|Goals by brownpau, on Flickr|
Before this discussion goes too far, however, let's talk about appropriate wording for a time deadline. You need to specify a day, month AND year if you want the time element to work for you. Your brain won't translate "within 90 days" into whatever that date is from the date you set your goal. Your brain interprets that time frame into 90 days from whatever the date is today, even though today might be 30 or even 60 days into the goal plan. A specific date (without assumptions about the year) in your goal gives you a sense of urgency to complete it.
In addition, the timeline defined by your target date is part of what makes your goal realistic or not. It might be realistic to lose 20 pounds or to save $5000 but it's probably not realistic to tell yourself you're going to do it by tomorrow. (Of course "tomorrow" is not an effective target date. See above.)
Now for the methods for coming up with that date:
- Forward planning - Develop every part of your goal statement except the date, all the way through obstacles solutions and action steps you're going to take. Each action step requires a certain time frame, and in your detailed plan you designate a target date for each of them. They are, after all, mini SMART goals. Once you have laid out your action plan you simply add up the times for all of the action steps to be completed and you have a target date for the whole shebang.
- Reverse planning - In this target date the due date is set for you, or it's intrinsic to the goal. For instance, if you're going to set a SMART goal around the idea of Christmas shopping, December 25th (or maybe the 24th) is your automatic date. You're not going to say to your children, "Santa couldn't get all the way around the world in one night, so our Christmas will be on January 8th." Reverse planning is done by determining "drop dead" dates for each of the steps by working backward from the ultimate target date. By what date do you have to be finished with task X? In order to do task X, by what date do you have to be finished with task W? And so on.
Making sure your time lines are doable
It may make sense to build in buffers when you're deciding how long each action step will take. For instance, if you spend 25% of your day processing interruptions, you should add 25% to your timeline to account for them. Otherwise you'll find yourself behind your plan almost immediately and set yourself up for frustration if not failure on your timeline. The same thought process applies if you have to do some testing of methods, have to wait for hand-offs from other departments, etc. Build them into your considerations for target date.
Being able to meet target dates on your goals is important for your boss or anyone else counting on your work product. But it's also important for your confidence to be able to set expectations and then fulfill them. This skill contributes to your capacity to lead - and to the perception of others that you are a candidate for broader responsibilities.