In my last Blog post, I discussed a practical approach to goal setting. It starts with setting a few “stretch goals” which are long-term goals. Stretch goals are great for letting you know what you want to do with your current stage in life but they don’t provide much guidance for what you should be doing today.

To decide what you should accomplish today, you need a list of “to do items.” These are the specific action steps you are going to take today. One problem is that it usually is difficult to develop to do items from your stretch goals. That is why we need something that will bridge the gap between our stretch goals and our to do list. That is where bridge goals come in.

Bridge goals are bigger than today but not that much bigger. They are very specific, measurable goals that we should be able to achieve in the next few days to few weeks. We can derive these bridge goals from our stretch goals. If we achieve a number of bridge goals, we will achieve our stretch goals. We can also derive our to do items from our bridge goals. That is why they are called bridge goals. They are the bridges we cross that take us from stretch goals to our daily activities.

This goal setting will take us to the future we want. But what about all the stuff that is already on my plate? How can I reach a stretch goal when I can’t even do everything I am already committed to do? We do so by setting two different kinds of SMART goals. That’s what we explore here.

So Middle School Isn’t For You

Setting a stretch goal is actually pretty simple. We are all creatures of want. We all want something more in life and most of us have a fairly good idea of what that is. We just need to be a bit more specific as to what we want and we need to attach a date to it.

So let’s say you are a middle school teacher and you hate your job. You now have the seeds of a stretch goal. You just have to decide what you want to do instead of teaching middle school, and put a date by which you want to be doing it. There are several alternatives. You could set a stretch goal to teach high school, college, or elementary school instead. Or you could set a stretch goal of changing vocations.

Let’s say you thought about it and you decided you would rather be a nurse. You do some study and you find out that, with your existing education, you can get another degree in nursing in 2.5 years. Then there would be some exams you would need to pass and a job search process you would need to go through. Now you have everything you need to set a stretch goal. Pick a date three years in the future and say, “By November 1, 20__ I will be a practicing nurse.”

That’s exciting. Now you can see a future other than dealing with middle school hormones for the rest of your life. What is the next thing you need to do? That’s where bridge goals come in. If you don’t immediately set a bridge goal, chances are you will never start the process of becoming a nurse. And if you don’t set the right bridge goals, you will not take the right action steps to achieving your stretch goal.

The key to success in achieving your stretch goals is setting the right bridge goals. If you do that, the to do items will just naturally emerge. And if you complete the bridge goals, you will achieve your stretch goal. So let’s look a bit deeper at bridge goals. There are two things you have to understand about bridge goals.

Bridge Goals Are a Type of SMART Goals

In the above example, one of the problems you would face in your new adventure towards becoming a nurse is that you still have the day job. There are still things you need to do to put food on the table. So you have to have other goals in your life that aren’t tied to your stretch goal of becoming a nurse. You have to lay out lesson plans for the rest of the year, you have to get your student organization to meet its commitments…

Our life is driven by both what we need to do to stay where we are and what we need to do to move forward. Thus, we have bridge goals and we have current commitments. Both of these should be stated as SMART goals. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

That is why we call these SMART goals. Let’s focus for just a minute on the R of SMART.

SMART goals can be relevant to what you are committed to do now. In the hypothetical example, they would be the goals that would be relevant to being a good teacher (lesson plans, student supervision, grading). Note that achieving these goals aren’t necessarily taking you to the future you want but they are keeping you away from a present you don’t want. They aren’t making you a nurse but they are keeping you from being unemployed.

Now if we are totally happy where we are and we have no desire to be anywhere else, then these are the only SMART goals we need. However, most of us want more in life and so we don’t want all of our SMART goals to be of this variety. We need SMART goals that will also move us forward.

That’s what bridge goals are. They are SMART goals that are specifically tied to where we may want to be at some point in the future (i.e., our stretch goals).

At any given moment, we should have some SMART goals that are bridge goals and some SMART goals that are simply commitments to what we are doing now. That way we are sure we are keeping our current commitments as we pursue a better future.

Outcomes or Activities

OK, let’s look at the SMA part of SMART goals. Sometimes SMART goals are specific about the result we want. As I am preparing a topic for my class, my SMART goal will be to have a whole set of lectures outlined, set up in PowerPoint, and ready to go. That is an outcome that is specific, measurable, and attainable. By the time I state in my goal, I will either have the lessons prepared or not. I will have either achieve that outcome or I will not. So that goal satisfies the SMA requirement of SMART.

But sometimes we just need to spend a certain amount of time doing something and we are not that sure where our time will take us. I am right now exploring computer programming alternatives for a project I am working on. I don’t know enough about what I am exploring to know where I am going. How can I make that specific, measurable, and actionable?

That is when I need to make my goal focused on activities and not outcomes. I can set a goal to have spent 20 hours exploring programing alternatives by the end of next week. I don’t know what I will find out or where I will be at the end of those twenty hours. But I will know whether or not I spent those 20 hours like the goal stated I should. Thus I have taken an ambiguous outcome and made it specific, measurable, and actionable.

Salespeople can set SMART goals based on the number of calls they will make. Authors can set SMART goals based on the amount of time they will spend writing. If we are trying to get in shape, we will probably have some SMART goals in terms of how much time we will spend exercising.

Practical Goal Setting

So that is how we set goals. We have some goals that are taking us up. We set stretch goals and derive bridge goals from them. These type of goals are moving us forward in life. At the same time we have commitments we must keep. We need to set goals for these too.

Whether they are tied to stretch goals or they are tied to commitments, these goals need to be SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound). They can focus on either the outcome we desire or the actions we need to take. Either of these will work and you will probably have a mixture of both. Once we have done that, then all we need to do is fill out our to do list and go to work.

In time management, nothing is maligned as much as the simple to do list. However, we all need one. It is hard to manage your time without a to do list. We just want to be careful what we put on that list.

That means we must think about where we want to be in the future and we must be careful what commitments we make. For they will eventually be what drives our to do list. We need to pick our SMART goals carefully so we need to pick our commitments and our stretch goals carefully too. That is how we keep our current commitments while moving to a better tomorrow.


Sign Up for the Blog

You'll receive new posts right in your inbox, as well as certain content available only for subscribers.

Category: , , Friday, June 10, 2016

Leave a Reply