What Are SMART Goals?
A goal is a desired result that you want to see some time in your future.
Short-term goals are smaller, easier to accomplish and focus on things you would like to happen over the next year or two.
Long-term goals focus more on the big picture and things you would like three, five or 10 years from now.
Goal-setting techniques and strategies have been a topic of interest for scientists and medical professionals for decades. The most famous of these people was Dr Edwin Locke, who found that there is a direct connection between performance, positivity and having focused goals.
Goal-setting is proven to:
- Improve self-esteem and self-confidence
- Increase motivation
- Positively influence behavior
- Lead to a more positive outlook on life, as those who experience failure see it more as a setback
- Increase self-awareness, as you are constantly evaluating your performance, strengths and weaknesses
SMART goals are a way of creating meaningful goals. The concept was developed in 1981 by George T Doran to help managers set and reach their targets.
Each letter of the SMART acronym focuses on a different aspect that makes your goals more focused and achievable:
- S – Specific
- M – Measurable
- A – Achievable
- R – Realistic
- T – Time-bound
Using the SMART goal framework helps you create the best possible goals to work towards in your career and personal life.
Using this framework is easy. For each section, you need to work through a series of questions until you have a clear understanding of your goal and what you need to do to achieve it.
When writing a goal, you want it to be as specific as possible. 'I want a big house and a fancy car' is not a goal, it is a statement.
Use the ‘W’ questions to help:
Who – Who is involved in achieving this goal? Is it just you or you and your partner? If the goal is work-oriented and you are working on a group project, who else is involved?
What – What exactly do you want? Don’t be afraid to get very specific or think big. If you want a five-bedroom house with a wrap-around terrace, large garden and a 100-year-old willow tree, then write that down. If you want a six-figure salary by the time you are 35, then make that your goal. Remember that you will be setting long and short-term goals. If one of your desires seems impossible, label it as a long-term goal and make smaller goals to help you reach it.
Where – This one isn’t always needed, but if your goal is location-specific, then make a note of it.
Why – What is the reason for this goal? Again, get specific. If the goal is about a promotion, maybe you want that promotion because it means more money, which will allow you to pay off your student loan faster or save for a deposit on a house. Maybe you want it because it will enable you to choose your working hours. Attaching a very specific ‘why’ to your goal gives it value and meaning. When you read your goal and what achieving it will do for you, it evokes a greater feeling of desire.
The ‘when’ is addressed later, under ‘T – Timebound’.
What evidence will you use to decide if the goal has been met?
If you are looking for a new job, the goal could be: Apply for five new jobs.
A measurable financial goal would look like this: Save $700 in March.
Setting measurable milestones helps you evaluate where you currently are and how you can improve. If you fall short of a target, then you know you need to readjust your goals or up your game.
A – Achievable
Some people refer to this section as ‘attainable’.
This part is designed to inspire you, not deter you. For example, if your goal is to earn a seven-figure salary, what do you need to achieve that? Do you need to take some courses or study for an MBA? Should you change jobs or work towards a promotion?
Never look at your goal and think that it is unachievable. Always try to find a way to make it a reality.
You may also see this labeled as ‘relevant’.
Again, this has nothing to do with the likelihood of you achieving this goal but how it aligns with you.
Goals that align with our core values have a greater chance of success.
Ask yourself whether it is something you truly want or whether it is something expected of you.
If this goal is short-term, consider how it contributes towards your larger goals.
An example of a realistic goal is:
To achieve my goal of becoming my own boss, I will take online courses in managing business finances and setting up my own business so that in three months, I will be ready to write my business plan.
Give yourself a deadline. If you don’t, you will never work towards it.
Some goals may have an automatic deadline – for example, promotions, job applications – but for the majority, you will need to set a deadline yourself.
Depending on the urgency, your deadline could be six months from now or two weeks.
Be kind to yourself. Setting a deadline too soon may put you under unnecessary stress and demotivate you.
SMART goals are supposed to be inspiring, not stress-inducing.
