Trouble achieving your goals? Use the S.M.A.R.T. method.

by | May 30, 2013 | Focus

Takeaway: If you want to set better goals, make sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 9s. But it’s very skimmable.

I was taught the “SMART” framework a few times during University, and to be honest I mostly glossed over it. I memorized what the different letters meant, regurgitated them for a test or two, and then moved on with my life. Lately I’ve been setting some goals for this project, though, and the model has proven surprisingly helpful for creating goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.

Damnit. I guess I just gave away the punchline to this article.

The “SMART” model to setting goals is very simple and very powerful, and I even used it about an hour ago to set a goal for the number of people I want to visit this project in June. The SMART model says that for a goal to be a good one, it has to be:

  • Specific. Your goal should be as specific as possible. Name everything from who is involved, to what, where, when, and why you want to accomplish the goal.
  • Measurable. Set milestone goals along the way to measure your progress, and know exactly how you’re going to measure your progress.
  • Attainable. This is a biggie, and this step requires a bit of processing on your part. Is the goal you’ve defined actually attainable by you? What do you not have that you will need to get it done? Will you have the energy to achieve the goal? The focus? The time? The “attainability” of a goal is centered around you, and whether you have the focus, energy, time, and drive to achieve it.
  • Realistic. You might be willing to put forth the effort into attaining the goal, but is it actually realistic? Just because you are willing to make it work, doesn’t mean it’s realistic. A goal being “realistic” is all about whether it’s possible to achieve it.
  • Time-based. Time creates urgency, and your goal should be time-based. In other words, don’t just make a goal to lose 10 pounds, make a goal to lose 10 pounds over the next six weeks.

I recently made a goal for the number of unique visitors I want to have for this website in June. When I made that goal, I made sure it was:

  • Specific. In May, 5,000 unique people navigated to the project. My goal in June is to double that number, to 10,000 unique visitors.
  • Measurable. I established a weekly goal for the number of unique visitors I want to have on the project (2,000 unique visitors a week), spreading the 10,000 unique people out over the course of the month of June.
  • Attainable. Truthfully, It was tough to calculate whether the goal would be attainable. I received about 5,000 unique visitors in May, but many of those could be people who checked out a specific article that another site linked to, and others might be folks who checked out the project because it was new. I still think 10,000 unique visitors is a goal that I can achieve, though, which is why I chose it.
  • Realistic. I’m not trying to jump from 5,000 unique visitors in a month to a million, and I think 10,000 unique visitors is definitely realistic.
  • Time-based. I’m accomplishing the goal over the course of a month, with weekly milestones.

Achieving goals isn’t easy. It takes a good amount of planning, not only so you can figure out what the scope of your goal is, but also so you can manage your expectations on how you will need to change to achieve it.

I was surprised when the SMART model worked so well with my “May” goals for this project. It may be a model you’re already familiar with, and if you have heard of it, you may have glossed over it before because it seems pretty academic and silly. It turns out, though, that it may be just what you need to get more done.

Crosshairs image by Ben Earwicker.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in 35 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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