Last Updated on November 26, 2020

What Are SMART Objectives? (And How to Use Them)

What Are SMART Objectives? (And How to Use Them)

Imagine you’re planning a road trip to a place you’ve never been. Before leaving, you would probably open up Google Maps and plan your route. The same principle carries over to personal and professional goal-setting. Mapping out your journey with SMART objectives is a strategic way you get where you want to go, when you want to get there — and to avoid time-consuming wrong turns along the way.

As the CEO of my own company, my most precious resource is time. I’m tasked with the role of leading my team to our organization’s goals, and I want to make sure we don’t waste time getting off track. SMART objectives help me accomplish that, and they can help you, too.

What Are SMART Objectives?

SMART objectives are a framework for accomplishing your goals[1]. SMART is an acronym consisting of five key elements on the road map toward efficiency. If an objective is “smart,” it will be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

These elements create an action plan for where you want to go and an assessment tool for measuring progress along the way.[2]

smart objectives

    George T Doran, a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company, developed the framework of SMART goals[3] to help managers lead their organizations toward their goals. However, SMART objectives are an effective method for anyone who wants to accomplish something — professional or personal — in the most efficient way.

    By clearly defining the steps and resources you need to move toward your accomplishments — and signaling progress as you go — SMART objectives keep you motivated and on track, increasing the odds you’ll get where you want to go in the long term.


    How does this play out practically? Perhaps you’re tasked with increasing the SEO traffic to your company’s website. As is, this objective is quite vague. How much do you want to increase the traffic, and by when?

    SMART goals add specificity to your objectives, making your desired outcome, along with your action steps, as concrete as possible.

    How to Use SMART Objectives to Increase Your Efficiency

    As with any new routine, implementing SMART objectives requires a bit of time and intentionality, but in the end, they should save you some hassle. With the right steps and mindset, you will be able to move closer to your goals without wasting valuable time or energy.

    The first step to implementing and applying SMART objectives is thinking big. Take some time to zoom out and reflect on the big picture. What’s your overall vision for your project or organization?

    Once you establish an idea of where you want all your hard work to lead you five or ten years down the road, you can use SMART objectives to brainstorm the most effective steps to get there.

    For more information on creating SMART goals, you can check out this video:

    1. Be as Specific as Possible

    When you’re venturing out on a road trip, you probably have an idea of where you’re going. If you don’t have a clear picture of where you want to go, you won’t know how to get there. That’s why it’s vital to be as specific as possible about the end result you’re seeking.


    Think of this specificity as creating a mission statement for your goal.[4]

    For example, my colleagues and I recently decided we wanted to streamline our customer service process. Ideally, this would result in happier customers, a respectable goal on its own. But what would this improvement look like, tangibly?

    Customer reviews are one way to concretely determine whether our customers are thrilled with our product and service. Therefore, to make the goal more specific, we decided we wanted our five-star ratings to increase.

    With a specific improvement in mind, we were able to develop practical action steps to get there. We also gained new motivation to make our customers’ experience great.

    To create a specific goal of your own, write out exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, with the most specific wording as possible. Avoid words like “increase” or “improve,” which are vague, and choose a specific action instead.

    2. Make Your Goals Measurable

    To make your objectives “smart,” you need a way to track your progress and understand when you’ve met expectations. That’s why measurable goals are particularly important.

    Using my example, my team and I knew we wanted our positive ratings to improve, but by how much? How would we know when our work was paying off?


    We decided increasing our five-star online reviews by 30 percent would be an accurate way of measuring our progress. We had improved our sales by this much before, so applying the same objective to our reviews seemed reasonable.

    When you create your own SMART goals, make sure to establish a benchmark. Associating a number, amount, percentage, or frequency with your goal creates a “bullseye” target for you to hit. It’s your quantified picture of success to help you achieve goals.

    3. Be Realistic

    It’s important to stretch yourself when you’re chasing a goal. However, since time is of the essence for most of us, it’s crucial to be realistic. Can this goal actually be achieved with your existing time and resources, or does it need to be scaled down and integrated into a larger plan?

