Goal setting is essential for those who want to achieve personal or professional success. Clear objectives allow us to focus on what’s important to us and move towards achieving them.
However, not every goal-setting system is equally efficient. If you want to increase your chances of getting things done, consider the SMART goal format. Read further to learn how to write SMART goals and why you should opt for this system.
What are SMART goals?
SMART is a framework for setting goals, both personal and professional, long-term and short-term.
SMART stands for:
You can take an existing basic goal and evaluate it using the SMART framework to add more specific details. Or, you can create a goal from scratch using the SMART goals worksheet and examples listed in this article.
Why are SMART goals important?
92% of people who set goals fail to achieve them. While the reasons for that can differ, the main one is usually because they are too vague. They might not have a clear deadline, could be hard to measure, or aren’t realistic at all.
SMART goals, on the other hand, are very specific. You need more time to come up with them and have to think hard about whether you can achieve these goals in the first place. But due to that, you have a lot of clarity around the goal, can track your progress easily, and adjust the goal if necessary. You can create a SMART goal template to set up a goal, covering all the essential aspects, or use existing ones for reference.
How to write SMART goals
Step 1: Define a goal
At this point, you have to come up with a goal and make it detailed using the SMART system.
Your goal has to be:
S – Specific
To achieve a goal, you need to know exactly what you want. That’s why you need to be as specific as possible. You can use the 5W approach for that: answer five questions when setting a goal.
These questions are:
- Who: Who will be involved in achieving this goal? This can be you alone, or along with someone or a group of people — for instance, when your goal is related to work or studies.
- What: What exactly are you trying to accomplish? You can go into as many details as you want. In fact, sometimes, the more detailed a goal is, the easier it will be for you to achieve it.
- When: When will you be able to achieve this goal? It’s okay if you don’t know for sure now — you’ll be able to come up with a more detailed plan when you get to the “time-bound” part of a SMART goal chart. However, try to come up with at least an approximate timeframe.
- Where: Where will you be working on achieving your goal? This question isn’t always necessary, but it can be helpful in case you have a specific location. For instance, if you’re training to run a marathon, such locations can be a gym, a park, or a street.
- Why: Why do you want to achieve this goal? Just like the answer to the “When” question, this one doesn’t have to be too detailed. However, answering it might help you find some extra motivation.
M – Measurable
The next step of your SMART goal worksheet would be coming up with metrics to track your progress and eventually define whether a goal is achieved or not. How many metrics do you need to track? The answer to this question largely depends on the type of goal. For instance, such metrics can be pounds, centimeters, and calories if your target is weight loss, or engagement rate and number of followers if your goal is to grow an Instagram account.
If your goal takes a lot of time to achieve, consider setting up some milestones, too. For instance, “lose X pounds by the end of March” or “gain 100 new followers next month”. This will help you identify if the goal is realistic enough, adjust it if necessary, and make it easier to achieve step by step.
A – Achievable
While milestones are a good way to identify how realistic your goal actually is, it’s much safer to measure it before you even reach a certain milestone. That’s why you have to think about how achievable your goal is before you commit to it.
At this step, you have to think hard about whether or not you have enough skills and resources to achieve this goal. If you don’t have enough resources or skills at the moment, think about how long it would take to obtain them and whether you are ready to do this. Mind that although this step might be difficult, its purpose is not to discourage you but to ensure you’ll achieve your goal without stressing yourself too much.
R – Relevant
How do you find out if the goal is not only achievable but truly relevant to you? The easiest way is to think long-term. Ask yourself if this goal will benefit your personal or professional life in the long run, not only in the near future. Think about if the goal aligns with your overall objectives. Record the answers in your SMART goals worksheet and move to the next step.
T – Time-Bound
Now, when your goal is as clear and detailed as can be, it’s time to add one final touch — set a realistic deadline for achieving it. Having a deadline will motivate you and allow you to set specific time-bound milestones to track your progress halfway or anytime you find it important.
Step 2: calculate your goal
Most likely, you already gathered some data at the previous step: timeframe with milestones and deadlines, things that you’ll measure, and other numbers that are important to you. But if you didn’t or feel like you didn’t work through it enough, now is the time.
Allocate some time to gather as many factors as you need to track the goal’s progress. For instance, you can list the number of hours that you’re going to spend weekly to achieve your goal. Then, move to the next step.
Step 3: Evaluate your goal
Overview the data collected at step 2 to verify if your goal is realistically achievable with given factors and within the given time. If everything looks good, you can create an action plan for your goal, dissecting it into smaller ones that can be completed within a day, a week, or a month.
An action plan can be detailed or brief, depending on your preferences. Some like to have a bit more freedom, while for some, detailed plans are a must for success. So listen to yourself and take your time — after all, an action plan is basically another part of the roadmap towards achieving your goal.
Tips for writing SMART goals
#1. Choose goals that are important to you
This might sound basic, but it cannot be overemphasized, especially if you’re setting goals for the first time or during a time when everyone around you is (for instance, New Year’s resolutions). In each of these cases, it’s quite easy to pick a common goal instead of truly choosing what’s best specifically for you. So, make sure to spend some time reflecting on your values and priorities to set a goal that will motivate you.
