If you’ve ever been to a goal-setting workshop, you may have been encouraged to set “SMART” goals, an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. And while all these are good qualities for a goal to have, there’s one thing this acronym doesn’t explicitly address: alignment. Meaning, if you have multiple goals, how do they relate to each other? Because although they may each individually meet the criteria of being SMART, that in itself doesn’t mean they’ll work well together.

Alignment: An Essential Ingredient

Beyond being SMART, goals need to be aligned. If they’re not, and the goals you’re aiming for aren’t in alignment, they may actually get in the way of each other. The time and focus it takes to accomplish one goal may inadvertently prevent you from accomplishing another. Or, in a desire to do them all, you may find yourself not achieving any of them.

I’ve found this to be case in my own life this year. I started out with a few goals for the year in different areas. And although each of them would be considered SMART when considered individually (specific, measurable, etc.), not all of them were well aligned. The time and attention required to do some were actually keeping me from giving adequate attention to others.

I had heard others warn of this danger, so I knew it was a possibility. But looking back, I realize I was overly optimistic at the time, and figured I’d be fine. And now, five months later, I’m coming to understand first-hand how important alignment can be.

An Example

A specific example is my time commitment to this blog. One of my goals for the year was to write each weekday though 2016, which I’ve done so far. But I’ve come to realize that although I could continue with ‘the plan,’ and do what needs to be done to hit the original goal, the time and focus I spend on doing so is hindering me from doing other things that are also important to me.

Realizing this, I now have a few options. I can 1) Continue on, trying to juggle achieving this goal while sacrificing some of the others I have; 2) Drop some of my competing goals altogether so there isn’t a conflict; or 3) Adjust (rather than totally discarding) some of my goals so they are in better alignment.

In this case, I’ve decided to adjust some my original goals based on what I know now — a principle I wrote about last week. In so doing, one of the adjustments I’ll be making is the frequency of my blog posts. I will still continue to write regularly, but instead of releasing something new each and every weekday, I will now be publishing posts 2x a week instead of 5x. This will not only allow me to put a little more time into each post, but will also free up some time to focus on other priorities.

Beyond Individuals

This concept of alignment goes beyond just individuals. It also applies to groups and organizations. A team may have stated goals or values, but if these are not aligned, there will be problems down the road. Just like a car, the more we lose alignment, the more difficult it will be to move forward. If focusing on one goal goes against, or detracts from, another, eventually something will have to give. Either one will be sidelined, or both will suffer.

Alignment may be easy to overlook. But once you get moving, the effects of not having it are impossible to ignore.

Question: Are the goals you’re currently pursuing in alignment with each other? If not, what may need to change to make sure they are?