    When my team and I set out to improve our user ratings, I had to examine the likelihood we could actually accomplish it. If I had doubted our ability to do so, I would have tweaked the objective. For example, I could have stretched the deadline or decreased the measurement of success.

    Looking back at past progress and analytics is one way to double check that your SMART objective is realistic. Are you hoping for a spike in traffic to your company’s website? If your past few months have shown an increase of just two or three percent, a goal of 10 percent growth might be a stretch.

    Save yourself time and frustration, and aim to be as realistic as possible.

    4. Choose Goals That Are Relevant to Your Business

    Another common time-waster is creating goals that are irrelevant to an individual or organization’s core values or strategy.


    For my colleagues and me, happy customers are the primary benchmark for success. We built our product and company to save our customers time and improve their lives, so a goal of improving customer ratings made sense. It fit with the direction we were already going.

    When you’re developing SMART objectives of your own, ask yourself whether your goal lines up with your organization’s strategic plans and with industry trends. In other words, make sure your desired objective matters. You want your hard work to pay off.

    5. Choose a Specific Time Frame

    The final step in creating SMART objectives is allotting a specific time frame to your goal. Every objective has mile markers and a destination, so make sure to ask yourself the question, “When will this be done?”

    Adding the boundaries of a particular time frame will keep you focused and on schedule. In our case, we were aiming for a 30-percent improvement in reviews within three months. This deadline created a sense of pressure that motivated us to work hard, but it also felt realistic.

    With the time frame in mind, our objective went from “increase positive reviews” to “grow five-star ratings by 30 percent within three months.”

    The Bottom Line

    If you’re creating specific, measurable, and achievable SMART objectives of your own, you’re creating a road map to your success. The good news is that taking time to create these goals is a major part of the journey. As the famous author, salesman, and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said,

    “A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

    More Tips on Creating SMART Objectives

    Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via


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    Aytekin Tank

    Founder and CEO of JotForm, sharing entrepreneurship and productivity tips at Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    6 Ways to Finish Strong (When Your Momentum Is Low)

    6 Ways to Finish Strong (When Your Momentum Is Low)

    There are times in your life when you will have to define a path to achieve your goals. These are moments to decide how you will push through to finish strong.

    Will you give up or give it all that it takes? Will you bring all your energy and skills to bear or provide an excuse? The only person that possesses the power to choose your response is you.

    It may sound impossible anytime you hear the phrase “finish strong.” This is because your natural tendency would be to settle for the status quo or accept fate, and when you are facing life’s biggest challenges, you may face the temptation to quit or compromise your standards.

    The story of Tyrone Muggsy Bogues will inspire you. He lived in abject poverty while his father languished in prison. He was hit by a stray bullet at age five and grew up to be 1.6m tall[1].

    All these challenges did not deter him from becoming the shortest player in the history of the National Basketball Association. Tyrone had 6858 points, 1369 steals, and 6726 assists all through his NBA. career. Just like Tyrone, you should not allow life challenges to stop you down from finishing strong.

    Here are some fun facts to buttress why you need to push through the end:

    • Most of the points scored in football occur a few minutes before the game ends.
    • The last seconds in a race determines who wins as every runner wants to give the most effort.
    • You work harder when there are deadlines to meet.

    Here’s more proof of why the finish is highly significant. People rate the quality of life higher when it ends better, not minding if it was short. This is often called the James Dean Effect[2].


    These five proven steps will enable you to finish strong if you already have goals you want to accomplish.

    1. Write Your Goals Down

    A study revealed that people who write their goals down have an eighty percent chance of finishing strong[3]. You can create a Goal Journal or adopt the S.M.A.R.T goal technique.

    Don’t forget, your goals have to be:

    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Achievable
    • Realistic
    • Time-bound

    While it might look like an additional task to write down your goals instead of storing them in your memory, there are more sides to it.

    Two things happen when you write something down:

    You are documenting the goals on paper, which makes it easier to assess and audit in the future. Neurologists believe you will recollect visual cues more compared to non-visual cues.

