Setting Realistic Timeframes for Goals



Critical to the SMART goal framework is setting realistic timeframes for your action items and for the goal itself. How long does it take? Well, how long’s a piece of string!

Establishing a realistic timeframe depends on so many things:

  • Exactly what the goal is – is it just forming a new habit or does it involve learning a new skill?
  • Is it a short, medium or long-term goal? Have you broken down your goals into mini-goals and milestones.
  • Is the goal compatible with your intelligence preferences, behaviour profile and motivational needs or is it going to be more difficult? [Read the 'About YOU' tab on the NavBar if you're not sure]
  • What is your level of natural energy, drive and determination?
  • What resources can be applied (time, money) to help you achieve the goal and do yo have them?
  • What other tasks are competing with these resources?

You can use the following as a general guide for setting timeframes, but only YOU will have a true idea of how long it will take you to achieve your goals.

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Goal to change a Habit

A ‘habit’ implies something regular in occurrence or routine. For example, visiting your tax agent for advice every quarter is not a habit, but daily tally of budgets is.

Because ‘habits’ are regular in occurrence, they are relatively quick to develop – provided you stick to them!

The timeframes required to develop a new habit or new routine, depending on the complexity of the habit, is usually 3 to 6 weeks. In other words, if you do your ‘habit’ consistently for 3 to 6 weeks, it will become routine to you – it will become a real habit.

Kicking an old habit theoretically takes the same amount of time – if you don’t do your ‘habit’ at all for a 3 to 6 week period, you should be over it. But kicking some habits is a little harder.

Addictive habits in particular may take longer to beat. Remember Maslow’s Biological Needs [from the 'About YOU' tab on the NavBar] – addictions actually ‘create’ a biological need (the lowest level need), which then has to be satisfied (by smoking or whatever your addiction is).

So don’t feel bad if you find it hard to beat – you are trying to overcome what your body sees as a basic survival instinct.

The key here is determination, will-power and support. The nasty addictions (smoking, drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc) all have fantastic support groups, resources and aids to help beat the addiction – make the most of them and persist!

The end result will definately be worth the pain - No pain No gain, as they say.

Goal to Learn a New Skill

Learning a new skill takes a lot longer than forming a habit. As a general rule, it takes about 1000 hours to become just proficient at a new skill. But this also depends on your natural intelligence preference and where the skill fits in.

For example, say you want to learn a foreign language. If you have a high linguistic [verbal] intelligence, you will find learning another language a lot easier than someone who hasn’t, particularly if you already have one foreign language under your belt or studied another language at high school.

In this case it may only take you 700 hours to master a new language, compared with a person with low linguistic intelligence who may take up to 1500 hours to get the hang of the basic language.

To really master a new skill will take a lot longer than 1000 hours (unless you are a natural genius), but 1000 hours of dedicated skill development will give you a good grasp and the motivation to continue to develop the skill through more practice.

Outcome Goals

Outcome goals such as career goals typically take the longest time to achieve, as they involve a journey to get there – they may take years, or even an entire lifetime to achieve! Setting milestones and mini-goals with more measurable timeframes are critical in achieving outcome goals for this reason.

Specific Goals

Financial goals – achieving financial goals really depends on your personal budget (income and expense balance), debt repayments, return on investments, etc. So to establish timeframes for financial goals will require diligent scrutiny of all your finances, but you can start making a difference straight away. There are many budgeting packages that can help you with this.

Weight loss goals – aim at about 1 kg per week (2-3 pounds per week). This doesn’t sound much, but it is a healthy target. As your metabolism is a dynamic thing, weight loss will naturally vary from week to week even if your dietary intake and exercise profile remain much the same. But an average of 1 kg per week is reasonable.

Fitness Goals – regardless of how fit you are, you can achieve peak fitness in timeframes of about 3 months. You may not achieve your ideal weightloss in the same period, but you can achieve a high level of fitness for your weight in this time.