Set a Quantitative Goal

Collage by Hanna Andersson: Growing up

Growing up, original art collage by iHanna, created in January 2011. For sale in the shop.

Set smart goals

I learned from Lisa Sonora Beam’s great book The Creative Entrepreneur that all goals should be SMART.

Smart stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound! It does sound smart, doesn’t it?

But to be honest with you I often hesitate to set goals like that, goals that has a set number or a fixed deadline, mostly because I am afraid of failing. If I promise myself that I absolutely will write every day – and then I don’t, I feel extremely unhappy. And who likes to be a disappointment to yourself?

Previously I have avoided this feeling by setting silly goals like: I will write more each day, as in “more than I usually write” (which is nothing). This is not a smart goal. It is not measurable, nor is it specific, time-bound or very useful. The question is if it is even achievable? In a goal like that there is not focus on what to write or when or how. So even when I write a long post for my blog I will not be satisfied by that, because I don’t count that as true creative writing which is my larger goal (like a book project). And even when I do write something, like an article or essay, I can’t say for sure that that is more than usual either. In this way I can’t really feel successful even when I do write “more”.

When is any time?

I have noticed that my list of loose goals for the whole year is not very time-bound or specific in terms of when things will happen, or how. Most of my goals could happen when-ever-I-have-the-time, any time. Things that could happen any time don’t seem very important. “Any time” seldom happens in my life!

Though I did set a few specific goals that I wanted to happen in February, and those are the ones that have been most on my mind even though I failed to accomplish most them on time. Still I can and will follow through on these promises to myself in March instead. Better later than never or “any time”-later, right?

Maybe March is a good time to look through the list of goals again and set a few more deadlines, at last a few “before summer” could be tossed in there as a test, maybe, I guess (if I am courageous enough).

Being specific

It is impossible to fail when you don’t have a deadline… Well, not until you’re dying because then you will finally know it’s too late for all those things that you’ve procrastinated throughout your life! Personally I ♥ deadlines, and preach their importance. I’ve asked for them lately, from others because that makes my time management easier and life less stressful. But deadlines are also scary. They are also extremely difficult to set for yourself, as is that quantity goal or a set number or a specific amount etc. Scary!

But you know what, that set number can actually make your life much easier! It reduces the feeling of not knowing when to do what, what to prioritize and when you accomplish your goal it gives you a huge feeling of success. I’ve noticed this because I did set a few numbers in my goal list for this year (not in the online post of goals but in my personal list of goals, printed for the planner).

Pet party owl
Pet Owl, original art collage by iHanna, January 2011, now for sale at etsy.

Let’s compare two of my goals for this year; “write more” and “create ten new collages each month”. The first one I’ve talked about already we all agree it sucks. It’s not smart at all, it’s just lame. I am not one bit closer to achieving “writing more” than the last time I set this as my big goal. I like the second goal a whole lot better even though I’ve already failed it twice in these past two months, a total failure rate of 100 % one might think. But “create ten new collages each month” is still a smart goal, and one that I really like the look of. It is very specific as I know the size of these collages, how to do it, where and why, etc. It’s also measurable (10 pieces of art), achievable, extremely relevant to me and also, mostly by pure chance when I wrote that goal, time-bound (one month at a time)! So when each month ends I know if I’ve failed or succeeded with this goal, and I am really loving that!

Just pick a number already

In January I only created two collages but the only reason I created them at all was because it was on my list of goals! I actually created “Growing Up” and “Pet Owl” on the last day of the month, and when I did that felt like a success! If you look at it in another way; 20 % art is better than 0 %, right? Math is not my thing, but I think that’s about right. In February I created just a few more, still not ten, but at least something that is aligning with my bigger goal of developing as an artist, diving into collage and enjoying my favorite art form. That is big, don’t you think?

I recommend you to pick a number, any number, for one of your goals and try it for a while. The number ten seemed good to me, I will revise it when I’ve tried it for a few more months. It might be too many with ten finished collages (it’s quite a bit of work plus extra work of scanning etc), maybe five is a better goal but we’ll see. For starters any number will do as a measuring point.

