How To Set SMART Goals

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Table Of Contents

Written By: Michael Gardon

Anything worth doing needs a goal and a plan. Better goals lead to better plans lead to better outcomes. So why not make goals SMART? SMART goals can help you land your dream job, get a much-deserved promotion, start a successful business, even improve your health and personal relationships. But to make this goal-setting method work, you need to understand how SMART goals effect change. You also have to be willing to do a little soul searching and be realistic about your resources, determination and any obstacles that lay in your path.

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What are SMART Goals? 

“The question you should be asking isn't, "What do I want?" or "What are my goals?" but "What would excite me?” ― Timothy Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

Specific: Vague goals are useless. Be as specific as possible when outlining your goals. Consider the who, what, why, when and how of your goal. Watch for passivity–goals don’t get achieved, people achieve them. Know who will take what action to achieve the desired result.

Measurable: If you can’t measure it, you can’t say with certainty whether you have succeeded. Quantify your goal with percentage growth, dollar signs, etc.

Achievable: Is this goal possible, given the tools and constraints you’re working with–and are you willing to do what you need to do to achieve it? It’s good to aim high, but try to be realistic.

Relevant: Does this goal matter? A relevant goal will be aligned with your other objectives, tasks, and responsibilities. Ask yourself also if this is the right time for this particular goal.

Time-Bound: Grounding your goals in a timeframe creates urgency. It also allows you to accurately measure success.

How To Create SMART Goals 

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” — Pablo Picasso

Writing SMART goals requires some soul searching. The best way to go about doing this is to make a list. Start with your acronym, SMART, and under each heading, ask yourself these questions:


  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Who needs to be involved in this project or task?
  • Why are you trying to do this?
  • What are the obstacles that stand in your way?


  • What does success look like for this endeavor?
  • How will you measure it–dollars earned or saved, percentage growth, specific aims (e.g. getting a promotion)?


  • Can you make this happen, given your resources and limitations?
  • Are you willing to do what is required in order to succeed?
  • Will you be able to get the necessary buy-in from decision-makers?


  • Is this goal worthwhile?
  • How does this goal relate to your other duties and responsibilities?
  • What are the downsides of focusing on this goal? (Will it take you away from other tasks that require your attention?)


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  • When will you achieve this goal? Be as specific as possible here, and don’t forget to be reasonable.

Why Use SMART Goals

"The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you're willing to work." — Oprah Winfrey

If you can’t measure it, you can’t achieve it. SMART goals create a framework that ensures accurate measurement. Further, because the writing stage involves a hefty amount of self-reflection, SMART goals give you multiple opportunities to consider any potential obstacles.

Examples Of SMART Goals

“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” — Albert Einstein

You can set SMART goals in any area of your life–professional, personal or the intersection between those two spaces. Consider these examples:

Improving Email Engagement

A SMART goal for this project would look something like this: “Achieve 25% open rate for weekly email newsletter in six months.”

Specific: The goal is specific in that it focuses on a single metric and email campaign. If you want to improve multiple metrics, by all means, feel free to set those goals–but the more specific you can be with each individual goal, the better off you’ll be.

Measurable: Assuming you have an analytics package, this is pretty easy. Quantifiable targets like opens, conversions, cold calls, sales goals, etc., are fairly simple to measure.

Achievable: Here’s where you can work in the “how” of your goal. How will you achieve this increased open rate–will you run different headlines, for example, using an A/B test? Also, consider how much time your goal will take and whether you’ll have the support you need in order to achieve success.

Relevant: Will increasing open rates help you achieve other goals for yourself, your team and your organization? Likely, the answer will be yes. But be clear about how this goal relates to your other goals.

Time-Bound: Consider setting check-in points as well as an ultimate deadline to make sure you’re on track. Be willing to alter your approach if your initial attempt doesn’t show promise.

Running a 5K

Fitness goals are perfect for the SMART approach. For this goal, your goal could be: “Run a 5K by the end of the year.”

Specific: It’s specific, in that it says how far you’ll run and when you’ll be able to run it. Consider setting mini-goals along the way, though, to ensure that you hit your goal. For example, you might try a couch-to-5k program that helps you build up your stamina and fitness levels over time. Or, you might simply commit to running before work three times a week.

Measurable: This is an easy one–you’ll know if you’ve succeeded if you’re able to run the set distance by your deadline.

Achievable: Only you and your doctor can say whether running a 5k is reasonable for you, so make an accurate assessment of your current fitness level before proceeding.

Relevant: Perhaps you have a larger goal of getting in shape, enjoying exercise more or simply developing healthier hobbies. Running a 5K would fit into any of these big-picture goals.

Time-Bound: Setting a deadline makes this goal time-bound in an achievable way–provided that you’re willing to be realistic.

Achieving Better Work-Life Balance

Goals like these are tricky because they can lack specificity, which is the first–and maybe the most important–factor in SMART goals. To make sure you’re not being too vague, choose one area of your work-life balance to focus on. For example, you might say: “I want to stop checking emails in the evening during my kids’ summer vacation.”

Specific: This new goal is more specific and limited than something like “Stop looking at my phone so much while I’m home” or even “Don’t answer emails after hours.” The smaller scope boosts your chances of success.

Measurable: This is a pretty easy goal to measure: if you don’t check emails, you’re succeeding. If you’re still sneaking a peek at your inbox, consider whether you need to refine your goal further.

Achievable: Here’s where getting buy-in from management will be key. If your boss is expecting a check-in, it’s going to be next to impossible to resist.

Relevant: Will this goal fit into your other goals–for example, will it make you more available to your family or more present in the moment while you’re at home?

Time-Bound: Having a deadline makes this goal more motivating than an open-ended aim might be. At the end of the stated time period, you can assess whether you want to set a new deadline in order to keep moving forward.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the benefits of SMART goals?

SMART goals help you create a plan, inspire urgency and allow measurement of success. This type of goal setting may also reduce stress and increase the chances of achieving your aims.

What are the types of goals?

A few types of goals include performance goals, e.g. hitting a specific sales target in a set time period; process goals, e.g., exercising for 30 minutes five days a week; and outcome goals, e.g. complete production of revised text by a set date. Goals can also be characterized by the length of time it takes to achieve them, e.g. short-, medium- and long-term goals.

How do you change behavior?

Scientists who study behavior change recommend a few small steps to increase success including making choices that benefit future you, paying attention to stress triggers and having a solid support network.

What are the problems of goal setting?

Common goal-setting mistakes include setting unrealistic goals, focusing solely on one stretch goal to the detriment of other objectives and failing to review progress.

The Bottom Line

Using SMART goals the right way can help you hit your targets at work, get a promotion or a raise, find a new job or change your behaviors in ways that will set you up for long-term success.

Have you set a goal to land a new job? Take your goal-setting skills to ZipRecruiter and find hot jobs near you.