Setting Goals & Expectations

For many, the pandemic has created circumstances that allow us to see more clearly what is most important: our families (people, furry and scaly animals, and everything in between), our friends, our neighbors, our communities, and whatever abode we call home.

Another item to add to this list is meaningful work. As the global community faces a network of interconnected and complex challenges, each of us can contribute to finding solutions. Research has never been more important, and the University supports research and the opportunities it provides Notre Dame to grow in its mission to be a powerful means for doing good in the world. Each of us in NDR plays a role in the success of the University’s research enterprise, whether we are in a lab, a library, or working out of the laundry room!

With so many unknowns, setting goals for the upcoming year may feel difficult, overwhelming, or even pointless. However, in these uncertain times, having achievable goals may bring structure and accountability to your work in a way that is satisfying and promotes well-being. 

Ask yourself

Use the reflection questions below to identify the most important elements of your work and to narrow down what you can do to excel in your specific role.

  • Sphere of Influence: What is within my ability to control and execute?
  • Focus: Laser in on the “what?” – the outcomes, outputs, and contributions you want to make this year.
  • Help: What support do I need from my manager to accomplish my goals?
  • Backup Plans: What hurdles might I encounter with each goal? Could I write a “plan b” into the goal statement?
  • Wellness: Are my physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and environmental needs being met, such that I can dedicate my work time to work? Can my work-life help fill voids in any of these areas (e.g. social - scheduling time to Zoom with a coworker; spiritual - joining the weekly NDR all-faith prayer gathering; physical/emotional - giving myself permission for a mid-day walk, etc.)?
  • Team: How can I contribute to my team? Is there a need everyone on the team has identified? How can I help move us towards a solution?
  • Room for Improvement: Are there processes or procedures that need fixing that have come to light during the pandemic?

S.M.A.R.T. goals

The point of the S.M.A.R.T. goal template is to assist with creating and meeting your goals, not restricting your creativity or policing your progress.

  • Specific: Descriptive verb and specific result
    • Tip: If the nature of your work has changed, ask your supervisor for help brainstorming specific outcomes.
  • Measurable: Quantity, quality, yes/no
    • Tip: Focus on the what, not the how. Outcomes and outputs instead of minutes per day or days per week.
  • Actionable: Actions within the scope of the job
    • Tip: Let this guideline free you from your own unwieldy expectations!
  • Realistic: Reasonably challenging and achievable
    • Tip: Factor your circumstances into what you can accomplish. Following hygiene, cleaning, and social distancing guidelines will affect your work. Give yourself time, space, and grace to get used to any changes in your workplace location assignment.
  • Time-bound: Deadline, milestones, or frequency
    • Tip: Consider short-term goals of 1 month, 3 months, before Thanksgiving, etc.  Make sure to have interim benchmarks so that you can mark your progress more readily.

Goals can be modified through the year so work with your manager to re-orient your expectations if priorities suddenly shift. Well-crafted goals with bite-sized pieces will help you recognize your progress and keep you motivated.


If you have questions or ideas for additional resources in this playbook, please contact the Director of Finance and Administration