Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Smart way to use SMART Goals! 2727.3 to 2742.2 Miles

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Virtual Hike
Animated Street View
Today's Weather

The day ends in Bowman, ND. There is a Super Value grocery store on the east side of town. It's about 1.1 miles out of the way. There are several motels in town along the route back from the grocery store. 

The route south looks bleak for water, but if you zoom into the map, you will find Buffalo, SD 45 miles away.

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The Smart way to use SMART Goals

The information for this post came from "Critical Chain: a Business Novel" by Eliyahu Goldratt


If you read almost any book about goal setting, you will find SMART goals.

SMART goals are:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time Table for completion
I add they tell you what to do TODAY.

SMART goals can be a setup for unexpected FAILURE. That is because they are often inflexible and fail to account for variance.


Many people plan a long project with milestones along the way. They may make a calendar with specific activities that must be done each day. This is the beginning of the trap. Before I explain why, let's look at variance -- meaning unexpected deviation from the plan.


Variance is any deviation from the plan regardless of the cause. Variance ALWAYS happens! Sometimes it's positive and sometimes it's negative. Either direction can cause failure! This is counter-intuitive, so let's look at it more closely.

Negative Variance
When people get behind they think they must immediately work harder to  get back on track. Let me ask you this: When you made your plan, didn't you already plan to work reasonably hard? If you work longer hours to catch up, won't that result in more fatigue the next day? Isn't it possible you might reduce quality if you work faster? Will you neglect other goals to focus on the one that is behind? Would you want a surgeon to rush an operation because they are running behind? Wouldn't you rather delay the operation?

Positive Variance
Suppose a day goes unexpectedly well. On the hike, it could mean you walk more miles than planned. In a work project, it could mean you didn't run into normal problems. Those who work with computers know what I mean. The web pages load quickly all day. You find information quicker than normal. When your work for the day is done, you find you have an extra half-hour, so you decide to spend it on social media.

The SMART Goal Trap

If a person focuses on milestones for SMART goals, they are likely to quit working early when things go better than average and work longer when things go worse than average. 

There will be days on the 48 State Hike that are uphill more than average and there will be days that are downhill more than average. The walker will get fewer miles on the uphill days and more miles on the downhill days. If the walker spends 7 hours a day at walking pace, the variance will even out. As long as the walker doesn't stop early on the good days, the bad days will be offset by the good days. 

If a person working on a project works the planned time each day, the variances will average out.

Book Writing Example

I started a book the other day and I'm trying something new with my editor. (Deanna at Shanti Publishing.) I used to wait until the book was almost done and ask Deanna when she could edit the book. This led to short lead times for Deanna and probably caused her to work some long days. This time I'm trying something new.

I sent Deanna an email explaining the new process. I estimate my new book will be 25,000 words long. I intend to work slowly and only write one chapter a day, or about 1,000 words a day. My initial guess for completion was Jan 16, 2015.

Project Buffer
When planning a project, instead of inserting buffers at each stage of the project, insert a project buffer at the END of the project. I included the buffer by planning 1,000 words a day even though I know I can average more words a day. If everything goes as planned, I can give Deanna the final draft on Jan 16, 2015.

Each day, I divide the words remaining by 1,000 to determine the remaining days. I'm careful not to slow my pace if I write more words a day. I know there will be days I don't write at all.  The buffer should increase as I write the book. If the buffer is suddenly consumed by an unexpected event, I'll let Deanna know. If the buffer becomes huge, I'll ask her if it's convenient to work on my book sooner.

Partial Delivery
Suppose Deanna is planning to work on my book on Jan 16-Jan 18 and the book is not quite complete. I can send her what I've written and complete the book as she starts to work. I can also do this along the way if she isn't busy with other projects. 

Death by Multi-tasking!
Many people pride themselves on multi-tasking. Mentally, there is no such thing. The conscious mind can only focus on one thing at a time. There is speedy task switching, but there is not multi-tasking. Each time a person switches tasks, they lose efficiency or the quality of one of the tasks suffers. 

I can see this easily when I walk as the Fitbit tracks my stride rate. When I outline a book while walking, I stop frequently to take notes. This reduces my stride rate by about 20%. I take notes more slowly than I could sitting at the computer. I accept this downgrade in both activities as it's the way I enjoy writing. I would be more efficient if I focused on one task at a time.

As long as I update Deanna whenever the delivery date for the final draft changes, she can adjust her schedule as long as no other conflict develops on her end. If a conflict develops, we can make other plans.


Instead of making firm goals with completion milestones, make a variable goal. As the work progresses, change the goal based on work remaining rather than work completed. Communicate with the person receiving the completed project whenever the delivery date is compromised. Depending on the situation, they may be happier with an earlier or a later delivery date.

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