*This blog post is the second in my Goal Setting for Artist series. You can find Part 1 here.
One of the best-known goal setting strategies out there is known by the acronym S-M-A-R-T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound). This strategy gives you a list of criteria that you can use in order to refine your objectives, make a plan, and test how useful your goal will be.
In this post, I’ve updated the classic formula specifically for artists. Instead of SMART goals, I give you SMART-IST goals!
If you have a goal in mind, use the tips below to ensure that you are set up for success and focussing on what is truly important to you.
Set a goal that is well-defined and focused. Rather than targeting your big-picture fantasy, you should isolate one area that you would like to improve.
Instead of: “My goal is to become a well-known artist.”
Try: “My goal is to increase traffic to my website by 25% this year.”
Instead of: “My goal is to become a better artists.”
Try: “I’m going to improve my skills as a watercolour painter by taking four different classes on the topic.”
Set a goal that you can quantify. You want to be able to measure how you are doing and know when you have achieved your goal. To improve your chances of success, focus on measures that you can control rather than ultimate outcomes. The idea is to set measures that are based on effort and that will eventually lead to the achievement of your goal (more on lead and lag measures in another post).
Instead of: “My goal is to sell more of my art.”
Try: “My goal is to contact five of my previous customers per day, for one month, in order to showcase my new work and reestablish relationships.”
Instead of: “My goal is to win an arts grant.”
Try: “My goal is apply to ten different arts grants this spring.”
Set a goal that you can actually accomplish. This will require you to be realistic about all of the steps you will need to take in order to achieve your aim. You’ll also need to think about whether you have the time and motivation to perform all of the required steps. (More about inventorying and prioritizing your time in a future post).
Instead of: “My goal is to make art full time.”
Try: “My goal is to work in my studio four days a week, between 9AM and 2PM. This will leave four hours per day for business tasks and errands.”
Instead of: “My goal is to have my work ‘discovered’ by an art expert and then placed in the National Gallery.”
Try: “My goal is to spend a day researching the galleries around me in order to discover a place that would be a good fit for my work.”
Set a goal that aligns with your values and larger aspirations. It is true that your SMART-IST goal is merely a small step, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t help move you towards your ultimate aspirations. Focus on what is most important to you rather than on what seems like it would be the easiest.
If your ultimate aspiration is to teach art professionally,
Instead of: “My goal is to become President of my local art society.”
Try: “My goal is to design an introductory sculpting course and pitch it to 3 different institutions.”
If your ultimate aspiration is to become more creative and deepen your artistic practice,
Instead of: “My goal is to teach an introductory sculpting course.”
Try: “My goal is to apply to three artist-in-residence opportunities this fall so that I’ll have the time and space to focus on my new project.”
Set a goal with an end point. To do this, consider the steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve your goal and how long it will take you to perform them. If you are looking at a very long time-line (a year, for example), consider breaking your goal up into smaller bits.
Instead of: “My goal is to make a social impact with my art.”
Try: “My goal is to lead a one-week collaborative arts project benefiting the unhoused in February.”
Instead of: “My goal is to attract more followers on Facebook.”
Try: “My goal is to attract 100 new Facebook followers by February 20th.”
Set a goal that inspires you towards growth. When you’re thinking about what you want to achieve, take some extra time to explore your motivation. The best goals have internal motivators (they align with your values and desires) rather than external motivators (others have told you that you should or you’re trying to fit a socially constructed standard).
Instead of: “My goal is to submit my work to 2 juried shows so that I can be validated by others.”
Try: “My goal is to submit my work to 2 juried shows in order to get helpful feedback from jurors I respect and understand how I might improve.”
Instead of: “My goal is to complete double my normal number of clown paintings this month because, as much as I hate them, they are what people keep asking for.”
Try: “My goal is to to spend half of my painting hours this month working on my nature conservancy project because it will elevate my profile and supporting the cause is really important to me.”
Make sure that your most important tasks appear on your schedule. Artists often have a lot of flexibility in their schedules and need to balance short-term, urgent tasks (shipping art work, answering emails, updating their websites) and long-term, important tasks (making art, writing a book, completing a grant proposal, planning a new project). Don’t sacrifice the important for the urgent! Schedule your goal.
Instead of: “My goal is to spend more time in the studio.”
Try: “My goal is to paint from 9AM-12PM on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this season.”
Instead of: “My goal is to focus on my art sales.”
Try: “My goal is to write marketing materials from 1PM-2PM on Tuesdays and work on my customer lead list from 4PM-5PM on Saturdays this month.”
Now that you’ve set a goal that is measurable, make a plan to regularly measure your progress. Keep track of whether you are sticking to your schedule and celebrate your success along the way. Keep score and share your wins with people who are important to you!