With the new year upon us, goal setting is at the top of mind for everyone, whether it is a result of new year’s resolutions or reflecting on the past year. Often, these goals can seem hard to measure or unattainable, but that may be due to how you set the goal. Instead of outlining vague goals along the lines of “Get a promotion”, “Drink more water” or “Have an active lifestyle”, setting SMART goals can make them all the more achievable.
- SMART goals refer to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely
- You can set a SMART goal by following and making sure you meet the criteria of each letter in the acronym
- Using this framework helps you navigate through your goals and stay organized when it comes to achieving them
- SMART goals aim to clarify questions like: What do you want to be accomplished? Are there any benchmarks to reaching the goal? Has this goal been accomplished before? Is the goal reachable? What is the deadline for the goal?
What is a SMART goal?
SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic (variations can also be Reachable or Relevant), and Timely (or Time-based). By fulfilling these criteria in your goal setting, it makes them easier to attain and gives tangible results.
What are the benefits of setting SMART goals?
There are several benefits to using this framework in goal setting. These include:
- Providing direction to your objectives
- Encouraging you to take action on your goals
- Clarification of ideas
- Ability to focus your efforts
- Greater attention to details that will help you achieve goals
- Allowing you to prepare for what is ahead
- Helping you with planning
- Helping you understand why you want to achieve these goals
- Keeping you organized in your processes
- Keeping you motivated towards achieving these goals
How do you set a SMART goal?
You can set a SMART goal by following and making sure you meet the criteria of each letter in the acronym. With these 6 steps, you will be well on your way to setting – and achieving – a SMART goal:
1. Decide on your broad, overarching goal
This can be as simple as deciding, “I want to get a promotion at work”. The outcome of this step is to have a general idea of what you want to achieve. By doing so, you are able to further narrow it down using the framework in the following steps. Apply the following steps so that you can take your broad goal and turn it into a SMART goal.
2. Be Specific
Vague goals are hard to follow as you never clarify exactly what you need to do to achieve them. For this reason, it is easy for these goals to get overlooked and forgotten. Your goal should be clear and specific. To do this, be sure to think about the five “W” questions:
- Who: Who is responsible and involved?
- What: What exactly do you want to be accomplished?
- When: When do you want to achieve this goal?
- Where: Where does this goal take place?
- Why: Why do you want to achieve this goal?
3. Make sure your goals are Measurable
The next step is to make your goal measurable. If a goal is not measurable, it becomes hard to track progress and stay motivated to achieve it. It is helpful to have certain milestones as part of the goal and a way to assess how far you are in achieving it. To do so, make sure you answer the following questions in your goal setting:
- How much/many?
- How will you know when it is accomplished?
- Are there any benchmarks on the journey to reaching the goal?
4. Determine if your goal is Achievable
Ensuring your SMART goal is achievable is necessary. This will help you recognize if the goal is within your capabilities and how to work towards it. To determine if a goal is achievable, you can think about these questions:
- Do you have the needed resources and time to reach the goal?
- If not, what do you need?
- Has this goal ever been accomplished before?
5. Keep your goal Realistic
Make sure your SMART goal is realistic. You know best what is realistic for your career or personal life trajectory, so keep that in mind. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the goal reachable?
- Can you commit to achieving the goal?
- Is this the right time?
- Is this goal worth achieving to you?
6. Ensure that it is Timely
Every SMART goal should have a target start and end date to keep you on track. This helps you stay organized and make sure that the goal stays at the forefront of your day-to-day instead of being lost after setting it. Timely goals will answer these questions:
- When does the goal begin?
- What can I do today to work towards it?
- What can I do two months (you can substitute with any time frame, ex: two weeks, six months, a year) from now?
- When does the goal end (what is the deadline)?
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What are some examples of SMART goals?
Now that you know how to set a SMART goal, we can apply what we have learned to some general goals.
Let’s start with the broad goal of “I want to get a promotion at work” that was mentioned before. For this example, we will imagine that you are a Human Resources Specialist at a financial services firm. Your goal is to become the new Human Resources Coordinator for your division, Ontario. After completing step one, let’s now turn this regular goal into a SMART goal!