A Good Writing goal

I recently finished reading Chris Guillebeau’s book The Art of Non-Conformity where he, among a lot of other things, writes about his own writing habits while traveling the world. I am not very interested in his way of living, but some of his ideas are interesting for sure. His daily goal for writing is 1000 words, no matter what. I am impressed by such a goal (and the following accomplishment!) as you can imagine, and I am guessing the best way for me to both get some writing done and to get a well needed feeling of success would be to set a number, a quantity goal!

While listening to an episode of the podcast I should be writing yesterday I was (again!) pondering what my number should be when it comes to writing… Gail writes 2000 words each day for example. Just listening to this round-table-talk I get inspired to write, so I will have to listen to ISBW more often, it’s been a while since I listened regularly (it used to be a favorite a few yeas ago). More about setting writing goals in a future post for another time I guess. Okay? I can’t continue this post any longer… But in the meantime…

What’s your take on all this? Do you set deadlines and/or quantity goal for your own project?

(BTW: this post is, without headlines, 1150 words, all written today).

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14 Responses to Set a Quantitative Goal

  1. Robin says:

    I work with teachers all the time on setting SMART goals for their classroom instruction and lesson planning. A typical goal will sound something like: “After I implement {fill in the blank with a strategy or planning goal}, 80% of my students will score proficient or advanced on the unit test in three weeks.”

    Sometimes this plan works – and everyone’s happy. More often, though (since we work with human children), it crashes and burns. This is when teachers think they’ve failed and often want to give up.

    I believe, however, that a SMART goal is nothing more than a hypothesis. We learn equally as much whether our hypothesis is proven or not proven. We may actually learn more about ourselves and our processes with the latter! (The former feels great, though!)

    The bottom line is that some goals – even SMART ones – often appeal to our head, but can’t be carried out in our heart or by our hands. I like the way Julia Cameron put it in Week 2 of WITW – “Part of us knows we’re more than they see; part of us fears we’re less than we hope. This inner friction is painful.”

  2. iHanna says:

    Thanks Robin for your thoughtful input on this! How cool that you work with this, I feel like a beginner at setting goals for myself that are smart enough… But I guess that is what I wanted to say in my post too, that even though I did fail the goals that are clearer (SMART) they still feel better than the more vague ones! I don’t know why that is, but that’s the way it feels to me. An important lesson for me.

    Will read week 2 today, now. :-)

  3. Sara says:

    For the last few years I’v struggled with setting SMART goals due to fear of disappointment and failure. When it comes to my art making though the only goals I have are to experiment more, learn more, and have fun! You have such an inspiring blog – thank you. Also, I like what Robin writes above, that a SMART goal is a hypothesis – I might have to adopt that!


  4. iHanna says:

    Sara, thanks for your input! I think your goal of playing and experimenting in your art are awesome! The only reason to set further goal is if you need a push, and that might not be needed if it’s mostly for yourself and for fun. I badly want to write but don’t so I DO need a push! Try setting a smart goal and see how it feels, it hasn’t been so scary as I thought it would be before trying! :-)

  5. Marjanne says:

    I’m also struggle with setting goals., especially SMART ones. Maybe because we were supposed to use them in a certain place I worked and I therefore asssociate them with work. Maybe because I failed already so many of my personal goals. But I also see that it is in a way easier to follow specific, SMART, goals.
    Since two years I set New Years goals now, and to my surprise this year they keep playing in the back of my head and I work on them. Not according to a plan, but still doing it.
    Typing this I notice/feel: SMART goals are too scary for the moment. However, maybe as hypotheses.

  6. moira says:

    I love this blog entry! (I love your whole blog, actually!) I love to do lists and setting goals for myself. I always feel somewhat lost if I don’t have some sort of goals, both short-term and long-term, that I am working towards. I think the important thing to remember is that while you can’t fail if you don’t set SMART goals, you are also unlikely to achieve very much either. So, in a way, by not even trying, you are still failing, so you might as well as least attempt to achieve a measurable goal.

    With writing, I think it’s important to be gentle with yourself. Like… you can set a goal of 1000 words a day, but tell yourself that if you want to just sit there and type the word “pickle” 1000 times it’s okay. If you expect to write 1000 brilliant and insightful words, it’s really ease to seize up and write nothing.

