How to Set SMART Goals
Every great achievement comes from setting goals. Each leader, entrepreneur, and go-getter achieved their dreams by creating an attainable goal-setting process to help them follow through and succeed.
Whether you have personal development goals, project management goals, or broader business goals to accomplish, everyone can benefit from creating SMART goals.
Find out what the SMART acronym stands for and why SMART goals are important. I will also share some helpful SMART goal setting examples, how to set attainable SMART goals, and tips to help you achieve your professional and personal goals using the SMART framework.
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART goals have been around for over 30 years. In 1981, consultant and former director of corporate planning for Washington Water Power Company, George T. Doran, published a paper titled, “There’s a SMART Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.
He introduced the SMART goals criteria as a way to improve your chances of accomplishing your goals. Since then, we can see the SMART term occurs in a copious amount of research studies, self-help books, articles, blog posts, and more.
What does it take for a goal to be considered a SMART goal? In this context, SMART is an acronym that stands for:
Think of your SMART goals as a personal mission statement. The SMART framework acts as a tool to help you ensure that the goals you want to achieve are attainable and geared to you and your means of success.
SMART goals are versatile and can be applied to both personal and professional areas of life. For example, SMART goals are absolutely essential for managers when figuring out how to motivate their employees.
Creating a SMART goals action plan in the workplace can stimulate productivity and overall achievement.
A personal goal example may be committing to taking a walk every day before work. This walk could then develop into a routine, which will later lead to a habit. Habits like these can then help you work towards a bigger goal of building a healthier and more productive lifestyle overall.
The Importance of SMART Goal Setting
Creating a routine is important for your productivity, but your goals are what navigate your productivity to your success.
Goal setting allows you to create the willpower to move the needle in your life and prevent feeling stagnate and stuck.
Setting both long and short-term attainable goals helps you build focus, measure progress, and hold yourself accountable.
By setting goals, you can stop making excuses and procrastinating and start heading towards success.
But, not all goals are the same. Goals have to be thought out and specific to you and your situation. If you set goals that are vague, it’s much more difficult to determine how successful you are in achieving them.
If you don’t put thought and effort into your goal setting, you may never achieve the success you want. That’s why it’s important to aim before you shoot.
How to Set Achievable SMART Goals
Now that you have a general understanding of what a SMART goal is, let’s break the SMART acronym down to help you understand each element.
Using the SMART goal framework is very simple. To create an attainable SMART goal, focus on each word of the acronym itself.
The goals you create should embody all of these elements. Once they do, you will see the true potential of this term and how you can utilize it to achieve success in your life.
Let’s start at the beginning.
S – Specific
Good goals are not ambiguous or vague. Rather, they are clear and concise. You should know what you want to focus on, even if you aren’t quite sure how to get there yet.
For example, rather than saying, “I want to get into shape,” you could say, “I want to lose fifteen pounds by March 20th by using my gym membership three days per week.”
The first statement gives you a very broad definition of what it means to be “in shape.” But your version of “in shape” may be entirely different than someone else’s — it leaves too much room for interpretation and less room for action.
You can see how the latter example is a more specific goal allowing for much more effective planning.
At first, being specific with your goals may add some extra pressure. However, the specificity of your goal will allow you to hone in on what you are looking to achieve and attack it directly rather than dance around it. Your focus will be narrow, efficient, and precise.
M – Measurable
Tracking the progress of your goal is an important part of keeping yourself motivated and holding yourself accountable.
Setting measurable goals allows you to track progress by identifying milestones you can celebrate when you achieve them and reevaluate if you don’t.
Some goals are measurable by numerical or financial terms. Some can be broken down into steps, each of which infers that the previous step has been completed and progress has been made toward your measurable goal.
Some goals are more difficult to quantify, though, in which case you can evaluate your endurance and efficiency when completing that task by writing down how you felt doing it on a daily basis. This also allows you to measure changes in mindset during your journey.
A SMART goal example for this could be simply “being more positive.” While that’s hard to assign key performance indicators to, you can measure progress by noting how much easier it gets to be positive on a daily basis when you are actively working on it.
Make sure you measure your goals regularly in order to help you stay on track or adjust as needed. The progress you make will motivate you to continue moving forward.
A – Achievable
While your goals should challenge you, they shouldn’t be impossible for you to accomplish.
