To accomplish anything in life effectively and efficiently—without dragging your feet and wondering how on earth you got so off track—setting goals based on your capacity and capability is necessary.
At its most basic level, setting effective goals is about keeping certain targets in mind and considering what steps will need to be completed to achieve them.
While there’s no doubt that goal setting motivates people to achieve what they want, setting SMART Goals gives you a much better shot at making them a reality—while addressing many common challenges. SMART Goals are set up to provide helpful structure and guidance every step of the way. By design, they identify what you want to accomplish and keep you on track and motivated.
Goal Setting: What Are SMART Goals?
Exactly what does “SMART” stand for? Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
In 1981, the consultant and former director of corporate planning for the Washington Water Power Company, George T. Doran, published a paper titled “There’s a SMART Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” In it, he introduced SMART goal setting as a tool intended to generate helpful criteria, all geared at improving one’s chances of successfully accomplishing a goal.
Goals that are vague (i.e., I will get better grades) tend to flop. By contrast, detailed, clearly defined goals have a far greater chance of success. You might relate to the five “Ws” when specifying your goals. When writing smart goals down, think about answering the following questions:
- What do I need to do?
- Who will be involved in helping reach this goal?
- Where will I reach this goal?
- When will I reach this goal by?
- Why do I want to achieve this goal?
It may seem excessive to some, but to achieve success you need to have a means to measure progress. It’s key because it makes your goal more tangible. What metrics will you use to determine whether you’re on track to fulfill your goal? For instance, just like you would if you were trying to achieve certain business objectives, if you’re working on personal development and want to quit smoking, you might count days. If you’re attempting to lose weight, you might count pounds. Bottom line: the “M” section of the SMART acronym means you should be able to tell when you reach your goal.
This tenet is focused on what you can do to make your goal attainable—even if it requires developing new skills and/or changing certain attitudes in your personal life. Ultimately, this is about how important the goal really is to you and how seriously you intend to take it. Your goal should motivate you rather than discourage you. In other words, it should require some effort but still be feasible. Be sure to take into account the time you can devote to it, the tools, skills or abilities you have (versus those you need), and your budget (if applicable).
It should go without saying that any goal you set should be realistic. For instance, if your goal is to run five miles a day when you’ve never run before, you may need to stop and consider the need for more gradual milestones. See to it that your goal is realistically achievable within your given timeframe and with the resources available to you.
Goals without a realistic timeline and reasonable deadlines in place tend not to succeed. Coming up with a target date for when you hope to have achieved your goal is crucial. Ask yourself what can realistically be accomplished within your given time period and adjust if needed. If it’s a longer term project, be sure to set a few milestones (or mini deadlines) which address the completion of specific tasks along the way. Creating a timeline also instills a sense of urgency, which motivates you to action.
SMART Goal examples
Perhaps the most straightforward way of introducing a few smart goal examples is to have a look at a goal that has not been conceived using the SMART goals worksheet.
“I will finish this project,” is a great example. The project might be a work project, a novel you’re writing, or a remodel of your house. Whatever the project, the goal is too vague. With the current wording, the goals probably aren’t going to be attainable. The statement lacks specific details, timelines, motivations, and a reality check.
The following are examples of SMART goals. They cut across different facets of life. While some are daily and weekly habits, some are longer term processes. No matter what goal you choose to pursue, you’ll need to break it down into actionable steps that let you check in with yourself regularly along the way to see how you’re progressing.
Walk 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week
This goal is specific, measurable, and checks all the other SMART boxes—as long as the will is there. You might further break down a goal like this one into 15 minutes each morning and evening if it makes your goal more achievable.
Learn one new thing every week
This goal may appear to lack specificity, but with the proper plotting out of what types of new things you want to learn—and which ones you can realistically learn in the space of a week, this is potentially very doable. You might read a book, listen to a podcast, or learn a new word.
Clear all outstanding debt in 1 year
Naturally, this goal will be more or less realistic depending on the amount of debt you have. If your goal is to be debt-free in a year (or maybe even 6 months), you can achieve this by setting milestones and by considering ways of becoming debt-free quickly. With real commitment, you can get it done.
Overcome social media addiction
There are countless reasons to curb one’s addiction to social media: increased productivity, more free time, a better posture. Let us count the ways. Beating your social media addiction can be achieved in a matter of days, weeks, or months depending on how much it means to you and whether you can define clear metrics for success.
Improve public speaking skills
If you’re dead set on improving a skill, you need to dedicate specific time slots to it on a regular basis and, in the case of public speaking, you’ll probably want to include thorough preparation, regular rehearsals, and a few practice-runs (or better yet, actual events/presentations) within your timeline as a way of measuring your progress.
