Paralegals: Create SMART Goals for Your Success

Most people understand that to be successful in life at anything you have to have ambition, purpose, and goals. While this is understood, many fail at achieving their objectives or goals because they go about it the wrong way. The aspiration they have may manifest too late or quite possibly never occur because of improper planning for their target. They failed to create SMART goals.

"A goal is a dream with a deadline." --Napoleon Hill

Goal setting is commonly done in the business world, but often we devote little time to planning your goals and get lost in the daily routine of our careers. What might change in your career if you had some goals to work toward? What could you accomplish? How might you grow and transform, becoming more than you are now?

Setting a goal by itself won't accomplish much. You'll have to work toward achieving it. To maximize your chances of success, try the SMART goals method. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant, and Timed.

Specific Goals

Making specific goals is critical for effective goal setting. The more specific, the better. If you have a clear picture of what your goal looks like, then you'll know definitively when you've achieved it!

In their powerful book The Aladdin Factor, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen discuss how to get everything you want. The primary exercise of the book is to make a list of 101 things you want. (Try it! It's surprisingly difficult to come up with a list that long.) The key is to get super-specific. Instead of writing "I want a sports car," you write something like "I want a midnight blue ragtop Mazda RX-8 with a manual 6-speed transmission, fog lamps, cruise control, leather interior, kicking stereo, and GPS." The more specific you are, the more focused you will be in achieving your goals.

Here are some examples of nonspecific goals:

I want to make more money
I want to get promoted
I want to lead a team
I want to be a better leader

To make these targets much more specific, you can reframe them as follows:

I want to make at least $1500/week, $6000/month, $75,000/year
I want to get promoted to Assistant Paralegal Manager
I want to lead a 12-person legal team
I want to spend 10 hours per month mentoring other paralegals

When you focus on a specific thing you want, your brain is able to focus attention and intention on it, attracting positive energy around your desires. This is essentially the Law of Attraction at work!

You may have a large, overarching goal that you can't easily make specific, for instance, "being a better manager" or "being the best paralegal I can be." Often, you can break down a larger desire into more minor yet specific goals, such as the following:

"Being a better manager" might break down into "I will have at least two specifically set-aside 'team meetings' with my co-workers/employees each month" or "I will take two CLE's to stay abreast of what is happening in my field each year."

Bonus tip: When your goals are specific, you can make a dream board, with pictures that indicate what you want to achieve. Notice also that goals set in this way must be worded in the positive: what you want, not what you don't want.

Measurable Goals

If you have a list of specific goals, you've probably already incorporated ways to measure them. If you can't measure your outcome, you won't know whether you've achieved what you want. Specific goals are measurable. To make a substantial change, you need to track your efforts with measurable goals.

For instance, the nonspecific goal of "I want more money" is not easily measurable. How would you know when you have "more" money? Technically, $1 counts as more. If you have a goal of "I want $5,000 more in my savings account," then you have a specific and measurable achievement. When your account balance is $5,000 higher than it is now, you've achieved that goal!

If your goal is more qualitative, like "I want to be a better leader," you still have a few options. In the previous section, "being a better leader" was broken down into specific actions, like a number of hours per month spent mentoring. You could also use scaling to quantify it. Ask yourself where you rank on a scale of 1 (not good) to 10 (excellent) of leadership. Then ask yourself where you want to be on that scale. Or, ask your employees (or other stakeholders in your change) to rank you, honestly.

Measurable goals are the key to noticing your achievement. These are particularly helpful in planning and strategizing your career, your finances, and anything else you set your attention to. Specific and measurable goals allow you to clearly track how you're doing.

 Achievable Goals

Achievable goals are realistic, within your grasp, and within your control. This is a very important step that can really trip people up sometimes. You can only control yourself. You can't control events bigger than yourself or the actions of others. Some goals not within your control are:

I want to win the lottery
I want my boss to give me a raise

Winning the lottery is not within your control--you can only control whether you buy a ticket and which numbers you pick. You simply cannot control any other person's behavior, so wanting your boss to give you a raise are not achievable goals for yourself. You can control your own actions, and that is all!

How could you reframe these nonrealistic goals to be in your control? Try the following:

I will buy two lottery tickets a month. (Still playing astronomical odds, but the number of tickets you buy is in your control.)
I will ask my boss for a raise and give four good reasons for him or her to grant it!

Realistic/Relevant Goals

After specific, measurable, and achievable goals, frame your desires with realistic or relevant objectives. Goals should be within the realm of possibility. Setting a goal outside the realm of possibility means you might waste a lot of time and energy struggling to reach it when you can't and maybe enter a shame spiral if you feel like a failure for not achieving it. You are bound by the laws of physics and time. You cannot change the past, as much as you might want to. Look to the future! Some goals that would not be achievable are:

I want to be Batman. (Batman is a fictional and tragic character. One can dress up like Batman, but not really be Batman.)
I want to fly to Mars in my own spaceship. (Unless you are a trained astronaut, billionaire, and aeronautical engineer, it's extremely unlikely this will happen in your lifetime.)
I want to be king/queen. (Unless you are born to royalty, this won't happen. Even if you are born as a royal, this may not happen!)

In addition, realistic objectives should keep in mind any limitations, or special talents, you might have. For instance, if you are only five feet tall and not very coordinated, you won't be playing for the Olympics basketball team. However, if you a high IQ, then joining Mensa might easily be in your grasp!

Timed Goals

At the end of the SMART acronym for goal setting is timed for completion. Timely goals have dates in mind for achievement. If you don't have a timeline for achieving your goals, you may not get to work right away. It will always seem to be "sometime in the future," and of course we all know that tomorrow never comes. This is also a reason to have a variety of short- and long-term goals. You can track how you're doing frequently instead of making a set of goals and then just forgetting about them.

If you set goals for the week, month, quarter, and year, then you have a timeline for completion. It becomes trickier to set longer-term goals and put deadlines on them. For instance:

I want to pay off my mortgage.
I want to spend a month in Hawaii.
I want to retire early.

These are all noble and motivating goals, but with no timeline to keep you on track, your chances of succeeding are low. In the case of the mortgage, you can succeed anyway by making payments on time every month until the 30-year term is up. If you want to spend that month in Hawaii, put it in your life plan. Defining what you mean by "early" will help you reach retirement that much faster. Here are some reframed goals with timelines:

I will pay off my mortgage 10 years early. (and then outline the subgoals that will make this happen)
I will spend a month in Hawaii for my 20th wedding anniversary.
I will retire at age 55. (Specify here what you mean by "retire"-just work part-time? Volunteer? Do nothing whatsoever?)

Bonus tip: For each large goal, create a series of subgoals to track toward completion so that you can get started right away.

Your success in your paralegal career is now only a matter of your effort!

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