Thursday, 9 October 2014

Take the Pressure Off of your To-Do List

Goals should be specific and measurable, right? You've probably come across the acronym SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Tangible. Making SMART goals can be incredibly useful. It forces you to pinpoint what you want to accomplish and when you want to complete your goals. It makes sense, right? Especially if you tend to have abstract goals and no concrete plans. 

But sometimes SMART can be too restrictive. Even if you break down your goals into mini-goals that are relatively easy to achieve, your to-do list might be too rigid for your current situation. When you fail to achieve your SMART goals, you feel like a failure.

SMART goals are supposed to avoid failure by being Specific, Measurable, etc. — which is why failing to meet them makes you feel worse. SMART goals have their place and can be a useful tool, but they aren't suited to everybody in any situation. I think this is particularly the case with writing; doubly so if you're a writer who struggles with long term illness.

Sometimes it is more helpful to make goals with CARE: Compassion, Abstraction, Realism and Engagement.

Compassion — don't be hard on yourself. We would all love to be a superhero, but as humans we need to take it easy from time to time. Don't expect too much of yourself.

Abstraction — forget deadlines and don't think you have to define your goal. How does that work? My current to-do list has a few items that simply say 'work on X project.' That's it! No word count to aim for or specific task to complete. All I have to do is something — anything.

Realism — this is where the CARE approach overlaps with SMART goals, demonstrating that they are not polar opposites. Make sure your goals are ones that you have control over and can achieve. Example: getting an agent isn't 100% within your control, but sending queries to agents is 100% down to you.

Engagement — your goals should interest you; you should want to achieve them. It sounds obvious, but so many people make goals based on what they think they should do or what other people are doing. Your goals should excite you and give you pleasure, at least in the long term, otherwise there's no point.

There you have it: a revolutionary approach to creating to-do lists! Setting goals with CARE won't be appropriate for every situation, but is useful for activities that aren't predictable and lives that are often erratic due to uncontrollable circumstances. CARE is more forgiving than SMART and because there are no deadlines, there is no failure to make you feel bad. Making goals with CARE also fits into the kaizen approach to writing: making small, continuous changes. They ensure you do something, even an extremely small task, rather than nothing.


  1. Hayley - that's an excellent post and I think you should consider putting this and other such good posts together into an e-book one day. I'm sure many people would benefit from reading them!

    1. Wow, thanks Rosemary! I've never considered doing that — definitely something to think about.... :-)