Track your progress with a SMART Goals template
It takes more than a positive attitude and realistic timing to get what you want. To ensure that your goals are indeed SMART and vastly increase your chances of success, consider using these free printable SMART goals worksheets. If you want to work on more than one goal at the same time, simply make several copies.
Smart Goals template examples for adults
Title: SMART GOALS PLANNING SHEET
SPECIFIC – Who, what, where, why?
MEASURABLE – How many/much?
ACHIEVABLE – Do I have the time and resources for this?
REALISTIC – What is the expected result?
TIMELY – When? What are my deadline(s)?
Title: SMART GOALS ACTION PLANNING
ACTION STEP – What needs to be done?
DEADLINE – When does this step need to be done?
RESOURCES – What resources are needed for this step?
CHALLENGES – What are possible challenges and how will I address them?
SUPPORT – Who in my life can provide support if needed, and how?
RESULT- Did I complete this step? Why or why not? Were new steps identified?
Smart Goals template examples for kids
SMART Goals aren’t just for adults! Introducing kids to the idea of goal setting can help them develop this crucial life skill early on, and can be especially valuable as they learn to tackle bigger responsibilities.
Title: SMART GOALS FOR SMART KIDS
MY SMART GOAL (WHAT, WHO):
WHY THIS GOAL IS IMPORTANT TO ME:
WHY I KNOW I CAN DO IT:
HOW I PLAN TO ACHIEVE MY GOAL:
HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE:
HOW I WILL KNOW I HAVE ACHIEVED MY GOAL:
How to create your own SMART Goal template
This article includes several editable SMART Goals templates (above) that you can print out and use to work through the details of any goal you choose to pursue. Using the provided templates as a rough guide, you can also create your own custom SMART Goal template using the layout and the language you desire by following these broad-stroke steps:
Summarize your goal
Because goals are often quite unclear, the more you break it down, the better. You might start by free-writing what your goal consists of and what you hope to achieve. Afterwards, when creating your template, structure the same information in the form of answers to pertinent questions which address the What, Who, Why, etc., of your goal. You may just learn something new about yourself in the process!
Set a numeric value for your goal
Allotting one section of your template to measure your progress is key. Identifying a measurable metric for your SMART goal is a lot easier if your goal has a clear numerical value attached to it—like dollars, or days. This may be the most difficult step of all as it’s so very clear cut, but arguably it’s the most effective motivation of all.
Set a timeline
Since we’ve already established that time is both king and queen in the realm of goals, allot a section of your template to tracking your deadline and any time-oriented milestones that mark your progress along the way.
Because we must always be prepared for challenges—be they foreseen or unforeseen—be sure to allot a section of your template to exploring possible obstacles along the way and how you plan to deal with them.
Benefits of setting SMART Goals
Setting SMART Goals can legitimately change your life for the better. Still not convinced? Consider the following very tangible benefits of consciously subjecting your goals to the rigorous yet highly effective SMART framework for success.
They force you to think about what you want from life
Setting SMART goals forces you to sit down and give real thought to what you want to achieve and whether you’re willing to do what it takes to get there. While this may feel indulgent, this process of reflection is essential to manifesting the life you want.
Setting goals you don’t really care about or that you don’t feel personally invested in—simply because you think you should—is a waste of time. But when you make yourself write it all down and think through it, it’s hard not to make adjustments so that your goals are better aligned with what’s important to you.
They improve your chances of success
Before you create a plan of action, you need to know where you want to be. The main reason most people don’t reach their goals is because they haven’t actually parsed out what they really want or where they want to end up. SMART Goals force this crucial reckoning early on, so you’re set up for success.
They make you a more effective human being
You can set all the goals you want, but if your goal setting process is muddy and ineffective, your success rate won’t be high. Just by virtue of setting SMART goals, you are creating a detail-oriented action plan, which is bound to help you become a lot more efficient and effective.
They save precious time
Yes, it may take some time to define and outline your goals, but in the long run, you’ll be saving a ton of time, so it’s very worth it! Once your goals are clearly defined, you can more easily eliminate activities that don’t promote (or even work against) your goals while focusing on those that get you closer to achieving them. Ultimately, you’ll find you have more time to spend on the things that actually serve to advance your goals!
As you move toward achieving your goals, you’re almost sure to encounter obstacles. It can help to write smart goals down and identify any support you believe you may need to get past them. This is a good way of preventing obstacles from blocking your progress, as well as circumventing obstacles more effectively with future goals.
Once you hit your deadline, mark down whether you achieved your goal or not. Reflect on the specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely process and the results alike. If applicable, make a note of where you went off track and treat it as a valuable learning experience. And always be sure to celebrate your victories, no matter how ‘small!’
Need some extra inspiration or motivation? Check out our list of 100 motivational quotes to take yourself to the next level. You got this!