Smart goals: what they are and how to write them down

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It’s important to have goals in your professional and personal life – they’re what keeps people moving forward. One of the most popular methods for setting professional goals is the SMART system, but it can be tricky to know the reasoning behind the acronym.

The SMART system gives goals some structure and accountability – so people can set objectives and develop a framework that can make them more measurable and achievable.

This system has been around since the early 1980s, but lots of people aren’t familiar with the method, so we’ve explained what SMART goals are and explored how you can use them to keep yourself on the right path.

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What are SMART goals?

If you use SMART goals then you can easily eliminate vagueness, ambiguity and confusion from your plans. The system can create specific, attainable objectives instead – along with benchmarks for assessing your progress.

The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. They’re the five guidelines that you should use if you want to set goals with this proven method.

It’s important to have specific goals, because then you’ll instantly know what you want to achieve – and you’ve got to have measurable goals, because then you can determine your progress.

Achievable goals are crucial, too, because if you have parameters that you just can’t match then you’re going to get stressed, you’ll let yourself down, and you’ll hinder your colleagues too. And that goes hand-in-hand with having realistic goals, because you need to spend your time and resource on something that’ll benefit you and your business. The final aspect, having timely objectives, governs the fact that any good goal needs a proper timescale to run smoothly.

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How to use SMART goals

If you want to use SMART goals effectively then it’s worth taking a deeper dive into the meaning behind the five words that create the acronym. That can help you ask questions about your goals – and, therefore, avoid uncertainty.

It’s important to be specific about your goals, because if you’re precise then you’ll be able to determine what you need to accomplish, who’s responsible for getting the job done, and the steps required to achieve the goal. This is the key first step to setting SMART goals.

To easily nail the need for specificity, answer five key questions:

  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Who’s responsible?
  • Where will it take place?
  • When does it need to be completed?
  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?

Answer those five questions and you’ll instantly have a better idea about what’s going on. When that’s done, move to the second letter: measurable. That’s important, because if you don’t have a way to measure your success then you won’t know if you’ve achieved your goal.

When thinking about measurable goals, consider a metric you’ll use to determine success – that may be an increase in sales, growth in website traffic or improved profits. Once you’ve figured out the position you want to reach, you’ll be in a much stronger position. It’s also worth coming up with numbers that you’d like to reach during the project, too, so you can track your progress.

Your goals need to be achievable, too – it’s no good coming up with a sales number that’s wildly inflated and impossible to reach. Consider whether you and your team truly do have the resources and time available to actually get the job done and, if not, what you’d need to turn that situation around. You’ll also have to think about whether your team has the skills and motivation to tackle this new challenge.

Achievable goals go hand-in-hand with realistic goals. You’ve got to think about why you’re doing this – it’s got to make sense for you and the business when viewed in a wider context. After all, it’s no good developing a SMART goal for yourself that goes against the wider business goals, or spending time on a business goal that doesn’t align with the company’s vision.

The final criteria, timely, determines the timescale used for your project. That’s important – if you don’t set a deadline then there’s a danger that you’ll be working on the goal for too long, with no real end in sight. That’s no good, because it can make it hard to measure success and move on.

Any SMART goal needs a deadline, but that’s not all – also consider creating checkpoints that can help keep you and your team on track during the entire project.

Once you’ve been through the five letters, answered the important questions and written down what you want to achieve, how you’ll do it and when it’ll get done, you’ll be in a far stronger position to actually achieve those goals – which is the entire ethos behind the SMART system.

Ideally, at the end of the goal-setting process you’ll be able to write a statement or summary that explains exactly what’s going on. Whether it’s a paragraph or a whole page, you should be able to clarify what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, how it’ll get done and how you’ll measure success.

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If you like this system and want to go further, some business brains create SMARTER goals. Those last two letters have multiple meanings: the E can stand for Evaluated, Exciting or Ethical, while the R represents Reviewed, Recorded or Resourced.

Those additional letters can add a couple of extra layers of depth and detail to your goals, but they’re not necessary. Happily, though, SMART and SMARTER goals are both excellent ways to create well-defined, attainable objectives, and you should use them if you want to push yourself forward and measure success in your professional and personal life.

Mike has worked as a technology journalist for more than a decade and has written for most of the UK’s big technology titles alongside numerous global outlets. He loves PCs, laptops and any new hardware, and covers everything from the latest business trends to high-end gaming gear.