    For me, I find setting time goals for writing is more effective that word counts. If you want to go longer, great, but if you just scrape by at minimum, that still works. My rule is that I can’t use the internet, answer the phone, or move from my seat. If i want to stare blankly at the screen, fine. Eventually, I’ll get bored enough to just start writing.

    Another thing I do is start my writing session by writing “I don’t want to write today because” and I let my brain get all of its excuses out of the way (sometimes I end up with really funny bits of writing when my imagination gets going!). Letting myself make the excuses… and then moving past it to write, really helps me. Good luck!

  7. Bridgit says:

    I’ve learned “achievable” is very important to me personally when I’m setting goals. In the past I’ve tried to make New Year’s Resolutions to draw something every day, but it just never worked out. Some days I’m just not in the mood to draw, even a scribble, and somewhere around the middle of February I’d find myself hopelessly behind.

    This year I decided I’d try something a little more realistic and set a goal of three drawings a week. Not finished drawings necessarily, just something down on paper. This has worked out far better than I ever imagined! In fact, If I hadn’t been sidelined by the flu for a couple of weeks, I’d probably have enough drawings to equal the number of days in the year to date, and I’m not far behind as it is!

  8. I find that I also avoid goals that involve a certain amount of time. Even if I make a to-do list for the day, it usually includes about three items that must be done without any excuses. If I add more, I fear failure.

    While familiarizing myself with Journaling Saves and the Walking in This World project (thank you for mentioning that!), I read a post there about perfectionism. While I knew that this had been a problem for me, I thought that I’d overcome it. Instead, I realized that it is worse than ever. I think that is what’s behind the avoidance of time-related goals in my case. (In the past, it has kept me from journaling since I’m the type to rip pages out if the penmanship isn’t “just right”.)

    I am working on a really big afghan right now. I have been feeling overwhelmed by the number of stitches, how little progress I see after an hour of work. I’m going to take some of the ideas presented here and use it to help me move forward. I mean, I can crochet for two hours a day… yeah, in that time the blanket grows by an inch at most, but after a month of two-hour crocheting jaunts, it’ll have grown by a few feet. I’ll be almost done!

    Thanks for letting me *think through my issues out loud* in your comments. :D

  9. Jill says:

    I used to teach and we had to set SMART goals as a district, but I never thought of doing that with myself and my art. Interesting. I guess I always saw them as sometimes impossible to reach given that all students are different, but I might try to devise some for myself/my painting and see if that doesn’t put a different spin on things. However, I don’t want to take too much of a rigid, “mathematical” approach as I used to see these goals as a teacher. I always see painting and creating art as more free than a measurable goal, but maybe I have to be open to seeing it differently!

  10. April Cole says:

    SMART goals, is a positive technique to use. I believe it keeps you focused.
    Because art is such a “free” flowing element, if your goal is not met for the month… continue it over to the next.
    Soon, you will be on track and have momentum.

  11. MissKoolAid says:

    What a great post + discussion in the comments! Eye opening to say the least.
    I rarely set time/quantity goals for my projects. And I find that by doing so, I achieve far less than I could. So I will definitely look at my list of goals in a different way and set deadlines or quantities where I can.

  12. Kerrie says:

    I read somewhere that everyone working in Thomas Edison’s lab, including himself, had to meet quotas for inventions. It boggles the mind, and I picture a bunch of white-coated guys madly conducting experiments and blowing things up. It makes sense that you have to produce a lot in order to create something unique. Personally, though, I’m with Julia Cameron- the creative instinct doesn’t withstand the pressure very well. If it did, there would be a lot fewer blocked artists in the world, and we all would have withstood our critics to go on to great artistic success and happiness! :-) Art and joy go together. More of both is better.

  13. Marjanne says:

    He, I do have a SMART goal now: making 10 cards and sending them before April 8th for the postcard swap!! Totally fun and totally SMART!

  14. teri says:

    I had to write goals into my lesson plans for many years, so your topic is very familiar to me! The words measurable and achievable were key — no verbs like “student will APPRECIATE Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons” because there is no way to measure appreciate. I don’t worry about those verbs too much in my personal life, but I’m still a goal setter and a list maker. While I can’t achieve everything I plan, at least I know I’m set on the right course. Great post!

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