SMART Goals – A Primer

If you work in the corporate world, you have almost certainly heard “SMART” thrown around as a goal-related acronym for years.  Despite its prevalence in corporate circles, I have found that many students, small business employees and even entrepreneurs are not familiar with the term.

SMART Goals:  Basics

“SMART Goals” is a term first used in a November, 1981 article within Management Review, written about by George T. Doran.  The letters in SMART correspond to the following:

S pecific
M easurable
A ttainable
R elevant
T ime-Bound

Using the SMART acronym helps us to remember that every goal we set should conform to these criteria.  The likelihood of achieving your goals is increased due to the additional detail and constraints that they prompt.


SMART Goals:  The Details

Explaining each of these points further…

S - Specific - Specific goals do not allow you to set vague generalities as your targets.

Specificity is the over-arching criterion to have in mind when making goals.  If you make goals that are properly specific, you will often find that they are already Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound before you even consider those criteria.

Here are some examples to help illustrate this:

“I want to loose weight” is vague.
“I want to loose 10 pounds by March 1″ is specific.

“I want to increase revenue” is vague.
“I want to increase revenue by 5% this year by improving marketing to our business customers” is specific.

These examples are not perfect, and they will certainly vary – but they illustrate the idea:  The more specific, the better.  As a rule of thumb, remember that a specific goal should answer “The 6 W’s” (or as many W’s as possible).

Ask yourself…
“Who is doing this?”
“What is the desired outcome?”
“When does it need to be completed?”
“Where will it be done?”
“Which restraints or requirements apply?”
“What is our purpose?”

 M - Measurable – We have to be able to measure progress and completion!

Measurable goals can be compared to a benchmark, often numeric, to determine our progress and our success.  If you set a goal, but cannot measure it – it is difficult or impossible to know if you are making progress… or if you ever finished!

Using the examples from above, “loose weight” is not a measurable goal.  ”Loose 10 pounds”, however, will allow us to see our efforts paying off and will give a clear indication when we have achieved the goal.

Likewise “increase revenue” is not measurable, but “increase revenue by 5%” allows us to measure progress and determine completion.

Ask yourself…
“How much?”
“How many?”
“How will I know when it is accomplished?”

A - Attainable – Your goals cannot be extreme beyond reason.

Attainable goals are going to differ drastically, depending on who you are, what your circumstances are, the time available, and the resources available.

Attainable:  ”I want to be a published author within 12 months.”
Not Attainable:  ”I want to walk on the moon within 12 months.”

For most of us the first goal may be a stretch – but with hard work and development, it is possible.  The second?  Not so much.

Ask yourself…

R - Relevant – The goal should align with your other life goals and your purpose.

If you set a goal that is counter to your other current goals, your overall life goals, or your purpose – then it is unlikely to be accomplished (and probably shouldn’t be).  This criterion is entirely up to your determination and I won’t give examples here since what is totally irrelevant to one person is a key goal for another.

Ask yourself…

T - Time-Bound - The goal needs a timeframe… a deadline!

A goal without a timeline will never have a sense of urgency; it will always be getting bumped down the list by other to-do items with urgent priority.  As a consequence, it will never be finished.

Instead, we should set an end time.  With an end time, we are able to break the goal apart into smaller subgoals – each of which has its own timeline… monthly, weekly, etc.  This allows us to see exactly what we need to be working on right now in order to accomplish our larger goals on schedule.

Ask yourself…

Set SMART Goals!

So where do we go from here?  Try setting a few goals.  Nothing major – just set some goals for your day or week.  Do they pass the SMART test?  Odds are that many fail to pass all 5 SMART criteria because you are not used to framing goals with this mindset.  The good news is that with even a small amount of practice, SMART goals start to become natural.  Your mind will automatically start placing end-dates and measurable aspects to goals as you formulate them.  Soon you will be able to come up with goals that pass 4 or 5 of the SMART criteria before you do a conscious review.

Regardless of our progress, we all fall victim to rushed goal-setting or poor concentration on occasion.  When setting goals, make it a 3-step process…

3 Step Goals:

  1. Write down your goals
  2. Give them the SMART test; revise if necessary
  3. Break them down into actionable steps – and take action!

Image Credit:  Flickr user plnaugle

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