#2. Start with something simple
Especially if you are new to goal setting and SMART goals. If you pick a goal that is too challenging (for instance, moving to another country), it can be immensely difficult to achieve, even if you are using the SMART system. It’s better to start with something simpler and smaller to figure out how easy the whole process is to you and then tackle a larger goal. If, however, you still need to start with something ambitious, consider breaking it down into smaller goals that are easier and quicker to achieve.
#3. Ensure that you can control your goals
Not all of your goals, especially work-related ones, depend on you and you only. Sometimes, you need to ensure that you have control over all aspects of the process and have a backup plan in case another person fails to deliver their part. Sometimes, however, it isn’t crucial. In this case, you should ask yourself if sharing responsibility is really the best option for a certain goal, or if you want to be the only one responsible for the result.
#4. Keep in mind that all goals are different
The process of setting SMART goals won’t be the same for every task that you want to achieve. Bigger goals will require different metrics, deadlines, and motivation than smaller ones. Personal and professional goals might also require different approaches, as some of us are more motivated to work on work-related tasks than on personal ones, and some do the opposite. Be flexible here and try to adjust your system to a specific goal, not vice versa.
#5. Stick to a positive tone
Positive thinking generally has a positive impact on quality of life, so why not use this approach when setting your goals? Focusing on positive outcomes rather than negative ones can serve as additional motivation and make you feel less anxious about achieving a goal. For instance, if you want to start eating more healthily, you can focus on having more balanced meals every day instead of setting a goal to cut certain products from your daily diet.
#6. Write it down
No matter how detailed your goal is when you set it, you might forget all the important nuances if you don’t write it down. Make sure to put all the details on paper or in a digital document. You can even get a SMART goal planner, where you will set your goals and track their progress. This will help you keep your goals in mind and minimize procrastination. If you want to, you can even decorate your planner with hand lettering, illustrations, and other things that will motivate you.
#7. Allow yourself to be flexible
Especially if this is your first time setting a SMART goal. In some cases, you might discover that it won’t be possible to achieve your goal, and it’s better to drop it or change it rather than investing your efforts into it. In some cases, you might figure out that a goal can be achieved quicker or that the result satisfies you already, even if you’re far from reaching the initial goal. Being flexible and regularly accessing your goals allows you to make the most out of your time and set your priorities wisely.
#8. Treat yourself
If your goal turns out to be successful or you are progressing through milestones at a desired pace, take a minute to praise yourself and maybe even reward yourself with something. Supporting yourself this way will give you additional motivation to achieve your goals.
#9. Learn from your failures
Even if you can’t achieve your goal in the end, don’t get discouraged. Instead, evaluate your journey, identify potential areas of improvement, and gain other valuable insights. Use this information when setting a new goal to make it more achievable.
What are some SMART goal examples?
Some of us learn better by example. If you are one of those people, check out these examples of SMART goals: personal and professional. Hopefully, they will help you come up with your own goals.
For instance, you want to become more productive. This will be your basic goal. Now, you have to decompose it using the SMART framework. Here’s what it might look like.
SMART goal decomposition:
- Specific: I have to be productive on a daily basis to meet deadlines at my full-time job, and have at least five hours weekly to spend on a freelance project.
- Measurable: I’ll track the time spent on my work and on my freelance project to understand how long it takes me to complete certain tasks and plan more efficiently.
- Achievable: I have some extra time during work hours but usually spend it procrastinating or surfing the web.
- Relevant: I need a freelance project to increase my income and save money for a holiday cruise.
- Time-bound: I want to become more productive in six months.
As a result, you’ll get the following SMART goal: I’ll use time trackers daily to evaluate how much time I spend on my work and freelance tasks. I’ll then rewrite my weekly task planning using the tracked data to become more productive and manage my jobs more efficiently. This will allow me to increase my productivity in six months and save money for a holiday cruise.
Now, let’s move on to the professional example. In this case, your basic goal can sound like this: I want to increase the Instagram following for a brand’s account. Now, let’s decompose it just like the personal one.
SMART goal decomposition:
- Specific: I want to increase the Instagram following for a brand’s account by 5K users.
- Measurable: I’ll have Instagram metrics to track my progress weekly and monthly.
- Achievable: The brand is performing well on Instagram already; we just need to keep on going and potentially introduce some new relevant content to increase our following. For instance, we can create appealing storyboards to shoot videos for our social media.
- Relevant: Achieving this goal will help increase brand sales and recognition.
- Time-bound: I want to achieve it in three months.
As a result, you’ll get the following SMART goal: I want to increase the Instagram following for a brand’s account by 5K users in three months. To achieve this, I’ll continue posting at the same pace and introduce new relevant content to engage more audiences. I’ll use Instagram metrics to track my progress, and adjust my goal and social media strategy if necessary.
Using a framework like this allows you to set more detailed goals, both personal and professional ones, and therefore increases your chances of achieving them. You can use the instructions, examples, and template listed in this article to try setting your first SMART goal and creating an action plan to set you up for success.
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