Once you have written your goal according to each section, work through your answers and pull out the key ideas or solutions.
This will give you your final SMART goal.
Following on from the success of SMART goals, the acronym was extended to become SMARTER.
The extra two letters stand for:
Look at your goals and evaluate them every single day.
This doesn’t mean going through the SMART framework every day. But each morning, look over your goals, see which deadlines are approaching and decide what tasks you need to do that day.
Evaluating your goals every day will keep you focused and motivated.
Maybe your circumstances have changed. Perhaps you are finding a particular task or goal problematic.
A daily evaluation and readjustment of your goals will keep you on target and prevent you from getting confused or losing focus.
Specific – I have worked for the same tech company as a product technician for four years and have worked with my team to create three successful products. I now want to be a product manager. I am ready to lead a team, and the promotion comes with a significant pay rise and more vacation time. The money and extra time off mean I will be able to start building my dream house.
Measurable – I know that there is a procedure I must follow to get the promotion. Every two weeks, I will ensure that I am working through the steps. In six months, I will be ready for the interview process.
Achievable – To achieve this goal, I need to complete three leadership courses and an interview process with role plays, group discussions and a one-on-one interview. To help with the process, I will ask my colleagues and line manager to complete performance reviews and study the company’s values and procedures.
Realistic – To move into a more senior role, I need to secure this promotion first. As one of my long-term goals is to be a senior manager by the time I am 35, this promotion is my first step.
Time-bound – The current date is February 15th. The next round of promotions is on August 20th. I will be ready for my interview in six months, on August 15th.
By August 15th, I want to have completed three leadership courses and thoroughly understand my performance so that I am ready for the interview process for my promotion. This promotion will give me the time and money to start work on my dream house.
Specific – I received feedback about my ability to make delicious cocktails during my last performance. By my next review, I would like to be the best cocktail maker at the bar. Not only will it give me job satisfaction, but my tips should improve too.
Measurable – By my next review, I should be able to make all the signature cocktails without looking at the instructions, as well as two of my own creations.
Achievable – Improving this skill will give me job security. I will set aside two days a week to learn about cocktail making and one evening a week to practice the drinks with my friends.
Realistic – Cocktail making makes up 60% of my job. It is also the fun part. Improving my skills will allow me to enjoy my time at work and give me job security and satisfaction.
Time-bound – My next review is in four months. I want to have learned all about cocktail making and how to create my own drinks in three months so I have a month to put it all into action.
By May 7th, three months from now, I will have developed two new cocktails and mastered all the signature cocktails my bar serves. This will ensure a successful performance review, job security and more tips.
If you are new to goal-setting, test smaller goals first until you get used to the framework. Before setting career goals, try some personal ones first.
Consider your resources before setting goals. Make sure you have everything you need before starting. It can be frustrating and therefore demotivating if you have to run a series of errands or delay the start date because you don’t have everything you need.
Make sure your goals mean something to you. We are more likely to commit to something if it has value to us. Dedicating time to something that doesn’t serve you is demotivating, and you will find excuses not to do it.
Set goals that are compelling and challenging. Goals of this nature keep you engaged and motivated. When you complete a challenging task, your feeling of reward is greater.
Immediately set a schedule so you don’t lose momentum. Writing out your goals but waiting for Monday or the start of the month increases your chances of not doing them. Those who set actionable daily tasks achieve 40% more than those who don’t.
Hold yourself accountable or tell your friends/family/colleagues about your goals. This way, you will have their support and encouragement, and you will be accountable to them.
Continuously evaluate. Without evaluation, you won’t know what stage you are at, what is working/not working and the next steps to take.
Stick to your deadlines. Achieving your goals is all about taking daily action.
Goal setting does more than helping you determine what you want from life. It is a technique that teaches discipline, focus and keeps you motivated.
The SMART goal framework encourages you to think more about your goal, such as:
- When you want to accomplish it by
- What tasks need to be done to achieve it
- Why the goal is so important to you
When used effectively, this framework is perfect for those wanting to find a clear path to achieving their goals.