In all facets of life, goals are critical.

Goals and expectations are the only metrics that can accurately measure performance; otherwise, how would an individual, an organization, or a leader evaluate how well they are doing or identify the areas where they are deficient? 

As an individual, a business owner, or even a manager, setting smart goals is critical since there is no clear path to follow to achieve anything without them. Doing this prepares you psychologically, motivates you, and keeps you focused. It’s easy to anticipate major obstacles that may develop during the journey that you might otherwise overlook. 

Without clearly defined goals, days can turn into months, months into years without them being achieved. Others remain at the idea stage and never take off, while others become caught in the middle. 

So what exactly is a goal? A goal is a desired result that an individual, a group of people, or an organization aspires to achieve. 

But a goal on its own just an aspiration, and unless you have a plan, you’re unlikely to achieve it. Fuzzy goals like, “I want to become a CEO” sound good, but it doesn’t give your brain anything to work with.

This is why academics, consultants and personal development gurus all recommend making turning your goals into SMART goals to maximise your chances of success.

What are SMART goals? 

In order to yield the best possible results, your goal must be SMART:  Specific, Measurable,Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Let’s break down each component with some SMART goal examples.

Specific

The best SMART goals are clear cut and straightforward. A specific goal should be able to answer at least the following questions: What exactly do you want to achieve? When do you want to achieve it by? Why do you want to achieve it?  

Instead of saying, “I want to climb a mountain,” a SMART goal would be, “I want to climb Mount Everest and reach the summit within the next 2 years, so I can take a photo and put it on my living room wall.”

Measurable

SMART goals should be quantifiable, with clearly stated criteria that track your progress.

For example, “I want to become a data scientist and earn $70k per year, and I’ll do this by taking an online data science course and getting a certification within the next 12 months.”

Achievable

A true SMART goal has to be within reach. Will you be able to accomplish it with the time and resources you have?

If you work a full-time job and have a family, will you be able to afford that data science course and complete it within the set time-frame, all whilst balancing all of those other responsibilities?

Relevant

Relevance is an assurance that the goal is in line with your overall plan and vision. Setting goals that aren’t relevant can lead to a waste of resources and time that could be better spent elsewhere.

Before selecting a goal, consider whether it is vital and whether achieving it would contribute to your main objective.

R can also mean realistic. Achievable and realistic are closely related since you must be capable of reaching your goals to obtain them. The fastest way to deplete motivation is to set goals based on implausible expectations rather than facts.  

Always ask yourself if, given the resources available or the time designated, will you be able to commit to accomplishing the set goals fully. Working a full-time job that consumes the majority of your time and expecting to complete the data science course in 3 months is an example of an unrealistic goal. 

Timely

Deadlines and defined milestones can motivate people by instilling discipline and a clear call to action.

Without them, something that may be completed in a month could take a year or even utterly fail. Always ensure your goals have a start and end date.

Secondly, set milestones or semi-goals, such as what you should accomplish in the first month. For example, if you want to become a data scientist, you could learn a decent amount of Python programming in 1 month. 

Examples of SMART goals 

Theory is one thing, but let’s put it into practice with some concrete examples.

Leadership SMART goals

Let’s imagine you want to become a CEO or achieve a similar senior management position. Identifying SMART leadership goals for yourself is vital regardless of the stage you are at in your career, whether you have just graduated from college, or are already in a management position.

Why? Because the key to being a leader is the capacity to comprehend the organization’s goals and objectives and develop ways to achieve them in a cost-effective and timely manner via teamwork and confidence. 

Setting SMART goals for yourself will allow you to take the time to learn and understand them, develop the necessary leadership skills, and prepare you for when duty calls.  

By the end of the year, I will have established a safe environment for my staff to openly discuss their new ideas with weekly meetings and suggestion boxes. The performance of the goal will be demonstrated by the rise of brilliant ideas and heightened team morale, both of which will contribute to improved performance. 

Let’s break that down.

SpecificImprove the team’s communication and performance
MeasurableThe number of solved problems and fresh ideas contributed will be used to quantify this goal.
AchievableMost employees want to be heard, so they’re very likely to contribute, either through the group meetings, or the suggestion boxes.
RelevantEvery business can always use new ideas, and every business (hopefully) wants its employees to be happy and productive.
TimelyThe goal should be met by the end of the year. For longer-term goals, try and set a month or quarter deadline (e.g. by February, or by the end of Q3 2022

Here’s another example of a SMART leadership goal:

I’ll boost team morale by awarding top performers with paid vacation for the best employee of the month and a team-building retreat for the team beginning next month. This will be accomplished by defining attainable goals with each team member, and sharing a monthly anonymous feedback form.

SpecificBoost the team’s morale by rewarding their efforts.
MeasurableRegular feedback from employees.
AchievableAssuming the HR and finance teams sign off, performance incentives are easy to implement and deliver, so this leadership SMART goal should be achievable.
Relevant an increase in morale will boost productivity and help retain employees .
TimelyThe goal should be met by the end of the year. For longer-term goals, try and set a month or quarter deadline (e.g. by February, or by the end of Q3 2022.

Professional SMART goals

Professional development is an important part of your career journey, so setting professional goals is a useful exercise to help you think ahead.

I will expand my professional network by 20% by the end of this year. I will do this by attending at least 2 local networking events or conferences per month and adding new contacts on LinkedIn. This will result in new acquaintances to help me gain insights into my industry, improve the quality of my work and further my career.

SpecificThe outcome is to increase your professional network with specific actions and outcomes.
MeasurableA 20% increase in genuine LinkedIn connections from 2 monthly networking events.
Achievable2 networking events per month isn’t a huge commitment!
RelevantKnowing more industry players is helpful when you want to further your career.
TimelyThe deadline is the end of the year.

Here’s one about productivity and procrastination:

Over the next 6 months, I will maximize my productivity and minimize procrastination, so I can get more work done. I will make use of my calendar to set my priorities, use the Pomodoro timer technique to better manage my time, and keep notes to track my progress.

SpecificKeeping procrastination to a minimum by better planning your time.
MeasurableMonitoring your progress with written notes and timers.
AchievableIf you’re motivated enough, this is certainly achievable.
RelevantIf you’re a procrastinator, then this will help you rescue some of that wasted time.
TimelyThe time-frame is 6 months

Personal SMART goals

Whether your goal is about fitness, grooming, learning a new skill, or even becoming a better partner, all of these things contribute to you becoming a better person than you were the day before. 

To improve my health and keep fit, I plan to lose 20 pounds in 4 months. I’m going to lose weight by cutting out junk food, going to the gym 3 times a week, and walking 10,000 steps every day by walking to and from work. 

SpecificLose 20 pounds in 6 months. It doesn’t get any more specific than that!
MeasurableYou can weight yourself to track your progress.
AchievableIt may not be easy, but it’s certainly achievable. Plenty of people meet their weight loss goals, so why shouldn’t you be able to?
RelevantExcessive weight is linked to a number of health conditions, so it’s in your best interests to lose it.
TimelyThe time-frame is 4 months

Setting a SMART goal is one part of the puzzle, but discipline is the most critical factor.

Without it, your goals are just a piece of written dreams that may or may never be realized. Make sure you stick to the path no matter how hard it gets!

Also, keep track of the progress of the goals to determine what is and is not working. It’s perfectly acceptable to make minor adjustments if a goal is too ambitious, not ambitious enough, or just not possible based on what you’ve learned since starting your journey.