Being a working parent is tough. I know; understatement of the year! There are, however, a number of benefits beyond the obvious (money being the obvious). For me, one of the biggest perks of maintaining my career in the corporate world is the constant opportunity for learning. Being surrounded by intelligent, ambitious people every day means I have valuable conversations with other parents who are juggling kids with a full time career, just like me. I also attend quite a few networking and professional development events throughout the year where I am able to hear from experts about things like navigating power politics, how to command (not demand) respect, prioritization, time management, and how to ensure you’re earning what you’re worth as a professional woman, to name a few. Often, I hear about the newest books successful people are reading and I love adding them to my book stack or borrowing them from colleagues.
It occurred to me that these sources of knowledge can be extremely useful outside the office as well. For instance, when it comes to setting New Year’s Resolutions, many of us run out of steam throughout the year or even forget what we resolved to do in the first place. But identifying and working toward goals is often cited as a key habit of successful people and is extremely important for maintaining a sense of purpose and fulfillment in life. In the corporate world, the “SMART” acronym is commonly used to ensure proper setting and attainment of goals, and this method could easily be applied to help you reach your personal, parenting or family goals.
S.M.A.R.T. stands for specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-based. Some organizations use different variations of the acronym, but the principle remains the same. When setting your goal, ask yourself if it meets the SMART criteria to ensure that it is a goal you can stick to and achieve. As an example, let’s review my own New Year’s Resolution.
This year, I’m resolving to get back in good physical shape before we try to grow our family again. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I went to the gym three times a week and met with a personal trainer weekly until I was eight months along. My delivery was quick and my daughter and I fared extremely well in spite of me not having any pain medication to assist. I’m pretty sure my physical fitness had a lot to do with that. Since then, the demands of a newborn in addition to full time work and living far away from extended family have kept me out of the gym. No joke, I was working out through my entire pregnancy and now I haven’t been to the gym in a year and a half! It’s shameful. Now that we have more of a routine, I want to get back in shape.
Is my goal SMART? Not yet. The first thing you need to do is write down your goal so you can refer back to it. (See above about not forgetting what the goal is before the year is over!) I’m publishing mine for all of you to see, so that ought to help out with accountability. Once your goal is on paper, then you can make sure it is SMART. Let’s get started.
S – Specific
Getting in shape is not specific enough. What does “in shape” mean? To me, it means working out regularly – two to three times a week – and feeling strong. My preferred method of exercise is weight lifting, but I also enjoy skiing, hiking and swimming. So, specifically, my goal is to go to the gym or do body weight workouts at home twice during the work week, and to do something active outdoors every weekend.
M – Measurable
Is my goal measurable? Yes. I can measure my goal attainment based on the number of workouts each week. If I only hit the gym once or if I sit on my butt all weekend, I haven’t hit my goal. I can add another way to measure my goal by throwing in a weight target. I’ve always been skinny and struggled to keep weight on, so before I got pregnant the first time I made a goal to gain five pounds and I hit it before getting pregnant. Since I lost that weight breastfeeding, I’ll go for it again this time around. Three workouts per week and five pounds of muscle mass: this meets the “measurable” criteria.
A – Actionable
If a goal cannot be achieved by taking specific action, it is not a worthy goal. An example of a non-actionable goal would be one that depends on someone else taking action instead of you. In this case, I can take action by lacing up my sneakers and heading to the gym, or pulling out a yoga mat and some workout videos. Some other strategies to hold myself accountable to taking action including speaking with my husband to ensure he doesn’t work overtime the nights I plan to hit the gym and setting an alarm on my phone or creating reminders in my calendar to keep the schedule top of mind until it becomes a habit.
R – Realistic
There was a time when this goal did not feel realistic to me. When I was nursing a newborn and working full time, it was really hard to leave the baby to go to work. The last thing I wanted to do was take even more time away from her to go to the gym. By the time she was asleep in the evening, I had to pump, clean baby bottles and label her milk for daycare. Not to mention the heaps of laundry now that everything was covered in milk or spit up, and packing her diaper bag for the next day. The house was never as tidy as I’d like. In short, I was overwhelmed and exhausted! Now that I’m not nursing, I have more energy and I can just put some cut up dinner leftovers in smaller containers to send with my daughter to daycare for lunch. My husband is supportive so: yes, this goal is realistic.
T – Time-based
Is there a deadline for your goal? Are there specific intervals at which you can measure your progress? For the fitness goal, the answers are yes and yes. My deadline to get fit is before my next pregnancy so I can carry the habit to term.
Now that we’ve confirmed my goal meets the SMART sniff test, and I’ve written it down to refer back to and hold myself accountable, I’ve got more than a New Year’s Resolution. I have a plan! What about you?
Not sure what kind of a goal to set for yourself? Here are some ideas:
- Unplug – It is easy to get pulled into screen time with TVs, tablets, cell phones and social media. Sometimes it feels like the only way to keep the kids quiet! Remember that real bonding with loved ones happens face to face. Make a resolution to put away your cell phone at dinner time, or have one night a week with your spouse doing something that does not involve watching TV. Play board games with your kids instead of everyone spending alone time on their various devices. Model good behavior to help little ones develop crucial social skills and empathy.
- Spend quality time with family – foster one to one relationships with each of your kids and with your partner. Your oldest might miss being the only, or the middle child could feel lost in the shuffle. Resolve to spend 15 minutes a day or an hour a week of “special time” with each child so they can have your full attention. Make childcare arrangements for a monthly date night with your partner.
- Make time for yourself – There is a reason airlines tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others in case of an emergency. You can’t care for others when you are in need of care yourself. If you are run down, over-extended and losing your sense of self, make time for you (as an individual person with goals and interests beyond parenting). Carve out an hour a week or a day every month to work on a hobby, visit old friends or get a massage.
- Travel – expand your horizons and see as much of this world as you can during your time on it. The USA is huge and diverse: swim in the Atlantic and the Pacific, visit a west-coast vineyard, ski the Rockies, catch a concert in Nashville and drive scenic route 1 through a New England autumn. And don’t stop there: brush up on pleasantries in a language of your choosing and catch a flight to any destination on your bucket list! You’ll never go if you don’t plan the time off, get the passport, book the hotels.
- Learn something new – take a cooking class with your spouse, knitting lessons with your daughter or a painting class with your best friend. Grab some language CDs and start speaking Spanish on your commute to work. Get that certification to advance or change your career. You are never to old to learn something new!