    Furthermore, you are encoding those goals as they travel to your brain’s hippocampus, where analysis takes place. From that point, sorting happens. Some goals are stored in your long-term memory while others are discarded. Writing facilitates the encoding process, so write down those goals!


    2. Break Your Goals Into Milestones

    Breaking down goals into small bites will help you celebrate your small victories. You need that momentum to finish strong.

    For instance, if you are writing a book, you can:

    • Write the book concept or blurb
    • Conduct keyword and content research
    • Create an outline
    • Write the content
    • Edit and proofread
    • Format and publish
    • Market the book

    Establishing milestones provides you a clear format that will help you not burn out when working on your goals. Moreover, milestones are those actions you need to take to finish strong.

    A study conducted by Gail Matthews shows that those who write their goals have a 33% chance of actualizing them compared to those who only have their goals in their brain[4].

    3. Build Momentum

    As I stated earlier, you need momentum to finish strong. You can gain momentum when you meet each of the milestones. In his book, Darren Hardy recommends consistency as a sure way to generate all the momentum[5].

    How do you build momentum by being consistent? Hardy recommends five actionable steps:

    Establish a Morning Regimen

    According to Hardy, you may find it hard to take charge of your mid-day, but you can determine how you start the day and end it. Therefore, design your rise-and-shine routine. Do your Most-Important-Task (M.I.T.) in the morning.


    Morning routine to finish strong

      Create an Evening Schedule

      Hardy defines this period as when you cash out on your day. It is a moment to assess if you have accomplished all you wanted to that day. You can ask yourself these questions:

      • Which items do I need to carry over to the next day’s M.I.T. list?
      • What item on my to-do list is still relevant?
      • Which of the tasks do I need to cancel?

      Restructure Your Routine

      It can be boring doing the same thing over a long period. Therefore, inject some excitement into your plan. Visit the park, prepare new food, or take a short, online course. Shaking up your routine will naturally assist you in building momentum.

      Keep a Log of New Habits

      Track new behaviors and log the number of times you perform them. That way, you can compare your goals with the outcome.

      Avoid Negative Self-Talk

      What you say affects how you finish your goals. Positive self-talk is a time-tested method to set goals and follow through. Any time you doubt your ability to finish strong, respond with positive affirmations.

      Do not bow to negative pressure to give up. Control your thoughts, and do not permit external forces, such as fears and doubts, to control them. Here are ten positive affirmations to help you finish strong.

      5. Find a Mentor or an Accountability Partner

      You need all the support you can find to stay the course. A lot of successful individuals attribute their success to the influence of a mentor or an accountability partner.


      The right mentor will offer you insight, advice, and connections to help you finish strong. A mentor’s role is to guide you on self-reflection and help you ask self-discovery questions.

      Here are ways to maximize mentorship:

      • Be curious: Ask questions that provoke deeper thoughts.
      • Be honest: Feel free to share your challenges and be open to feedback.
      • Be punctual: Be timely and stick to appointments.
      • Be specific: Establish what you want from the relationship.
      • Be respectful: Respect should be mutual. You should respect the boundaries set by your mentor, and your mentor should do the same.

      You can read more on How To Get The Best Out Of Mentorship.

      Bonus Tip: Engage the Self-Awareness Technique (S.A.T.) to Finish Strong

      It is not enough to be an enthusiastic starter; you must also be an optimistic finisher. What is self-awareness? Self-awareness is getting in touch with how you feel and think. It could also mean connecting to your core values and beliefs to live a life that aligns with them.

      Self-awareness can help you figure out your strengths so you can focus on them. It also helps you discover your weaknesses. The moment you accept what you can’t achieve, you will bring together all of your strengths to achieve what you can.

      An HBR report confirmed that when you have a clear picture of yourself, you can be more confident and unleash your creativity. You will also build long-lasting relationships and communicate better[6].

      Final Thoughts

      As you assess the aspects of your life, you need to finish strong, take time to study your past achievements, and apply the lessons to the last phase of your present pursuit.

      Always remember, you have all it takes to finish what you started.

      More Tips on Completing Your Goals

      Featured photo credit: Ethan Hoover via


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