Far too many people fall into the trap of setting unrealistic goals for themselves. While big, exaggerated goals may be motivating for a while, they will usually leave you feeling depleted and distraught in the long run.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach for the stars, it just means you should be reasonable about your output. Once you’ve reached your goal, you can then aim for something higher.
Make your goals achievable. Before you set your goal, make sure that you can actually envision yourself achieving it and can create a SMART goal action plan for doing so.
This plan should consider if you can achieve the goal within the constraints of time, money, skill level, external environment, and the other constraints contained both inside and outside of yourself. When you make your goal attainable, you are more likely to stay motivated and succeed.
Even if your long-term goal is grand, start with a more achievable goal and work your way up.
R – Relevant
Not all goals are created equally. Some may be much more worthwhile to you than they are to your coworkers or friends. Unless your goal is relevant to the overall plan for your life, achieving it may not contribute to your ultimate success.
Your goals should be within the bounds of reality. Some goals are inspirational and do not necessarily reflect your current reality. Always create goals that are actionable and attainable; ones that do not require the wave of a magic wand.
In order to ensure that your goal is beneficial and relevant to you, make sure that it aligns with your values and larger, long-term goals. If a goal doesn’t contribute toward your broader objectives, rethink it.
Always ask yourself why the goal is important to you, how achieving it will help you, and how it will contribute toward your long-term goals. When you have a good answer for each of these questions, you know you’re setting the right kind of relevant goals that you can achieve.
T – Time-Bound
Effective SMART goals should follow a time frame. A goal deadline promotes motivation and prioritization while giving you confidence through the tracking of your progress.
Here’s a SMART goal example that is time-bound:
You want to start reading more books, but rather than saying, “I want to start reading more books,” you could say, “I want to read twelve books in the next six months.”
You will notice that the first statement is all-around vague — “more” could mean as few as one book or as many as 100 books. It also does not set a target date, making it more difficult to track consistently.
The second goal is much more specific as far as quantity and time frame go, allowing you to keep track of your progress and see how far away you are from reaching your goal within the deadline.
When you specify schedules for the attainment of each part of the goal and the completion of each part of the task, you will find it much easier for you to stay on track.
SMART Goals Examples
When planning out the SMART goals you want to achieve, write down each of the five criteria within the SMART goal setting structure, and write a sentence or two about how your goal fits into each.
If you can create a goal that aligns with each element, your goal will prove to be more elevated and beneficial than a general goal.
In case you’re still unsure what exactly qualifies a goal as being “SMART,” let’s take a look at a few specific SMART goals examples to inspire you as you are developing your own goals.
SMART Goals Example for Saving Money
Let’s say that your goal is to start saving more money.
Now, in and of itself, this isn’t a SMART goal, but it can easily be modified so that it is one. For example, you could say:
“I will save $10,000 a year for the next 10 years in order to prepare for a comfortable retirement.”
Now this goal is considered a SMART goal. Using a SMART goals template will also help you see how each criterion is being accounted for:
S (Specific) = You have designated a specific amount of money you hope to save ($100,000).
M (Measurable) = You are able to track how much money you’re putting away towards your goal ($10,000 per year for 10 years).
A (Achievable) = After accessing your financial situation, you have deemed an appropriate and realistic amount.
R (Relevant) = Saving money will allow you to achieve your goal of having a comfortable retirement fund.
T (Time-bound) = You have set a time frame for when you should have $100,000 in savings (in 10 years).
SMART Goals Example for Leadership
Let’s say that your goal is to hold a team leadership role within your organization. Here’s what that goal looks like as a SMART goal:
“I will earn a team managerial promotion in my department during my yearly evaluation in six months by working harder and taking on more responsibility for my team without being asked.”
Now let’s look at each element of the SMART goal to help you better understand and achieve it:
S (Specific) = You are working towards the exact team position you want to be promoted to within your department.
M (Measurable) = Your success can be measured by the promotion.
A (Achievable) = Your current role is the stepping stone to the team managerial role if you go above and beyond your current job description.
R (Relevant) = The managerial role aligns with your desired career trajectory.
T (Time-bound) = Your goal is time sensitive as you are working towards being promoted to a team manager during your yearly management review in six months.
