What Are SMART Goals?

SMART Goals Explained

Woman setting goals and making plans with adhesives on whiteboard
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Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) goals provide a framework for setting goals at work and in your personal life. Goals that meet the SMART criteria are generally easier to complete, measure, and explain to managers, teammates, and prospective employers.

Find out how SMART goals can help you succeed by defining your professional targets and giving you a framework to achieve them.

Definition and Examples of SMART Goals

SMART goals are clearly defined priorities that are possible to achieve in a given time frame. This type of goal setting helps you narrow your focus and direct your efforts with maximum efficiency.

SMART is a mnemonic that helps you remember that these goals should be:

Specific: Vague goals are harder to achieve. To define your aim, look at the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why.

  • Alternate name: Simple

Measurable: How will you measure success? You might set a goal to save the company a certain amount of money or compile a report in a set number of hours.

  • Alternate name: Motivating

Achievable: Set ambitious but not impossible goals. Your target should be something you can achieve given the resources available to you.

  • Alternate name: Attainable

Realistic: Even a stretch goal should be something that’s realistically possible. Don’t commit to something that will require you to work around the clock, spend every dime of the budget, or get everything right the first time. Leave room for human error.

  • Alternate name: Reasonable

Time-bound: When will you perform this task or reach this deadline? Set a specific time. Vague timelines aren’t motivating.

  • Alternate name: Time-sensitive

How Do SMART Goals Work?

The idea behind SMART is that a goal that fulfills all its requirements is easier to meet and measure. Used correctly, SMART goals can help you achieve success, whether it’s meeting a project deadline, getting a promotion, or training for a new career.

SMART goals should be within your control. For example, if you want to get a raise at work, you can control some factors, such as hitting your numbers and communicating with your manager. But you can’t control other factors, such as the budget or your manager’s assessment of your abilities. Set goals around the factors over which you have influence.

Benefits of SMART Goals

SMART goal setting is a pragmatic approach to achieving your professional priorities. This framework has several benefits, including:

A clear finish line: Because the goal is time-bound, you know exactly when you’re supposed to achieve it. This makes it easier to tell when you’ve succeeded, of course, but it also makes it harder to procrastinate.

Motivation and clarity: Being able to track your progress helps you stay motivated and engaged. Because SMART goals are measurable, it’s easier to see when you’ve gone off-track and to correct your course.

Better planning: The “realistic” factor helps you look critically at what you need to achieve your goal. This helps you decide whether achieving your goal is not just possible but probable given the resources at your disposal.

Setting SMART Goals for Your Career

Let’s say you want to transition to a new career. SMART goal setting would help you drill down into the details of how to achieve that. Here’s an example of how it might play out.

After doing some research, you determine that earning a certification will help you make a change to your new career. You learn as much as possible about the costs, time commitment, and requirements to complete the course. You decide you will earn this certification by the end of the year.

Here is how this scenario exemplifies SMART:

  • Specific: You’ve targeted a certification and made plans to attain it.
  • Measurable: Once you’ve completed the course and taken the exam, you will be certified in your new skill.
  • Achievable: You have determined you have the resources to complete the certification, including the financial support and necessary time to devote to studying.
  • Realistic: Taking this course and completing the exam might take some juggling, but you can manage it, given your other responsibilities.
  • Time-bound: The goal has an end date—the point at which you become certified. In other words, you’re not just committing to picking up skills “some day.” There’s a deadline.

Key Takeaways

  • SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
  • SMART goals are a method of goal setting that creates a roadmap for achieving professional and personal goals.
  • To fit within the SMART framework, your goals should have factors within your control and realistically achievable, given your resources and constraints.