative impact of NOT achieving your goal

So, my goal is to use the gym at least twice a week.   I have no excuse as a third of our “home office” is kitted out with gym equipment.  I jokingly say to people that “I’ve been to the gym today” very quickly followed up with “…to dust down the treadmill and the exercise bike!!”.  I know that the negative impact of not visiting the gym is a strained waistband (and I need to face up to the fact that my “fat jeans” are already feeling stretched after some lovely calorific festive meals!).  But my future self is overshadowed by my present self of course.

By putting the “Bring Forward” strategy into practice I could invite my daughter to join me in a regular weekly workout in the gym (with the double-whammy that this will contribute to her school timetabled sport/exercise).  I would be much more likely to stick to this regime, rather than letting her down too.  I’ve brought forward a negative impact of this procrastination and my waistband can relax.

2. Temptation Bundling

This is attributed to Katy Milkman at The University of Pennsylvania. The strategy shares that “bundling” a behaviour that feels good in the short-term (or present) with a behaviour that is good for you in the long-run (or future) will help with goal setting.

When I first learned this strategy I realised I was already putting this in to practice. Every Sunday evening when I set myself the goal of ironing, which I DO NOT ENJOY,  I make sure I have a glass of chilled Marlborough to get me through the “chore”! Works for me!)


Pearls of Wisdom for Executive EAs is an excellent guide for helping Assistants to become more successful in their career.