Setting goals is a critical part of any success plan, yet many people don't take the time to set them. Or, they set goals that are so vague that they might as well just not bother.

Without goals, it's difficult to measure progress and gauge whether or not you're moving in the right direction, but simply setting any old goal isn't enough…

You need to set SMART goals.

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Let's take a closer look at each of these characteristics:

Specific: A specific goal is one that is clearly defined and easy to understand. When setting a goal, be sure to ask yourself who, what, when, where, and why.

Measurable: A measurable goal is one that can be quantified so that you can track your progress. Set a target number, which could be relative to something (like saying "I want to complete 10% more support tickets than last week) or something absolute (like saying "I want to read 20 books this year).

Achievable: An achievable goal is one that is realistic and attainable. When setting a goal, be sure to ask yourself if it's something that you can actually accomplish.

Relevant: A relevant goal is one that is aligned with your overall objectives. When setting a goal, be sure to ask yourself if it's something that will help you achieve your larger goals.

Time-bound: A time-bound goal is one that has a specific deadline attached to it. Having a deadline will help you stay on track and ensure that you don't procrastinate.

If you're new to setting SMART goals, here's a quick overview of how to do it:

  1. Start with a broad goal in mind. This could be something like, "I want to get in better shape."
  2. Make the goal specific. What does getting in shape look like to you? Losing a certain amount of weight? Gaining muscle? Being able to run a certain distance?
  3. Make the goal measurable. How will you know if you're making progress towards your goal? Again, with the fitness example, this could be tracking your weight, body fat percentage, or the number of miles you can run in a certain amount of time.
  4. Make the goal achievable. This is where you need to get realistic. It's great to set lofty goals, but if they're not achievable, you'll only end up disappointed. So, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds in two weeks, you might need to rethink that one.
  5. Make the goal timely. Set a deadline for yourself so that you have a sense of urgency. This will help you stay on track and motivated. Breaking down longer goals into smaller chunks can be a great way to make big goals feel more achievable and make them easier to track.

Now that you know the basics of setting SMART goals, let's look at some examples.

Example 1:

"I want to lose weight for summer."

This goal is specific, achievable, and time-bound, but it's not very relevant or achievable.

To make it more relevant, give it a reason. You could set a goal to lose weight so that you can improve your health, or to qualify for a marathon.

To make it more measurable, you could set a goal to lose 10 pounds over the course of two months.

The result: "I want to lose 10lbs in the next 2 months so that I can be in better shape to run the Boston Marathon."

This is a great goal, and one that you can continue to build on once you've achieved it to get you to the next stage.

Example 2:

"I want to start my own business so I can be my own boss."

This goal is specific, achievable and relevant, but it's not very measurable or time-bound.

To make it more measurable, you could set a goal to create a business plan, or launch a website for your business to operate from.

To make it more time-bound, you could set a goal to have your business up and running within 2 months.

The result: "I want set up an ecommerce website and be generating my own revenue in 2 months."

Another fantastic goal with a clear path forward to success!

Example 3:

"I want a promotion this month."

This goal is specific, time-bound, relevant, and measurable, although, it may not be very achievable depending on the situation.

To make it more achievable, you can phrase it around preparedness for opportunity.

The result: "I want to be the most qualified person on my team for a promotion the next time an opportunity becomes available and advance my position within the next year."

This is a goal that any manager would love to hear from their reports, and getting a manager's support early on can often be the difference between moving up and being overlooked.

Example 4:

"I want to learn a new skill."

This goal is… vague. Let's fix it up!

Specific: I want to learn how to write code… let's get more specific: I want to learn how to code Python.

Measurable: I want to create a functioning website.

Achievable: I want to understand the basics well enough to make a simple website from scratch.

Relevant: This website will showcase my art.

Time-Bound: I want to operational in 3 months.

The result: "I want to learn Python well enough that I can build my own website to showcase my art in 3 months."

Now that's a SMART goal!

Example 5:

"I want to save money."

This goal is very relateable, but let's see if we can make it SMART.

Specific: I want to save money.

Measurable and Time-Bound: These two really work together well here, so let's say an extra $150 per month.

Achievable: This money has to come from somewhere, right? Let's say you've got a craft you can sell, or a service you can provide on the side, or extra shifts at work.

Relevant: Perhaps you want to travel more!

The result: "I'm going to pick up enough extra shifts at work to stash away an additional $150 each month for travel money."

Maybe you pair that with: " I'm also going to spend $50 less on alcohol each month and add that to my travel fund too."

As you can see, setting SMART goals can help you create more effective goals that are more likely to lead to success. So next time you're setting a goal, be sure to make it specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Now it's time to start working towards your goals. This might mean making a plan of action, setting up a tracking system, or finding an accountability partner. Whatever it takes to achieve your goal!