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The SMART Goal Setting Technique

“The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.” – Bill Copeland

I think we can all agree that a life without goals would be dull. I can tell you from experience that it is. There have been periods in my life when I have lost focus of what motivates me and each day felt like the next, for weeks on end.

Contrast this with when I have a goal that motivates me and it’s like I’m a completely different person. I feel like my batteries have been charged to the max and there are no obstacles that can’t be overcome. Some say that having a goal brings you to life. I agree wholeheartedly.

There is lots of research that supports the benefits of goals setting for academic success, rehabilitation, work performance and almost every area of your life.

If you have been following me on Instagram @ramapublishing you will know that I am all about dreaming big. But I also know that sitting around dreaming won’t accomplish anything. I believe in practical techniques when it comes to my goals and I like to use the SMART goal setting technique.

Note: There are a lot of different techniques for goal setting but they all have the same overall aim – to get you to define your goal as clearly as possible so you know exactly what you are trying to achieve. This will hopefully make it much more likely that you will complete the goal which should always be your aim! I am planning on writing another post comparing the different goal setting techniques but for now let’s stick with the SMART technique.


What is the SMART goal setting technique?

SMART is an acronym for the different facets of a goal and was first defined in the November 1981 issue of Management Review in a paper by George T. Doran called “There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives”. He defined the different facets in this way:

Specific – target a specific area for improvement

Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress

Assignable – specify who will do it

Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources

Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved

The paper was focused on management’s point of view and isn’t directly applicable to individual goal setting. Some alternatives for individual SMART goal setting that I have come across are:

S - specific, significant, stretching

M - measurable, meaningful, motivational

A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T - time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

All the above alternatives are useful but we preferred the following options for our Daily Review Planner:

Specific – describe the detail of the goal as precisely as you can

Measurable – describe how will you know when your goal has been accomplished

Ambitious – describe why your goal will be a challenge to achieve

Rewarding – describe what motivates you to pursue you goal

Timebound – never underestimate the value of a deadline

How does the SMART goal setting technique work?

A goal isn’t something vague like “lose weight” – you need much more detail so you know exactly what your aiming at and why the goal motivates you enough to pursue it. If you work your way down the letters of the SMART goal setting technique you will have a much clearer idea of your goal.

When I coach my clients (I am also a Career & Life Coach in case you didn’t know) almost everyone finds it difficult to set goals. Why is this such a difficult task? Because they don’t have a structure that allows them to dig into their goal. The hardest part is knowing where to start but the SMART goal setting technique is quite simple and easy to follow.

I have worked through an example for you to show you how the process works.

Overall Goal: Design and print a diary for 2020

Specific: I want to design a 2020 diary that will be ready in time for printing by 31 March 2019 with receipt of the product by 30 April 2019.

Provide as much detail as you can so you are crystal clear on the goal you are trying to achieve. You can’t hit a target if you don’t know what it looks like. I could include more details regarding the design (e.g. material, construction, layout etc.) but I want to surprise you 😉.

Measurable: This goal will be accomplished when we receive the physical diaries by 30 April 2019 at our warehouse.

Ask yourself by what measure you will know you have achieved your goal. A goal that cannot be measured is an exercise in frustration. You will never know if you have achieved it or not and will lose the motivation to keep pursuing it (because you don’t know what it is). You need to be able to say when you have achieved your goal so you can track your progress and eventual success.

Ambitious: Creating a new product from scratch and managing its completion within four months whilst juggling other commitments is an ambitious goal in my opinion.

We all are stronger than we think and our abilities stretch when we go for goals that are a little bit scary. Studies have shown that setting challenging goals result in higher performance than easy goals, "do your best" goals, or no goals. Of course, you need to make sure that you aren’t setting a completely unattainable goal, this should be obvious. For example: if you must hand in your dissertation by Tuesday, then starting it on Monday is foolish, not ambitious. Ambitious goals are also motivating and will build your confidence when you achieve them.

A goal can be ambitious in the timeline you give yourself to complete it and/or it can be ambitious in of itself. For example, I could set the goal to handmake the diary myself. This would be ambitious because I would have to quickly learn a lot about the process and invest in some machinery. If I went down this route then I might complete the diary by the end of 2019 and I’m not sure what sort of state it would be in! 

Rewarding: Completing this goal would be very rewarding because I have always dreamed of creating my own diary and I have some exciting ideas for this product. There is nothing more exciting that seeing your babies grow from an idea in your head to a physical product.