Specific: taking this general goal, we can answer the five “W’ questions hypothetically:
- Who: You, your manager, and your team at work will be involved in this goal
- What: You want to become the new Human Resources Coordinator for Ontario
- When: You want to achieve this goal in the two years
- Where: This goal takes place at your work
- Why: You want to achieve this goal because you want to have more leadership opportunities and take on more responsibility
With this in mind, the goal of “I want to get a promotion at work” changes. The specific goal can become something like: “I want to become the new Human Resources Coordinator for Ontario in the next two years so I can take on a leadership role and make more of a difference.”
Measurable: again, we can address the following questions and apply them to your goal:
- How much/many? To give you the skills needed to land the new role, maybe you can aim to take on one new responsibility every quarter or take one leadership course per month.
- How will you know when it is accomplished? You’ll know you’ve accomplished it when you receive the job offer and start working in the new role.
- Are there any benchmarks to reaching the goal? To become the regional coordinator, some benchmarks can include needing to approach your manager about your goal, applying or pitching yourself for the position, and working on gaining the skills needed to succeed in landing the role.
Building on our Specific goal, it now becomes: “I want to become the new Human Resources Coordinator for Ontario in the next two years so I can take on a leadership role and make more of a difference. I will aim to take on a new responsibility every three months.”
Achievable: Is it achievable? Let’s answer these questions:
- Do I have the needed resources and time to reach the goal? Yes, you have the time and resources, but you need to ask for them.
- If not, what do I need? You need the support of your manager and teammates who will help you get the skills you need and best position yourself to get this new role.
- Has this goal been accomplished before? Yes, this role has been attained by someone in your department in your role in the past.
- Is the goal reachable? Two years should give you the right amount of time to prepare and become an expert in your role.
- Can I commit to achieving the goal? Given the timeline, you can commit to this long-term goal.
- Is this the right time? Yes, you are working at a company that you love and believe this is the right time to progress your career forward.
- Is this goal worth it to me? Yes, you are someone who prioritizes growth at work, so this is the perfect opportunity to do so. It will bring benefits that are worth it to you.
Timely: Finally, putting a timeline on your goal is the last step and can be done by answering these questions:
- When does the goal begin? Your journey to become the newest Human Resources Coordinator begins today.
- When does the goal end? The target deadline is two years from now.
- What can I do today to work towards it? Today, you can begin planning and outlining what it takes to achieve this goal.
- What can I do two months (substitute with any time frame, ex: two weeks, a year) from now? As an example, two months from now, you will have spoken to the current Human Resources Coordinator and asked them about their role and responsibilities to learn more.
Applying SMART goals to another example, we can now focus on a more personal goal. We can use the broad goal of: “I want to focus on my fitness during this upcoming year”. This is a common goal that many people have, especially at the beginning of each new year, so let’s provide some better direction using the SMART framework.
Specific: I am going to start running five times a week and train to run 10 kilometres without stopping.
Measurable: I will track my progress on each run using my Strava app and fitness watch. I will be following a training program on YouTube that guides me through how long and how far I should be running to progress towards running 10 kilometres.
Achievable: I have the time and resources to complete this goal – my fitness app, my online training program, my watch, running shoes, and an amount of time set aside each morning/evening to dedicate to this. I am relatively healthy and used to do some running, so this should be an achievable goal.
Realistic: I can commit to this goal. It is the right time for me to take charge of my fitness, and it is worth it to me for the physical and mental health benefits.
Timely: I have signed up for a 10-kilometre run that is happening four months from now. I will be starting this program a week from today and evaluate my progress each week. By two months in, I aim to be able to run at least 5 kilometres without stopping.
Putting it all together, what was once “I want to be more fit this year” becomes “I am going to start running five times a week and follow a training program to run 10 kilometres without stopping four months from now”.
Now that you’ve seen how to turn a regular goal into something more actionable, you’re all set to take on your New Year’s resolutions!