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Setting SMART Goals – How To Start Succeeding

Melanie Bacallao
By: Melanie Bacallao
Jan 20, 2021 • 8 min read

Setting SMART Goals: Re-defining Your Work Process. 

Have you ever wanted to improve your skills? Or realized that you’re not maximizing all of the rewards from your hard work? Do you struggle with keeping your ambitions in order? If so, you’re not alone. 

Often times, working people have little time to reflect on their accomplishments. A typical goal is to achieve and improve skills throughout the years. To reach this satisfaction, you’ll have to set SMART goals. They allow you to narrow your ambitions, redirect your efforts, be productive, and of course, achieve your goals.

We will break down all the steps necessary for you to set an effective SMART goal. This will help you realize your accomplishments and set productive intentions. With the SMART goal setting technique, you’ll be able to re-define your ambitions and clear a pathway to success. Sounds pretty cool, right?! If you’re interested in learning more about this life-changing technique that will reinvent the way you work, keep reading. 

white ceramic mug with coffee on top of a planner

Origin of SMART Goals

SMART goals are a recent idea that came to fruition. The phrase was coined back in 1981 by George T. Doran, a consultant and former director of corporate planning for Washington Water Power Company. He published a paper called “There’s a SMART Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” In it, he defines SMART goals as a way to create and measure personal or business objectives. The ultimate goal of this technique is to increase the odds of succeeding in these goals.

Doran explains in his document that the reason he came up with SMART is that he wants complex jargon to be simplified:

“Managers are confused by all the verbal from seminars, books, magazines, consultants, and so on. Let me suggest, therefore, that when it comes to writing effective objectives, corporate officers, managers, and supervisors just have to think of the acronym SMART.”

The SMART acronym can be easily applied, and as Doran explains further: each corporate, department, or objective should be SMART. 

So, let’s work on putting his words into action.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART is an acronym. It’s a guide that helps you achieve goals by following certain criteria. SMART goals can be applied to business goals or personal objectives. One is not more or less effective than the other. In some cases, you may not need to follow through with all five steps of SMART, as some goals cannot be measured. SMART goals offer organized and strategic planning to develop goals that can be achieved in a certain amount of time. It can be applied to either short-term or long-term goals.

However, SMART does not have a set definition. It’s applied differently depending on the person. This means that you will have the freedom to customize this technique to maximize success in your own unique situation. 

Here is Doran’s original version of SMART, the five criteria:

  •     Specific: Set a specific goal or target an area for improvement.
  •     Measurable: Mark an objective’s progress until it is accomplished.
  •     Achievable: The goal has to be possible to attain in a certain timeframe.
  •     Relevant: Relatable or meaningful from a business or personal perspective.
  •     Time-Bound: Can be done or finished within a reasonable amount of time.

These five criteria have been modified to meet certain needs, as goals tend to differ. Some people have considered using the acronym ‘SMARTER’ to help flesh out their goal-setting. SMARTER adds two additional criteria:

  •     Evaluated: Approved or appraised by oneself or another source.
  •     Reviewed: Reflection of one’s approach or behavior to the objective.

person holding pen with coffee on table

Breakdown of SMART

Though the SMART technique only has five criteria, it’s essential to look over what is needed for each one. Making each component as specific as possible will help make your goals more attainable and easy to visualize. Here is a guide to making your planning SMART and easy-to-read.

1. Specific

When you set your goal, you want to be as specific as possible. Specificity clarifies what your goal is and what you’re truly trying to accomplish. Writing down a clear goal in mind will ensure that you’re on the right track. To help you fulfill this criterion, we recommend that you use the five ‘W’ questions. So, start by asking yourself, Who, What, Where, and Why.

Use the following example as a template:

  •     What – Do you have a detailed description of what your goal is? Write down what you’re trying to accomplish. Leave no stone unturned.
  •     Who – Are you alone, or do you have others available to help you? Think of those who are essential to snowballing your goal into reality. If the focus is on you, reflect on your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to this specific goal.
  •     Why – Is there a reason this goal holds importance? Go over the potential outcomes of this goal. Do the results drive you to pursue this objective?
  •     When – In what period of time are you trying to accomplish this? This can be a predetermined deadline or a time you wish to finish this goal.
  •     Where – If your goal ties to a place, is there a specific location? It may not be necessary to answer this question if your goal is personal. If this objective takes place in the workplace, then mention the company’s name.

2. Measurable

Measuring the progress of your goal is important. It can help you track your progress and stay motivated. This way, you know if you are on-track or falling behind. Having metrics can help you stay organized, focused and inspire you to meet your deadline. If this goal is long-term, make sure that you hit your milestones!

Likewise, if your goal does not have a set deadline, you should still include milestones. They should be completed within a certain timeframe to encourage you to progress further. This can applied to short-term goals, which take only a fraction of time to complete. Thus, you should constantly be re-evaluating these goals and setting new ones in order to continue making progress. 

SMART goals

3. Achievable

When you set your goal, the idea is that this goal can be attained eventually. Keeping your goals realistic and reasonable already pave your path to success. This goal can challenge you to test your abilities to their extent, but it should still be achievable in the end. If you’re setting a goal that someone else has control over (ex. Getting hired or promoted), be cautious on how you approach this. You can set a goal for becoming a desirable candidate instead.

Setting achievable goals will help the following steps become achievable more easily. If you are unable to complete the task on your own, be sure to find assistance for the project during this step.

4. Relevant

Having a goal that is relevant will help you focus on the broader aspect of things. This goal may align with other relevant goals. Ask yourself if your goal aligns with what you need. Will it truly help you develop on a personal scale or on a business scale? Is the goal applicable?

