How To Make SMART Goals

SMART / SMARTER is a mnemonic used:
  • In project management at the project objective setting stage, it’s a way of evaluating the objectives or goals for an individual project;

  • In performance management, whereby goals and targets set for employees must fulfill the criteria;

  • In careers and personal development. In recent years the terms SMART(ER)’ have been used beyond the original context of staff and/or project management to include e.g. careers and personal development.

Terms behind the letters

There’s no clear consensus about precisely what the five + two keywords mean, or even what they are in any given situation. Typically accepted values are:


Major Term

Minor Terms



Significant, Stretching, Simple



Meaningful, Motivational, Manageable



Appropriate, Achievable, Agreed, Assignable, Actionable, Action-oriented Ambitious, Aligned, Aspirational



Realistic Results/Results-focused/Results-oriented, Resourced, Rewarding, Resonant (with vision, values, etc).



Time-oriented, Time framed, Timed, Time-based, Timeboxed, Timely, Time-Specific, Timetabled, Time limited, Trackable, Tangible



Ethical, Excitable, Enjoyable, Engaging, Ecological



Rewarded, Reassess, Revisit, Recordable, Rewarding, Reaching

Choosing certain combinations of these labels can cause duplication; such as selecting Attainable and Realistic; or can cause significant overlapping as in combining Measurable and Results; Appropriate and Relevant etc. Agreed is often used in management situations where buy-in from stakeholders is desirable (e.g. appraisal situations).

The version that I use with others and which I think works really well for careers and personal development is as follows:


A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. Goals must be clear and unambiguous, that way you’ll know exactly what you need to do, why it’s important, who’s involved, etc. Because the goals are specific, you can easily measure your progress towards completion. To set a’ specific’ goal try to answer the five W questions below:

  • What: What do I want to accomplish?

  • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

  • Who: Who’s involved?

  • Where: Identify a location.

  • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.


Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each goal you set. What good is a goal that you can’t measure? If your goals are not measurable, you will never know whether you are making progress towards successful completion. When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your goal. To determine if your goal is measurable, ask questions such as:

  • How much?

  • How many?

  • How will I know when it is accomplished?


Goals must be realistic and attainable. The best goals require you to stretch yourself a bit to achieve them, but they aren’t extreme. When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. You begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to the achievement of your goals. To set an attainable goal you must answer the H question:

How: How can the goal be accomplished?

You can attain almost any goal you set when you plan your steps wisely and establish a time frame that allows you to carry out those steps. Goals that may have seemed far away and out of reach eventually move closer and become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you grow and expand to match them. When you list your goals you develop your self-image. You see yourself as worthy of these goals, and develop the traits and personality that allow you to possess them.


To be relevant, a goal must represent an objective towards which you are willing and able to work. A goal can be both high and relevant; you are the only one who can decide just how high your goal should be. But be sure that every goal represents substantial progress. A high goal is frequently easier to reach than a low one because a low goal exerts low motivational force. Some of the hardest jobs you ever accomplished actually seem easy, simply because they were a labour of love. Your goal is probably relevant if you truly believe that it can be accomplished. Additional ways to know if your goal is relevant is to determine if you have accomplished anything similar in the past or ask yourself what conditions would have to exist to accomplish this goal.


A goal should be grounded within a time frame. A goal must have a target date. Commitment to deadlines will help you to focus your efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. Goals without deadlines or schedules for completion tend to be overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in daily life. With no time frame tied to it theres no sense of urgency. To set a timely goal you must answer the sixth W question:

When: Establish a time frame.

If you want to accomplish a goal, when do you want to accomplish it by? Someday won’t work. But if you anchor it within a timeframe, by January 1st, then you’ve set your unconscious mind into motion to begin working on the goal. A deadline too far in the future is too easily put off. A goal that’s set too close is not only unrealistic, its discouraging. Long-term goals are simply a description of what you want for yourself in the future say about 3 to 5 years out. The best way to define them is to give examples: graduate college, get a good job, find a life partner, get rich quick, etc. A goal is not a plan; its more like a wish list with (hopefully) a basis in reality. Then set short-term goals to reach that plan.

  • What can I do 6 months from now?

  • What can I do 6 weeks from now?

  • What can I do today?

Some examples of SMART goals:

A bad example of goal setting would be to say ‘I’d like to write a book’.

A SMART example of goal setting would be: ‘I want to write a novel about growing up in the country in Central Texas; I envisage my book to contain around 10 chapters and be approximately 200 pages in length. I will use my weekends to do my research, then I’ll aim to write one chapter per month, therefore I should be able to have the book completed in 10 months.

A bad example of goal setting would be: ‘I want to lose weight’.

A SMART example of goal setting would be: ‘I want to lose at least 20 pounds of weight so that I look nice for my wedding day in a few months. I will join the local gym classes and aim to go twice a week after work and I intend to swim once a week with my sister. I will cut out all biscuits, cakes and sweets and only eat starchy carbohydrates 2 times per week. I aim to lose 2lb in weight per week which I know is a healthy and achievable amount to lose.

I hope that you are able to use the SMART process to help you achieve some of your goals. Please let us know what you think about this process in the comments below.

About The Author

craig hill

Craig is the founder of LifeGuider, he is dedicated to improving not only himself but also others in being more physically fit and mentally capable of handling life’s challenges. He is not your regular life coach, no fancy clothes or fast cars, just a regular “Ole Joe” who has experienced the ups and downs of life like everyone else.

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