SMART Planning

We all know planning ahead can help us reach our goals more easily, but when it comes to actually doing the planning well that’s not quite as easy. What got me thinking about planning was listening to the latest podcast Planning Ahead again where Laura shared the way she has helped her son plan for his independent future. I have suddenly realised that time is running out for me to make sure my daughter has clear goals that will get her to a place where independent living can be her reality. It’s fine me going on about how she will be independent, but it simply won’t happen unless there is a clear plan about how the skills she will need are to be developed and learnt.

That’s not to say I’m completely unprepared and haven’t done any planning. There are many things we do as a family to prepare her. She would argue she is a bit like Cinderella doing all the cooking and cleaning around the house. Not quite true but over the last couple of years, there has been a focus on getting her to cook both for herself and the family. She even knows how the washing machine and dishwasher work.

I think listening to Laura talk about her son resonated because she has got him to exactly where I hope I get my daughter to in a few years: he’s just about to leave full-time education equipped with many of the skills he needs for independent living. More importantly, he knows exactly what the next steps will be. He has avoided that going off the cliff edge you will have heard mentioned when it comes to what happens to our children once they finish full-time education.

There is no doubt that one of the main reasons for this success is the level of planning that he and his family have put in. To quote Laura, “We never concentrate on the present, it’s the future you’ve got to always be thinking about.”

So, a great idea but how to do it? Laura’s strategy was to sit down and make a list of what her son wanted to do, at least in terms of what job he might do. This is the big one really because a key part of independence is always going to be linked to a job. So, making a list of all the areas they may want to work in, then going through the list together and considering each option, very honestly, makes sense. This is a conversation I have started with my daughter, but I need to do it in a more structured way.

In terms of really getting goals written down with a structure, I plan to use the S.M.A.R.T approach. This stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Bound. You may have seen this acronym before but if not, the idea is to set goals that have all of these elements. So, a goal I might set with my daughter would be  “Cook a lasagne for the family without any help by the end of this year“.

This is a very clear goal even down to the dish she is to cook so passes the specific test. It is measurable because we will be eating lasagne if she achieves it. It is achievable because it is based on what we know about her cooking skills and that is that she is ready for this next step. It is realistic also because we have been working with her and she is already doing a lot of the preparation and cooking by herself. It is time-bound because we have said exactly when we want her to have achieved this.

I think using SMART goals will work really well for my daughter. She likes to know what’s happening in her life so that’s specific and measurable covered. Achievable and realistic are in part down to us as parents, we will have to make judgements on what she is ready to do, although the big issue here is that we must be careful not to underestimate her abilities.  Time-bound is very important too. Like I said earlier, I can tell the world how I want my daughter to be independent, I can believe it but if I’m not really working to a plan to achieve it then it’s very unclear when it might happen. I do have a vague notion I would like her living away from home by 25. So, setting a time frame to achieve certain skills will ensure she is always moving forward towards that independence.

What goals to start with? As I mentioned above, work will be the main thing that needs careful planning.  I do plan to put in other things as well including skills around daily living. The example above is an actual goal but I’m thinking there will also be other goals linked around this such as shopping independently to buy all the food she might need to make a meal. We are having some challenges with social media at the moment, so there is bound to be a goal around that too.  Budgeting and dealing with money will also need some clear goals.

Of course, any plan I do make is very likely to be interrupted by unexpected events, or by a realisation that my daughter can do more than I think she can, or that some of the goals set for her need to be delayed or extended.

Using this clear goal approach has helped Laura enable her son to be independent but in a very structured way. This “helping hand” approach is a tactic that many parents use to help guide the way for their children, and it’s something that allows them to gain the confidence they need to live a more independent life. It’s one I plan to replicate and use with real purpose. It’s time I was more SMART.