A goal MUST be rewarding if it is going to keep you motivated through the inevitable tough times. There will be times when you wonder why you even wanted to achieve this goal in the first place. But then you will think back to the reasons you list under this facet and they will give you the peps you need to keep going. What I have noticed during my coaching sessions is this: my clients only achieved their goals when that goal created a fire within them. A goal will only be pursued if we have the hunger to pursue it. That is why it is important to only set goals that align with your values, not what you think your “should” be doing.

Timebound: The deadline for this goal is 30 April 2019 – the date when we are due to receive the new diaries.

Having a deadline is another essential part of setting your goal. There is no way on earth you will accomplish any goal if you do not create a sense of emergency to achieve it. Set yourself a deadline and remind yourself of it regularly. If you don’t you are likely to fall into the trap of believing you have more time than you do. Then what happens? You fill your days with admin tasks because, let’s be honest here, no one likes to tackle big ambitious goals first. Then you will get close to your deadline and start stressing. Of course, things like emails, tax returns, and social media are all very important but you must never lose sight of your goals –you set them for a reason.

There is a famous adage known as Parkinson’s law which states: “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. Anyone familiar with procrastination will know this law well so I suggest you err on the side of tighter the necessary deadlines if possible.


Pulling the pieces of my SMART goal together:

I want to receive the completed 2020 diaries by 30 April 2019. This goal is ambitious because I have less than four months and I am still at the preliminary design stage and it will be rewarding because I have always dreamed of creating a diary and I have some exciting ideas for the design. I think we can all agree that the SMART goal I have created is much more likely to be achieved than: “I want to create a diary”!


Additional tips

I have also come across some additional tips regarding SMART goal setting that I wanted to share with you:

1. Some commentators have expanded the technique to SMARTER with the E standing for Evaluate and the R for Readjust. I think these are very important points.

Let’s start with Evaluate. You can go through the SMART process I have described and create an amazing SMART goal but if you don’t remind yourself of your goal on a regular basis then the process was a waste of time. If you’re anything like me then your brain often “forgets” about these big goals because they are hard. You must resist this tendency if you want to achieve your goal and a regular evaluation of them is an important habit. For example, you might get an exciting opportunity to pursue a different product that would mean putting the diary on hold. It doesn’t mean you won’t pick up this project in the future but you may not be able to pursue both goals concurrently for various reasons.

Moving on to Readjust – have you ever heard the saying: “Don’t change your goal, change your strategy”? This is what the Readjust step is getting at. As you start working towards your goal you may find your initial strategy just isn’t working as planned. For example, I may struggle to find a printer who can execute my vision for the diary. This doesn’t mean I should throw the goal into the bin. I just need to readjust my strategy, perhaps by coming up with an alternative vision or widening my search for a printer.


2. It’s essential to note that setting of a SMART (or SMARTER) goal is only half of the work. You must also create an action plan that contains all the separate actions you will be taking to achieve the goal, when you will be taking them and how that fits into the overall completion of the goal. This step is just as essential as any others because this is the actual work you will be doing. For example, some of my diary actions and deadlines could be:

i. Complete preliminary design of the diary (13-Jan)

ii. Decide on desired specifications (20-Jan)

iii. Contact 10 potential manufacturers and get quotes (27-Jan)

iv. Complete final design (3-Feb)

v. Select preferred manufacturer (10-Feb)

And so on.

Unless you have some special powers, it is almost impossible to keep all the information about a project in your head. Writing your actions down so you can refer to them later will let you sleep easier at night, trust me. This process also makes adding actions and readjusting if necessary much easier.


3. Whenever I hear the phrase “peer pressure” I immediately get flashbacks of all the embarrassing things I have done in my life to “fit in” (not too many thankfully, I’m pretty stubborn 😉). But you can use peer pressure to your advantage when setting goals. Tell the world (friends, family, colleagues, your pets) about your goal because this will keep you accountable. If I draft a goal in my Daily Review Planner and don’t tell anyone about it then it is much easier to let it slide. It’s useful even if it’s just the thought that someone else knows you are trying to achieve a goal. I personally go as far as getting my friends to tell me off if I am not actively pursuing my goal. On this point, don’t tell your goals to negative people or suspected “frenemies”. They will try and drag you down and life is too short for people with this type of attitude.


I hope you have enjoyed this article and please let me know if you have any alternative goal setting techniques or additional tips that we could all benefit from. I have also written an article on how the SMART goal setting technique fits into the Daily Review Planner here if you are interested.