For those looking to grow, get ahead, and keep their focus, goal setting is a natural part of life—both personally and professionally. SMART Goals help you measure how far you’ve come, encourage you to stay motivated, and give you a reason to keep pressing forward.
If you’ve ever tried setting or reaching a goal before, you know it can be difficult.
However, you have a much greater chance of accomplishment if you create SMART goals. SMART goals are just challenging enough to push you but not so unrealistic that you’re constantly struggling to reach them. First, you’ll learn about the importance and benefits of setting SMART goals; then, you’ll receive tips for writing them effectively.
What are SMART goals?
From a young age, you may have heard sayings like “dream big” or “if your dreams don’t scare you, it’s not big enough.” While you should absolutely continue to dream big, it’s also in your best interest to be realistic and set yourself up for success. That’s where SMART goals can be helpful—they can move you closer to those big dreams. SMART is an acronym; it stands for:
- Specific: The goal is narrow and tailored to a specific interest and tangible outcome.
- Measurable: You are able to evaluate the goal to determine success or failure.
- Achievable: The goal is challenging, but not so difficult that it’s unachievable.
- Relevant: The goal is aligned with your values and is a priority to you.
- Timely: There is a target date for reaching your goal so that you can stay motivated.
In order for a goal to be considered a SMART goal, it must include each of these criteria. Each component of the SMART goal structure works with the others to help you come up with clearly defined, well-planned, and trackable goals. Utilizing this framework will ensure that you find success in whatever arena you’re trying to improve in.
Why are SMART goals important?
Not all goals are created equally. It has been said that when you set a SMART goal, you’re already 50% of the way to achieving it. Goals that are too vague, aggressive, or otherwise not well thought out can quickly discourage an individual. They might even refrain from setting more goals in the future to avoid the possibility of failing again.
You want to set yourself up for success whenever possible. This doesn’t mean going easy on yourself or operating below your potential; rather, it means that you are realistic about your abilities, talents, and capacity for growth. SMART goals take the whole person into consideration as well as their wants, needs, values, limits, time constraints, and interests. While setting SMART goals is not a foolproof way to achieve them, it is the best first step you can take if you’d like to improve in an area.
What are the benefits of SMART goals?
SMART goals can bring success to both your personal and professional life as long as you know how to create them. If you set goals that are not smart, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, you may be setting yourself up to fail. It’s one thing to say you want to do something and another to commit to making that thing happen. SMART goals help you establish a plan to increase your odds of success. Some other benefits include:
- They are not so difficult to reach that you give up prematurely.
- You can see a clear distinction between reality and wishful thinking.
- They take both your strengths and weaknesses into account.
- You are forced to think outside the box.
- They keep you focused, motivated, and disciplined.
- When you achieve them, you don’t feel like it was too easy.
- They compel you to set priorities.
Setting a goal is always going to be risky and include the possibility of failure. However, SMART goals operate on the expectation that you will reach your milestone. Why? You’ve taken the time to assess your limits, strengths, and weaknesses in detail before holding yourself to a goal.
Few things increase your self-confidence as much as achieving your objectives. SMART goals will continue to grow you as an individual as you keep moving the goalpost of what is possible.
How can I write effective SMART goals?
Now that you know the importance and benefits of having SMART goals, you can start crafting your own. As you write them, make sure to keep the acronym at the forefront of your mind. You’ll want to ask yourself lots of questions and have a positive attitude toward the writing process. The best way to write SMART goals is letter by letter.
S – Specific: When writing your SMART goal, get detailed and clear about what you’d like to achieve. This part of the process isn’t about how you’re going to accomplish your goal; that part will come later. Rather, you should aim to answer the ‘W’ questions:
- Who – Who is involved in reaching this goal? Who needs to be added or taken out of the equation to accomplish the goal? Who will be responsible for what?
- What – What do I want to achieve? What outcomes am I striving for? Try to go into lots of detail with this one.
- When – When do I want to reach this goal? Think about a time frame for your goal, but don’t go too much into detail since you’ll cover the timeliness aspect in the Timely section.
- Where – Where is it located? Is there a location that is specific to your goal? This may not apply to everyone or every goal.
- Why – Why is this goal important to me? What is the reason for pursuing this goal over another? What makes it special?
M – Measurable: There is little reason to create a goal if you can’t assess whether or not you reached it. Your objectives might be measured by qualitative or quantitative measures or a combination of the two. You can use:
- And more
If there is no way to accurately say a change has occurred, it will be hard to know if you’ve actually accomplished the goal. Set the dates and times you’ll be measuring your progress as well as what specifically you’ll be calculating.
A – Achievable: To reach a goal, you need the right resources, people, and information. Think about and write down who is needed to carry out which responsibilities.
Consider whether any resources (such as money, staff, or time) are lacking and if they are, can they be obtained? When you go into a goal without having what you need, it can quickly become hard to stay motivated.
If you don’t believe a goal is realistic or can be accomplished, you’ll have less of a desire to work toward it. On the opposite end, you don’t want the goal to be too easy as that creates an incentive to slack off, procrastinate, or otherwise not rise to one’s potential. Here are some additional questions to ask:
- Do I/we need to obtain any resources?
- Who will be responsible for what?
- Do I/we have the required skills to be successful?
- How can I acquire what I need before working toward this goal?
R – Relevant: Look at your SMART goal with the bigger picture of what you’d like to achieve in life in mind. If it has nothing to do with your aspirations in your career or life, you should ask yourself why this goal is a priority. Anything you do should have a purpose and contribute to your growth. What are your big dreams? Create SMART goals with those in mind so you can move closer to your ultimate aspirations in life.
T – Timely: If you set a goal without a timeline, it’ll be like a moving target. You’ll lose motivation and may even put it on the backburner. You may have objectives that you want to accomplish in days, weeks, months, or even years. The timeliness should push you, but not be so challenging that it feels impossible to get everything done. Consider which obstacles might stand in your way that could cause delays so that you aren’t discouraged. Make sure to set both small and larger deadlines to stay on track.
What is an example of a SMART goal?
SMART goals can be big or small. They often contain many parts and should be as detailed as possible. Below is an example of a professional SMART goal for someone aiming to improve their leadership skills:
“A year from today, I would like to have increased my leadership skills and abilities. I will put myself in new situations, take classes, and get a mentor in order to learn about effective coaching, communication, and management. I want my boss, mentor, and two other upper-management leaders to acknowledge my improvement as a leader in the company.”
This SMART goal meets all criteria of the acronym:
- Specific: The focus is on coaching, communication, and management as they relate to being an effective leader.
- Measurable: The employee will know the goal is accomplished when their boss, mentor, and two others from upper management notice their improvement as a leader.
- Achievable: Plenty of resources are available; the employee will put themselves in new situations, take classes, and get a mentor so that they can reach their goal.
- Relevant: Once the goal is accomplished, they will be able to use their newfound skills to lead more effectively throughout their career.
- Timely: The goal will be accomplished within the next year.
Setting SMART goals can be intimidating but writing them gets easier with experience. The more you achieve, the more motivation you’ll have to keep going after new objectives.
The only way to assess whether you’re improving is to look at where you were at one point and compare it to where you are now. SMART goals can help you track your performance, identify trouble spots that need attention, and recognize areas in which you’re thriving.
They are worth creating and working toward no matter where you’re at in your career or life.