Be Even MORE Specific With Your Goals.

We’ve all heard or read about the mnemonic SMART when it comes to goal setting, so I won’t go into that. You’ve probably all set specific (etc) goals in accordance with the instructions on the box, and you may have ensured that the goal is your goal and not somebody else’s (which is a primary cause of goals being missed), but then you may have later wondered (as I have) why you still haven’t made much progress on your objective. There is one simple reason.

Your plan isn’t as specific as your goal.

I am shortly going to undertake reassessment on a qualification I need in order to train others in my favourite pastime, advanced driving. Part of that assessment may include a knowledge/theory check and so I am required to get my head in the books and ensure I know the whys behind the whats and the hows. And despite listing study on my daily task list I was finding it hard to actually do the reading. And even when I did get the book out, the results were a little ad hoc – a page one day, three the next, all while keeping an ear out on the TV news and watching my dog watch me in case I moved and it might be walkies.

Then I changed tack. Instead of listing ‘Study’ on the list, I specifically wrote down what I was going to study – chapter 1, or pages 35-45, or the section on tourism signage, or to ‘learn IAMSAFE by heart’. This specificity meant that not only did I have a ‘starting’ objective, I also had an ‘ending’. And I find that to be a surprisingly effective planning and execution approach.

This method also bears some relationship to the successful Getting Things Done approach, designed by David Allen of He identified how big projects occasionally stall because they are too big for the mind to compute, insofar as ‘clean the garage’ is just too big a job to want to do. His mantra is the question, “What’s the next action?” and in the case of the garage it might just be ‘move that pile of spare parts from there to there’, which is a much smaller and less onerous job that clearing the whole garage.

In the majority of cases, that ‘one next action’ approach works like this: your next action may be ‘research Fred’s phone number’, which is easy – but immediately leads to ‘phone Fred’ which also adds ‘make the appropriate appointment’ which means you’re already well into whatever it was you needed to do with Fred. If Fred was going to help you clear the garage by providing a skip, looking up his number leads easily and inexorably towards an empty space into which you can actually drive your car.

In my case, ‘Study Roadcraft’ meant looking at a 260 page book. ‘Study chapter 6’ means 5 pages and a more easily focused 10 minutes or so.

This approach works on big projects, too. And psychologically, the small and incremental successes of each minor task is immensely satisfying inwardly, while exceptionally productive outwardly.

‘Think Specifics’ is an approach to every goal you have, that works. How about ‘find a recipe for a satisfying 250 calorie meal’ as a taskette that leads to ‘buy ingredients’ which leads to ‘eat for lunch routinely’ which leads to “Wow, you’ve lost so much weight!” (Three stone in lockdown I have lost. Jedi Smug Mode.)

How specific can you go with your longer term goals?

Use this form to find out.

Published by policetimemanagement

30 year policing veteran and time management authority. Now I've combined the two.

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