SMART Goals are the first step towards accomplishing your goals


Everyone knows that if you want to accomplish something important, it starts with creating a goal.  Beyond forming the idea in your mind, experts agree that you must write it down. Then review it on a regular basis.  Research shows that written goals have success rates 42% better than those goals not written down. That’s good information to know.  

But what do the successful goal achievers write down? What do they continually reference? The most successful among us ensure those written goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals.  SMART is an acronym used to ensure each goal is developed in a way that leads to its successful accomplishment.  Use this test for every goal to be sure you are setup to succeed from the start. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon Actions, Relevant and Time-bound.  Let’s take a closer look at each.


Specific means avoiding general, open-ended statements that only suggest moving away from your current position.  Things like ‘more of this’, ‘less of that’, ‘increase time’ or ‘decrease activities’ are the classic traps many non-SMART goals fall into.  One way to avoid this trap is to ask yourself, ‘What is the ultimate objective I seek from this goal?’

To really make this work, channel your inner 5-year old self.  Take the answer to your objective question and ask ‘Why?’ Then ask ‘why’ again.  The deeper you go, the more specific your goal will be. Now, let’s answer the question, ‘What will success look like once this goal has been accomplished?’ Too many people think in terms of that they want to avoid or stop or change.  Those types of goals tend to be illustrated in terms of moving away from a current state.  

Challenge yourself to clearly articulate that ideal state or end result. For example, instead of saying “I want better relationships with my direct reports.” Or “I’ll spend more time with my direct reports in one on one meetings,” try this. “In weekly 1-hour one-on-one meetings, I’ll get a clear understanding of John’s activity from last week. We will look at this upcoming week’s schedule and his top three priorities.”


Measurable is probably one of the easiest to define.  It’s just like it sounds.  How can you measure if the goal has been established?  Here again, you’ll want to drop any reference to your current situation and focus on your ideal state.   When a person unfamiliar with your situation looks at your goal and at your results, can they determine whether you have accomplished this goal? If not, reconsider your measurement. For example, if you want to increase your staff’s experience for running team meetings, your clear measurement goal might be, “Staff members develop and lead a minimum of two meetings each month.” Maximize the specific part and add, “They’ll prepare a written agenda sent to all participants 24 hours before the meeting.”

Agreed Upon Actions

Agreed Upon Actions are based on a plan.  What daily, weekly or monthly actions will take place to accomplish the goal?  Do you have a plan that is doable? Is it achievable?  If it requires new activities or an increase in certain activities, where will the time come from?  What else can you spend less time on to make time for these actions so you can reach your goal?  

Be careful not to think you just have to work harder and try harder.  Saying things such as, “I just need to do it,” or “I’ll just have to make the time,” are statements that set you up to fail.  Invest quality time into a well-thought-out plan. It will be much easier to execute when the times get tough.


The Relevant portion of the SMART goal setting progress helps you establish whether you really care about this goal.  Does it matter to your current and future priorities?  This is a great place to revisit your core objective(s) or primary reason(s) for setting this goal.  This part of the process can unearth major breakthroughs when explored fully.  Our environment and experiences push us towards certain goals when in reality those goals may only be distractions from our primary priorities. An example here could be, “I want to get involved in a committee with my industry association group.”  Why? If your answer doesn’t strike you at the core of your purpose and priorities, ask yourself ‘why’ again and again.  This may help you solidify your commitment to a goal that hasn’t really moved you in the past.  Or it may help you determine the goal should be pushed away for now.  Or marked off your list of goals forever.


Time-bound elements of your SMART goals have two dimensions.  The one that most people consider is the final deadline for when a goal will be accomplished.   Remember to avoid the trap of setting a deadline by comparing it to today.  Instead of using ‘within 6 months’ or ‘by the end of the year’, be specific. “January 1st, 2018.” A deadline or finish line is an amazingly powerful motivator to drive activity and really activate your strength to persevere.  

As you evaluate the end date for achievement, work backwards on your time table and establish benchmarks for process.  This is where the second time-bound element comes into play.  Working through the time related benchmarks will ensure the final deadline is sound.  A well-thought-out timeline will prompt you to have better time management habits.  It will help you grow as a person too.

Bring each element together

Now that you’ve walked through each letter, go back and put your goal to the test.  Have you fully combined each element into a clear, measurable plan that you know matters to you?  Often the most powerfully clear S.M.A.R.T. goals are the hardest to unearth Remember that this process isn’t only reserved for major annual or long-term goals.  With practice and repetition, you can apply this model to how you approach your weekly schedule or even your priorities for today!

Action Items

  1. Create one S.M.A.R.T. goal in your work or professional life.

  2. Create one S.M.A.R.T. goal in your personal life

  3. Share each with a friend and challenge each other to SMARTen them up as much as possible.

  4. Agree on an accountability plan to check-in for success!

  5. Read "Why your SMART goals aren't working" to consider how your environment impacts your success.