Whether you’re planning to pass a test, get in shape, or improve your business, the acronym S.M.A.R.T is a great framework to help you set effective, achievable goals. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
Clearly define your goal and the actionable steps you will take to achieve it. Who does it involve? What resources (time, money, supplies) does it require? What are the benefits of accomplishing it?
Not specific: I want to study for my History test.
Specific: I want to earn a 90% or above on my History test in order to get an A in the class. Today, I will gather all of my lecture notes and graded assignments from the entire unit and create a checklist of topics I need to know. Tomorrow, I will make flashcards for all the vocabulary words and dates of important events. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night until the exam, I will spend two hours reviewing my flashcards, creating mind maps, and revising my notes.
Create an easy way to track your progress and assess your success (hey, that rhymed). How will you determine how much you’ve accomplished? Your measurements can be qualitative (description-based) or quantitative (numbers-based). Review your progress every so often, and if you’re not hitting the markers you’ve set for yourself, consider making changes to your plan.
Not measurable: I want to get fit.
Measurable (qualitative): I want to fit into these jeans again. I want to reduce cravings. I want to learn to enjoy fruits and vegetables.
Measurable (quantitative): I want to lose 10 pounds. I want to do 50 consecutive pushups. I want to run a mile in 8 minutes.
Make sure your goal is realistic. Evaluate obstacles you may face and decide in advance how you’ll deal with them. If you’re attempting a huge goal, break it down into smaller, more easily attainable milestones.
Not attainable: I want to run a marathon.
Attainable: I’m currently a total couch potato, so I’m going to start by running for half an hour three times a week, then gradually increasing my time and speed. I’ll sign up for shorter races before attempting a marathon. I know I won’t be motivated to run after a long day at school, so I’ll set out my gym clothes beforehand to make getting started as painless as possible.
Does this goal take you closer to your ultimate goals in life? Will it make you happier, more fulfilled? Is it a good change to make at this point in your life?
Not relevant: I want to go to a prestigious college.
Relevant: My parents are pressuring me into going to this “name-brand” school, but it’s not truly what would make me happiest. The tuition would put a lot of financial strain on my family. I’d feel more comfortable attending a smaller school close to home with better financial aid. I might consider this prestigious university for my graduate degree, but it’s not the right place for me right now.
Choose a deadline for accomplishing your goal. Give yourself a tiny bit of pressure to build motivation, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed. Set check-in points between now and your deadline to measure your progress.
Not time-bound: I want to write a book someday.
Time-bound: I’m going to write and publish my book by the end of this year. I will brainstorm and research during this month, write the first section next month, the second section the next, etc. I will edit in December and have it ready to be self-published by December 31st.
Now that you’ve learned the five criteria for a great goal, review your goals (or set new ones!) and make sure they’re S.M.A.R.T. Best of luck!