SMART Goals Example for Writing a Book
Now let’s say you have a personal goal of writing a book. Instead of leaving this goal vague, we will turn it into a personal SMART goal. Your personal SMART goal is:
“I will finish writing the manuscript of my book by the fall of next year by writing five pages a day starting today.”
S (Specific) = You have specified the deliverable (the manuscript).
M (Measurable) = You have a set amount of pages that you have to write per day in order to finish by next fall (five).
A (Achievable) = You enjoy writing and are very motivated to finish your book, so writing five pages a day is doable.
R (Relevant) = Finishing the manuscript will get you much closer to eventually publishing the book to a bigger audience.
T (Time-bound) = You are working towards the manuscript being completed by the fall of next year.
SMART Goals Templates and Smart Goal Worksheets
Along with writing down the criteria for your SMART goals and checking that the goal you set matches each criterion, you may find it beneficial to use additional resources, such as goal-setting templates and worksheets.
These resources will help you write SMART goals action plans, help you organize your thoughts in a clear way, and can be referenced throughout your journey.
How you decide to use a goal-setting template depends on the template itself. A SMART goals template includes helpful tips on how you can create the right kind of goals, how you can keep track of your progress, ways to stay motivated, and more.
Writing SMART goals is much quicker when you use a template. I find the most benefit from the templates when I print them and manually fill them out. I can then use the SMART goal worksheets as physical and mental references as I work towards my goals.
To do this, simply fill out each section of the template you choose as it applies to your specific goal at the time.
If enjoy using templates, planners, and other written tools to help you stay organized, goal-setting templates may be an essential tool in your SMART goal creation.
The good news: You can download my SMART Goals Template now for free. A SMART goal template makes it easy to create goals specifically designed for you and your vision of success.
Tips for Achieving SMART Goals
Thoughtfully setting up your SMART goals means you’re well on your way to success. Now I’d like to give you a few tips to help you accomplish your SMART goals and make sure you have achieved your dreams.
Write Down Your Goals
People who write down their goals are three times more likely to achieve them than those who do not. Designate a journal, template, software program, or another resource where you will write your goals down like a personal mission statement and refer to them often.
Check Your Goals Regularly
For best results, you should consult your goals every day. This helps you do a reality check often to make sure your goals are attainable. It will keep you focused and help you tailor your daily to-do list to reach your goals. And it will also help you keep your end date front of mind.
Revise Your Goals as Needed
At times, you may find you’ve created unattainable goals, need a more realistic deadline, or something unexpected happens that requires your to course correct to you meet your goal within the time frame. Remember that your goals are important as written, but they are also fluid and you can make changes when necessary. The most essential thing is you continue progressing forward.
Add Positive Affirmations to Your Daily Routine
Practicing daily positive affirmations is a proven way to maintain the motivation you need to achieve your goals. Affirmations is one of my favorite positive thinking resources and will help ensure you don’t fall short in meeting your goals.
Celebrate Your Wins
A huge benefit of SMART goals is that they are measurable. This way, you can break each goal into smaller goals and check off your progress. The motivation you’ll experience along the way will lead to an acceleration of your progress and help you accomplish your goals.
You may have reasons as to why you are not achieving your objectives, but sometimes we use excuses that can be overcome.
Consider the excuses you may tell yourself. Common excuses are not having enough time, knowledge, or experience. Other excuses have to do with needing to overcome bad habits or stepping out of our comfort zone.
Many excuses can be turned into opportunities when you take accountability for your decisions and develop a plan for yourself.
While success is not achieved overnight, it’s important to remain realistic and remember all the little steps you must take in order to reach the finish line.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You may get tired and want to stop, but just remember, starting was the most difficult part and you’ve already made it past that — so keep going.
If you are struggling with moving forward, start with one small step. This can be done by setting some daily realistic goals before bed. Then, wake up and start creating a routine with these daily goals in mind.
It all starts with that first step and proper time management to stay on target.
Get on the Road to Success by Setting SMART Goals Now
By following these SMART goal tips when setting personal and professional goals, you will see that making realistic SMART goals important to your process will inspire you, challenge you, and push you towards the best version of yourself — the version you are destined to become once you commit to achieving your goals.
Set yourself up for success by downloading my free SMART Goals Template now. When you use this and other helpful resources, you’ll be on your way to writing your SMART goals and turning your dreams into reality.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.