The key to achieving goals is to make sure that they’re created in a defined way that makes the outcome and time frame clear, and by using the well-known S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting method, we can increase the likelihood of success. While no system is a guarantee for success, an effective strategy is a very useful tool when trying to achieve something that is important to us.

The problem is that though many of us are familiar with this method and may have even used it in the past, we often overlook it or cut corners because we’re in a hurry to get moving towards our goals. However, by these actions, we may be unwittingly undermining ourselves.

For those who are not familiar with S.M.A.R.T., this is a primer; for those who are, it’ll be a refresher.

SMART Goal Method

Specific: Goals must be very clear, not vague ideas. We often set goals that are so generic, it’s nearly impossible to measure progress or successful achievement—you need to know what has to be done, or what specifically the desired end result will be.

POOR EXAMPLE:

  • I really want to lose weight”—Who doesn’t? What does that mean?

BETTER EXAMPLE:

  • “I will lose 20 pounds by September 1st  by performing a half-hour of cardio and half hour of strength training per day, 5 times a week.”

Measurable: Goals need to be measurable. They should be well-defined, concrete goals, and must be laid out in qualitative or quantitative terms. If there are no metrics or other way of measuring progress, it’s difficult to determine if you are making sufficient headway towards your end result. Choose a method of measurement that will allow you to gauge your progress.

POOR EXAMPLE:

  • “I wish to be wealthy and successful so that I never have to worry about money again.”

BETTER EXAMPLE:

  • I will gross 1 million dollars and have a team of five within 5 years.”

Attainable: Goals need to be realistic and achievable. Time and again, success or failure is determined by having a realistic view of your ability to achieve your specific goal, and the best goals require you to stretch a bit to achieve, but aren’t out of reach. You should consider what resources you have and your level of skills necessary to achieve your goal. Setting goals that are not achievable can be very disheartening, and will only serve to discourage you in other aspects of your life.

POOR EXAMPLE:

  • “I hope to become a best-selling author in three months” (You never know—it could happen, but it’s highly unlikely.)

BETTER EXAMPLE:

  • “I will increase my savings account by $10,000 in 3 years.”

Relevant: Goals must be relevant to your purpose (or your company’s.) Setting goals that are relevant will keep you on the right path to your long-term goals, and will also make certain that you stay focused on your personal vision, professional objectives, or overall strategic long-term plan in life. It also helps if the goal is related in some way to your area of expertise or knowledge, and revolves around an area in which you desire either personal or professional growth.

POOR EXAMPLE:

  • “I’d really like to network more”—Why? What does that get you? How do you plant to do so?

BETTER EXAMPLE:

  • “I will attain my Masters degree in two years so that I can attain professional certification in my field.”

Time-Sensitive: Goals need to have a time frame, milestones, and a deadline. Setting a specific period of time in which to achieve said goal will help to give you a timeline for steps needed, and a deadline for achievement. Doing this also helps you monitor your progress. Not having time constraints attached to your goal triggers procrastination: without an end date, there is no sense of urgency, no impetus to take any action today. Without this component, we are tempted to put off the goal, relegating it to the “someday,” pile—you may possibly never get around to it, or it will get lost in the shuffle of the day-to-day grind.

For EXAMPLE:

  • “I would love to write a best-selling book.”
  • “I have always wanted to start my own business.”

Better EXAMPLE:

  • “I will write a book on financial planning and submit it to publishers 1 year from today.”
  • “I will have a retirement account with at least $500,000 within 5 years from this date.”

By taking a little extra time determining goals to ensure that they fit the S.M.A.R.T. criteria, you can not only improve your chance of success, but also in many cases make the actual attainment of the goal less of a challenge. A small dose of preparation will result in better results, smoother progress, and a higher rate of goal-achievement success.

Featured photo credit:  Young archer training with the bow via Shutterstock

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