How to write effective SMART goals
Each goal you set is the next step toward achieving bigger things in your life. But it's easier to smash those goals when you've thought through all the aspects you'll need to get them done.
When you create an objective with all of the SMART components, you'll have a higher chance of completing it, and within a reasonable amount of time. You'll also be able to eliminate ambiguity and track progress more easily — giving you fewer headaches along the way to success.
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART is an acronym — each letter represents a different quality your goal should have to give you the best chance of completing it. SMART stands for:
Let's look at the meaning of each of the letters in SMART.
Objectives shouldn't be easily confused with each other, or baffle you about what you really want, so you'll need to be specific. When a goal is specific rather than broad, it removes any uncertainty while you or your team work through it. How can you get to the heart of what you want to achieve and make a targeted goal? By answering questions like:
- What do I/we want to accomplish?
- What steps do I/we need to take to get there?
- Who is responsible for completing each step of the goal?
See our guide on how to write a project scope for more tips on how to make your work more specific.
Tying in closely with how specific it is, you need to be able to measure your goals too. Quantify your aims with objective markers — like a number, deadline date, or percentage change. It will then be clearer when you've completed it — and you can make sure the progress you make along the way isn't lost in the weeds. Ask yourself:
- How should you objectively measure what you want to achieve?
- How will you track your progress toward completing the goal?
- Could someone else pick up your goal and understand what they'd need to see to know it was successful?
If you set a goal that's too easy, you won't feel the same satisfaction achieving it. On the flipside, an objective that's too difficult can feel pointless to you or your team. Ultimately you're far more likely to accomplish your goals if you can find the middle ground between challenging and impossible. See if you can answer these questions about your goal:
- Can you/your team reasonably complete your objective?
- Is it a "stretch goal" — one that's purposefully challenging but still achievable?
- Is there any reason someone would be demotivated by this goal?
If you want to focus on this goal above other targets, it should completely align with the wider direction you want to head in. When an objective is relevant, you're more likely to stay interested and feel inspired to complete it. Here are some questions to consider:
- Why are you setting this objective?
- How does this goal fit in with your wider aspirations?
- What would it mean to you to meet this goal?
No one likes an objective that drags on, never getting fully finished. Goals that don't have an end date can be susceptible to scope creep and unclear success metrics, too. So, when defining your objective, it's important to accompany it with a time limit. And if there are sub-tasks within the SMART goal, each one will need its own deadline within a clearly defined timeline. When setting your time limit, think:
- Are there any urgent factors that will determine when this goal needs to be met?
- Is this a realistic deadline for this goal to be completed?
- Do I need to factor in any times when I won't be able to work on the goal?
Check out our blog post for simple guidance on how to make a project timeline.
SMART Goals Advantages and Disadvantages
Although outlining a goal with all the SMART elements may be more time-consuming than one you've roughly drawn up, it's worth the time investment. A SMART goal should both get you excited and hold its value over time.
However, there may be times when a SMART goal just isn't right for you. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of SMART goals.
Advantages of SMART goals
They provide direction
When you and your team know exactly what you're working toward, you can see how your work contributes to the overall goal. This is a great motivator to keep people on track. Formulating SMART goals will help the team communicate well and strive toward the end result.
They take you out of your comfort zone
Sitting down and setting out a SMART goal can really force you to look at the possibilities. They can push you to achieve more than you thought you could before. And once you've put the time into drafting a SMART goal, it can be harder to let it fall to the wayside.
They provide clarity on your success
It's common to get to the end of a project and be unsure if you achieved exactly what you set out to in the beginning. A SMART objective should more clearly define goals with metrics, specific aims, and time frames, so you'll be able to measure your successes more easily too.
They make it simpler to evaluate the project
Even if you don't manage to complete a goal, you can still look back on it afterward. What went well, and what didn't? How would you change your approach to a goal like this in the future? SMART goals make it easier to measure your finished project's success because the initial aims are clearer to see.
Disadvantages of SMART goals
There can be times when a SMART goal demotivates you or holds you back.
In a world of continual deadlines, adding another to the pile might feel overwhelming. If the objective didn't need a time constraint, adding one in for no good reason could create unnecessary pressure.
Setting SMART goals all the time could also inhibit spontaneity and creativity. When you're always working toward clearly defined objectives, it gives less opportunity to play with unknown variables.
Lastly, in order to make a SMART objective, you need to know every aspect of the goal — what you're going to achieve, how long it should take, and how you want to measure success. Sometimes, it may benefit you to make a start on what you want to achieve instead, even before you know all the finer details.
SMART Goal Examples
Some people find it easiest to make a SMART goal by writing it out as a clear and detailed statement. Here's an example of how this could look:
My goal is to [measurable objective] by [clearly defined deadline]. Achieving this goal will [outcome or benefit]. [I or these team members] will achieve this goal by [the specific actions you'll take].
Others prefer to keep their SMART goals less structured. We've transformed some non-SMART goals to better align them with the essential elements of SMART.
"I'm going to get a job in project management"
It's great to aspire to a new job, but this is not specific enough — it doesn't tell you the first action you'll take to bag that role in project management. A better example would be:
"I'm going to check for new entry-level project manager jobs on [specified job boards] every morning at 7:30 am, and apply for any I'm interested in".
"I'm going to study for my accounting exam next Tuesday"
While studying for your exam is probably going to help you pass, this goal isn't measurable. It won't set you up with any kind of studying schedule — so you may end up not putting in enough hours of revision. A better goal would be:
"I'm going to study for five hours every day, then two days before the exam I'll revise everything I've learned".
"I want to increase my sales by 500% next month"
As much as you may long to see this kind of business success, most people don't manage so much, so quickly. Setting a goal that isn't achievable could make you feel demotivated before you've even started the sales month. A more realistic goal might be:
"I'm going to aim to increase my sales by 50% accumulatively each month".
"I'm going to contact as many sales pipeline prospects as possible until I win 10 new marketing contracts"
Working through a sales pipeline is no small feat. But if you know your boss only wants you to target IT clients at the moment, it's not relevant to contact everyone in your company's pipeline. A better example is simply:
"I'm going to contact the IT client prospects in the sales pipeline, with the aim to win up to 10 new marketing contracts".
"I will expand the design team by employing two new illustrators"
With the demands of everyday work, it may be difficult finding the time to employ the new staff members your team needs — especially as this goal isn't time-bound. By setting deadlines for each stage of the employment process instead, it won't always be the lowest priority. These deadlines could start with:
"I'm going to send a full job spec for two illustrator positions to [employment agency] by this Monday".
How to Manage SMART Goals
Once you've written out your SMART goals, you'll want to manage and track them closely. You can achieve this with precision and ease, in a single convenient place.
Use a project management tool like Breeze to manage tasks on project boards and task lists
That's where Breeze comes in. Switch priorities on active tasks as projects change. Gain a clear overview of how each team member is working toward your company's SMART goals. Analyze activity so you can learn more about yourself and your team every time you complete an objective.
Monitor your goals
With Breeze's intuitive interface, you can easily see how much you've actually been working toward your SMART goals — instead of how focused you feel like you've been on them. Find out more about Breeze here.