You should also consider the urgency of the goal. Is this something that can be tabled for a later date? Or, is it a more urgent matter. It is crucial to prioritize the importance of your goals so that you are also working on achieving the most urgent task at hand. Not only will this tip help your goals stay relevant, but it will help keep you motivated along the way, too.

If your goal is relevant, you’ll agree that it’s worth pursuing. Additionally, you would also like to put in the effort and trust that you’re the right person for the job. If you feel unsure about how exactly to tackle this challenge, then you may need to readjust your initial planning. It is encouraged to ask for help and outsource supportive resources, just make sure to accomplish this in one of the preliminary steps! 

SMART goals

5. Time-Bound

Your SMART goal will reach a deadline at some point. While some goals don’t have a set deadline, it’s good to make one anyway to have something to look forward to. This part of the criteria isn’t just labeling your finish line but also picking out the deadlines for smaller tasks. In other words — milestones. Having milestones is important even if your goal is short-term. It ties back to tracking your progress, and having set dates will help you measure your numbers from the start.

Therefore, it’s important to learn time management skills and knowing how to prioritize. You may need to learn how to schedule out your days by emphasizing tasks related to your goal rather than other smaller chores. Take into account if your SMART goal is short-term or long-term. This can help you decide on how you want to pace yourself.

You can utilize a calendar, to-do list, or any other organization tool you find helpful. It’s all about keeping yourself on track! Find a system that works for you and stick to it. Hold yourself accountable for achieving your milestones on-time.

Pros and Cons of SMART Goals – Find What Works For You

SMART is a powerful and effective tool of convenience. The technique is simple enough to write it down on your phone or on a piece of paper. It’s easy to refer back to it if you need encouragement. The simplicity of setting a SMART goal lets you breakdown a complex objective in a digestible, easy-to-read manner. There are even premade templates when it comes to writing down your SMART goal.

However, it’s been recently criticized for being restrictive. Hence the birth of longer variations like ‘SMARTER.’ It is also common for people to substitute certain parts of the criteria or omit them because it may not be applicable to their goal. SMART is also better suited for a shorter-term goal than a longer one, as changes in one’s life can affect it in the long run.

Regardless of how one uses SMART, it’s impossible to deny that it is useful. The foundation and clarity of SMART are enough for anyone to bend it and make it flexible for their cause. If you’re having trouble squeezing your goal into a SMART one, we recommend substitution or altering the criteria to best suit your needs. Remember that many goals still account for the acronym; they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

SMART goals

Examples of SMART Goals – Let’s Apply Your New Skills!

Here, we list several examples of setting SMART goals. Use them as a reference if you like! Your goals may differ from the following, but we want you to get an idea of how to use SMART. Remember, these examples are only outlines. You can customize them to apply to your specific situation! 

Goal 1: Applying to University

Let’s take a look at how setting SMART goals would help a college prospect apply to their desired university.

  •     Specific: I want to apply to XYZ University, a prestigious school with strict requirements. I am a high school senior who wants to meet the requirements and get accepted. I need to score a 1450 on the SAT, submit a 2,000-word essay, and have 50 hours of community service.
  •     Measurable: By the time I apply to XYZ University, I want to have finished my SAT, college application essay, and community service.
  •     Achievable: To achieve my goal, I need to seek guidance from tutors and teachers. With their help, I would be able to perfect my essay and hone my knowledge of the SAT to score at least a 1450. I will speak to my counselor of places that are actively accepting volunteers for community service. Meeting these milestones will increase my chances of getting accepted.
  •     Relevant: All the requirements necessary to apply to XYZ University are relevant in order to get accepted.
  •     Time-Bound: The last day to apply to XYZ University is November 25th. The next SAT dates are September 14th and November 17th. My essay should be done within a month, and I should have 50 community service hours roughly by October.

This SMART goal is a short-term, personal objective. The person wants to apply to XYZ University and get accepted, but must meet the requirements. By planning out their goal using the SMART method, they’re able to focus on the objective and breakdown dates to complete required documents. In this particular case, if the student wants to, they can make another SMART goal to consider a backup university.

SMART goals

Goal 2: Starting a Business

Next, let’s explore how the SMART goal-setting technique would be helpful for an entrepreneur who is interested in starting a business.

  •     Specific: I want to make a business selling shoes in my local community. I would need approval and various documents in order to start my business and thrive.
  •     Measurable: I will successfully have done a thriving business within at least 3 years. The time I take between the gap is to ensure I have all documents and payments done to open up my business.
  •     Achievable: By having my own business, I will continue to do the thing I love as a full-blown passion rather than a side hobby. I can request aid from investors, take loans, and search for guidance from personal research and advisors.
  •     Relevant: This goal is relevant and worthwhile to my talent. Seeking entrepreneurship is something that I’m devoted to learning. I feel like now is the right time to establish this business, as I know people in my community are struggling to afford basic goods.
  •     Time-Bound: Within the 3 years I set to nurture my business, I’ll have a business plan by the end of next week. I need to seek appointments with financial advisors and secure a real estate license by the end of the first year.

For this goal, this person’s objective is business-oriented. Although, this can be a result of both personal and business perspectives. Notice how this is a long-term goal of making and owning a business. However, the person decides to focus on the startup process first. Later, they can revise their SMART goal to fit their current situation. If the person’s business ends up being successful, then they will make another SMART goal to consider a plan to keep it thriving. It won’t be uncommon to make several SMART goals for long-term objectives.

Keep it SMART and Start Succeeding

As you know, using the SMART technique can prove useful to any goal. You can use this tool for individual, business, or even group project goals! Even if your goal might not be compatible with the criteria, SMART is still a great foundation to use for your planning.

Have you ever used the SMART goal setting technique? Did you find that it was an effective way to re-define your work process and make you more productive? Let us know in the comments down below, or connect with us on social media! We would love to hear from you.

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