Be SMART or Make a PACT? Read This Before Setting Your 2021 Goals

This themed edition explores the science of goal-setting, right in time to help you with your 2021 goals! Plus a FREE 2021 Goals Vision Board for subscribers.

Goal setting is a highly debated topic among productivity experts: Outcomes or processes? Destinations or systems? Should you be SMART or make a PACT? There are many takes, but here's mine.

1️⃣ When to be SMART

Achieving a goal is a journey, and every voyage needs a destination. When viewed this way, a goal always needs an outcome that gives it its meaning. It is this outcome that lets us measure our progress and make course-corrections before it is too late. If your goal is to ace your test, it helps to study for two hours each day, but how would you know if it is enough? What if studying for 2 hours a day ensures that you pass the test, but to achieve the grade you truly want, you need to increase the effort to 3 hours a day? This is when you need a SMART goal. A Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound goal takes away the anxiety of not doing enough or doing a lot in the wrong places.

Specific: Helps you achieve clarity and removes any vagueness from your goal.

Measurable: Helps you measure your progress and course-correct when necessary.

Achievable: Helps you break the goal down into an attainable endeavor.

Relevant: Helps you examine if the goal is worth your time.

Time-bound: Helps you set deadlines and gives your goal a temporal dimension.

In the previous example, to ace your test, you can have a SMART goal as follows: Master 10 chapters at the end of 2 months. Mastering 10 chapters is specific and measurable. A deadline of 2 months is achievable and time-bound. The goal of acing the test itself might be relevant to your dream of increasing your GPA to get a job at a top company.

2️⃣ When to make a PACT

It's never enough to have a clear vision of your goal— to reach your destination, you should also be prepared to make the journey until the last mile. While having a picture of the final destination gives us the motivation to move forward in our journey, this fleeting motivation is not enough to make the right progress. What we also need is a process to ensure that we reach our destination. We need to hold on to something on our worst days when our motivation and discipline are at their weakest. These are the times when we are likely to give up on our goals. This is when we need a PACT process. A Purposeful, Actionable, Continuous, and Trackable process breaks down the journey into manageable chunks and gives us something to hold on to on our most difficult days.

Purposeful: Helps you align with your larger life values and vision.

Actionable: Helps you identify the single-most-important action you need to take.

Continuous: Helps you identify the habit you need to cultivate to reach the goal.

Trackable: Helps you by asking if you did the action today.

You go for weeks studying hard for many hours a day, yet you don't seem to be making much progress on your mock tests, and because of dwindling motivation, your breaks are longer, and you are missing study sessions. All the progress you made initially has collapsed, and you are about to give up on your goal. But if you had a PACT process, you would remember that you want a job at a top company because you want to provide for your family (Purposeful), that you need to improve your GPA by two more points to make this happen (Actionable). You would also know that you need to study for three hours each day to ace your tests at the end of the year (Continuous). The only thing standing between you and the job is the answer to the question: did you study for two hours today? (Trackable).

On days when you have no motivation, PACT reminds you of a purpose greater than your goal and offers you a chance to get one step closer to it.

3️⃣ Your 2021 Goals: Outcomes, Processes, and the Habits

So far, I've established the relevance of both the SMART Goals and the PACT Process in the goal-setting framework. I will now explain why it is not correct to prefer one over the other and that both are an integral part of the goal-setting process.

Achieving a goal has three components: the destination you wish to reach (the Outcome), the direction you choose to get to the destination (the Habits), and the journey itself that you undertake (the Process).

📍Outcome (Destination)

The final destination is the place you dream of being at the end of your journey. It is what gives your journey meaning and your process its purpose. Your goal is the North Star that guides you when you seem lost and the vision that motivates you when you are in doubt. It fuels your Ikigai and is the reason you jump out of bed each morning. Perhaps your goal is to run a 5K Marathon in December 2021. Your dream destination is crossing the finish line in the Marathon. The PACT can help you with setting this goal: Live a fit and healthy life (Purposeful) by regularly participating in marathons (Actionable) and preparing for them by training at 5 am each day (Continuous and Trackable).

🚏 Habits (Direction)

Now there are many ways of reaching your final destination. But it is up to you to choose the direction you will finally be taking to be on course to your dream. Your habits constitute this direction, and they put you on the path to reaching your goal. You need to determine carefully what your habits are. Will you go to the gym each day or change your diet? Will you cross a daily goal of 10,000 steps on your wearable? Maybe you choose a combination of these. Whatever the habits are, choose them wisely. You can set this as a SMART goal as follows: Cross 200,000 steps on my Fitbit (Specific, Measurable, and Relevant) in 60 days (Achievable and Time-bound).

⏱ Process (Journey)

Finally, after you have your destination and the path leading to it, you still need to undertake the journey till the finish line. This is your process of crossing your milestones and, finally, the finish line. The destination might seem overwhelming and unreachable, but you should focus on the smaller, steady gains you can make every day. A little forward every day is what counts. 

You wake up after days of training with muscle pains, and everything in your body hurts. But you know that this is your process, and continue that day's activity. When you do this repeatedly, you form a chain that takes you to the finish line. So the question that you ask during your process only has a Yes or No answer: Did I move a little forward today in reaching my final destination? Since you have already determined what your daily habits should be, the answer can only be a Yes or a No, and anything else is simply an excuse.

As we can see, PACT can help us while setting long-term goals, and SMART is useful for short-term goals and milestones. I believe that both frameworks are indispensable to an effective goal-setting system. My framework reconciles the debate by assigning a meaningful place for all frameworks in the goal-setting process. 

Here's an insightful article on this topic by my friend Matthias: Why "Goals or systems?" is the wrong question to ask. My views on goal setting have been heavily inspired by Khe Hy’s ideas and seminars. I strongly suggest reading his post on goals if you haven’t already.

If you're in the process of setting your 2021 goals, here's a FREE tool for you: 2021 Goals Vision Board. This tool has a worksheet, Daily Habit Tracker, a Weekly and Monthly Review System, Daily Schedule, and finally, a North Star dashboard to remind you of your life values and long-term ambitions.


These have been my three highlights from the productivity and personal growth space this week. If you liked what you read, connect with me on Twitter and let me know. If someone forwarded this newsletter to you, subscribe to GrowPro Labs here to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

I'm on a mission to make Mondays great, and this newsletter is a part of my efforts in helping you achieve mindful productivity, personal growth, and living your Ikigai.

-Vensy