SMART goals originated in the early 1980s in a paper by consultant George T. Doran, but the idea is also partially credited to management author Peter Drucker, who created the Management by Objectives method.
Many colleges and universities consider SMART Goals important for projects, business organization and individuals, and some schools feature courses in the subject.
People often choose unattainable or vague goals without a time frame for achieving them. A SMART goal gives you a framework that helps you choose goals wisely, stick to them, and select a reasonable “deadline” for achieving them.
If you have the wrong goal, you'll never achieve, waste time, and may end up worse off than if you hadn't made any goals at all. Achieving a goal starts when you choose a goal and the stepping stones to make it come true.
The key to writing SMART goals starts with introspection and careful review of what’s important to you, why you want it, and an overview of the first steps you can take to achieve those goals.
Long and Short-Term Goals
Setting appropriate goals is important for achieving success in any field. Some goals concern simple, everyday things, such as doing the laundry earlier in the week or contacting a friend more often. Others are important, but short-term goals, like getting the Employee of the Month Award or exhibiting a painting in a local art show.
Achieving short-term goals gives you the confidence to follow through with harder, long-term goals. Concentrating only on long-term goals can be daunting, even when you focus on one aspect of the goal at a time.
Short-term goals can often be a stepping stone to a long-term goal. For example, making an original, ten-minute film and posting it on YouTube is a short-term goal that may lead to the long-term goal of being a feature film director.
Long-term goals take years of planning and require hard work and dedication through many life events like marriage, divorce, job promotion, and loss, etc. Getting a Master's Degree, starting a family, traveling around the world, or changing careers are examples of long-term goals.
You may also set the wrong goals or ones that are arbitrary or unachievable. You may end up frustrated or depressed working with these types of goals.
Goals normally yield better results with a completion date. You need to think about how much time it will take to reasonably complete the goal. Don’t select a random date – the time frame you select is as important as the goal itself.
A Better Way to Set Goals
A SMART goal is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. This formula acts as a guideline to help you make better goals in all areas of your life.
Here is a description of each "letter" of SMART and how they work together to help create better goals and follow through on your dreams.
An achievable goal must be specific. You should have a clear interest in the goal; don't just choose something because it sounds good or it's trendy. Your goal should be thought out so you can focus on the steps needed to achieve it.
“I want to be a better writer” is too generic to do you much good. “I want to write 20 poems and get at least three of them published in literary journals” is specific enough to motivate you.
During the goal-setting process, determine why you want to accomplish the goal, who will help you in achieving the goal, what resources you will need, and why the goal is important to you.
Another specific goal might be, "I want to learn all I can about starting a cupcake shop, find an investor who will help me do it, and a location for the shop." That's a long-term, multi-part goal, and you'll need to break it down into three-goal "subsets" to achieve it.
Check progress toward your goal every few weeks, or more often if it keeps you motivated. Tracking minor successes lets you know you are well on your way to your goal. If you fall short of your goal, consider how to do things differently or ramp up your efforts if you’ve been slacking.
A measurable goal is one that you can track. If you want to learn how to play a musical instrument, you can track the number of hours you practice, the number of recitals you participate in, or the number of views your YouTube videos receive.
You can measure progress toward a degree in computer science, nursing or another subject by the number of semesters you've completed, your grades and awards. Individuals looking for a promotion at work can measure their progress toward the goal by the number of project or brainstorming meetings supervisors invite them to attend.
It’s fine to set a challenging goal, but don’t set an impossible one, like earning a million dollars by the end of the year. While even farfetched goals are certainly possible, they aren’t probable, and will only frustrate you if you can’t achieve them.
Do you have most, if not all, of the skills necessary to achieve the goal? What resources, including money, do you need to achieve the goal? If you don't have the money to achieve the goal, are there ways you can borrow or earn it? The answers to these questions can help you tell if your goal is achievable.
Ensure your goal fits in with the life you’ve envisioned for yourself as a whole. Setting a goal to meet your favorite TV star may seem like fun, but be aware that the time spent pursuing that goal might be better spent on career, health or family.
There’s nothing wrong with having a personal “fun” goal once in awhile, but make sure it doesn’t get in the way of more important endeavors. All your goals should benefit your life and impact it in a positive way for the long-term.
The goal should be worthwhile, timely, and it should be appropriate for your personality, skill set, and be attainable in the current economic and social climate. You’ll also need to think about how the goal will impact your loved ones, work schedule and social life.
You should set a reasonable time limit for achieving your goal. A time frame keeps you focused and prevents excuses or trivial activities from getting in the way. Consider your goal, and then ask yourself what you will be able to do towards the goal in a week, a month, three months or six months.
Do you want to become the Director of Public Relations and Marketing at your company? Assess what qualifications you have, and what skills you need for the position.
How long will it take you to gain the necessary experience to helm the position, and what is involved regarding money for classes, supplies or travel? Once you've determined the various components involved, you can choose a timeframe for achieving the goal.
A Smarter Goal
Add two extra targets –E, for Evaluated and R for Reviewed, to get SMARTER goals.
Take time to determine how much of your goal has been realized (Evaluated)
Think about your approach to achieving your goals, and adjust it if you aren’t making positive inroads towards success (Reviewed)
Consider the nuts and bolts of pursuing your goal. It's easy to daydream about what you need to do, and visualization is an integral part of the goal-setting process. ADD
Pros and Cons
SMART goals give you the formula to help you figure out the most suitable personal and professional goals for your life at a given time. This goal-setting tool can be used by anyone; it's not just for business people or managers.
SMART goal critics take issue with the inflexible format. If your circumstances or interests change, a SMART goal may prove impossible to achieve, they reason, or you may abandon the goal.
A SMART goal can ruin the excitement many people experience with more fluid goal setting, which can be stifling if you’re creative or change your mind a lot.
How to Record Your Goals
Writing SMART goals involves more than rattling a sentence for each letter of the SMART formula. Divide your goal into small, workable chunks on a spreadsheet or document, and set a certain amount of time within the overall time frame for achieving each one.
If you have trouble following through with goals, consider keeping a SMART journal. Even the most iron-willed among us get off track with goals, and a daily journal will help you remember why you chose your goal and what you can do each day to reach it.
Writing with a pen and paper has been shown to increase memory, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Science. Commit your thoughts to paper instead of a laptop screen and your goals will stay embedded in your brain longer.
Whether you use a pen and paper or a computer, writing SMART goals is a disciplined, yet creative way for you to turn your daydreams into reality.