Stop setting goals and try this instead

It’s that time of year when we start thinking about setting goals. However, setting goals is essentially just expressing a hope for something to happen. It doesn’t actually determine how we work towards what we want. So let’s try a different approach.

This episode borrows heavily (ie: steals liberally) from Anne-Laure Le Cunff’s blog post SMART goals are not so smart: make a PACT instead, which has been a major influence over my thinking since finding it in 2021.

Picture this: you’re in a project meeting where people are throwing around ideas and getting excited about what they’re going to do. But there’s one person who is extremely confident in their ideas and why they will work. They have their own suggestions and are dead set on them.

Fast forward a month to a follow-up meeting on the project. You discover that the project isn’t going as well as expected. You’re not hitting the targets you set. And there’s Mr. Confident again, offering reasons for why everyone else’s ideas failed and what should have been done. But where was he before? Where was he when the plans were being made? These people are the worst. This person represents SMART goals.

SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, are an outdated way of planning for success. While they help keep things realistic and set achievable objectives, they measure the wrong thing. For example, if someone wants to gain 10,000 Instagram followers by the end of the year, that’s 834 new followers per month, which is ambitious and aims to grow the audience. However, there are problems with this approach.

One of the biggest issues is that you can’t control how many new followers you get, unless you buy them. Additionally, growing your audience is good, but why are you doing it? Is it to sell digital products or to attract people to your gigs? And even if they follow you, are they local or scattered all over the place? SMART goals don’t actually explain how you will achieve the desired outcome. They simply set a number and hope to reach it. In my view, if it can be easily gained, it’s probably not a helpful metric. Buying 10,000 followers on Instagram for 70 pounds proves that 10,000 is just a number and not that useful. It’s more important to have 10,000 of the right people.

Instead of SMART goals, there is something better: PACT. PACT stands for Purposeful, Actionable, Continuous, and Trackable. PACT is more like a plan than a goal. It aligns with the purpose of your business or practice, is something within your control to change or control, is continuous like a habit, and is easily trackable. Unlike SMART goals, PACT focuses on what you do rather than what you achieve.

For example, instead of aiming for 10,000 Instagram followers, a better approach might be to spend 20 minutes per day engaging meaningfully in your Instagram community. This involves finding relevant hashtags and interacting with posts, adding value to discussions without promoting yourself or selling anything. By engaging meaningfully, your name will become more familiar, and people will be more likely to follow you.

Another example is to get a hundred thousand downloads of your podcast by the end of the year. Instead of setting this as a SMART goal, a PACT approach could be to create daily value-packed episodes that are quick and easy to digest or to send direct messages to five podcasters in your niche per week and ask to be a guest on their show.

PACT helps us implement our goals by providing an action plan. It focuses on purpose, action, continuity, and trackability. It may not help us achieve 10,000 Instagram followers or a hundred thousand downloads, but neither do SMART goals. SMART goals only judge us after the fact and tell us whether we achieved them or not. They don’t actually help us implement the necessary actions.

Remember, building a creative business is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about daily habits, routines, and accumulating progress over time. Think about what you want to achieve this year for your creative practice or business. While it’s natural to think in terms of numbers and timelines, it’s important to focus on the action steps. What repetitive actions can you take over time to reach your desired outcomes? Start building purposeful, actionable, continuous, and trackable plans for each of your goals.

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