A SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Goals and objectives like these are imperative to keeping you on track not just with day-to-day work goals, but also in your career.
Where does the SMART goal come from?
The SMART goal–setting practice evolved from psychologist Dr. Edwin Locke’s research on goals and motivation. In 1968, Dr. Locke published a paper, “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives,” in which he explains his research on the power of organization and goal-setting—and proved that setting goals leads to improved performance at work. In 1990, researcher and organizational professor Dr. Gary Latham’s research supported Locke’s work and they published a book together, A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance. The book outlined five characteristics of successful goals—clarity, challenge, commitment, feedback, and task complexity. From there, the SMART goal was born.
Why are SMART goals so effective?
SMART goals provide a framework for creating goals, tracking them, and then knowing when and if you can call them successful.
If you’ve fallen behind at work or fear that you’re underperforming, setting a SMART goal can help you get back on track. It can also demonstrate your proactiveness and commitment to improvement to your boss or stakeholders.
If you’re an intern now and want to be a manager in five years, setting a SMART goal can help you make a plan for getting there.
Using SMART goals on the regular can also foster self-discipline, focus, and time-management skills.
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What are the components of a SMART goal?
This is where you define your ideal outcome as, well—specifically—as possible.
Not a specific goal: I want to be a writer.
Specific goal: I want to write for a major fashion magazine.
Not a specific goal: I want to improve my sales numbers.
Specific goal: I want to increase my monthly revenue.
A measurable goal is one that you can objectively call complete (or not). This is where you introduce numbers to your goal. How much revenue will you bring in? How many articles will you publish? How many articles will you write?
Not a measurable goal: I want to write for a major fashion magazine.
Measurable goal: I want to have published at least two articles in fashion magazine or online publication.
Not a measurable goal: I want to increase my monthly revenue.
Measurable goal: I want to bring in $75,000 of revenue each month.
Another way to think about achievable is realistic. If you’re a writer who has only published in your student newspaper, publishing a feature in Vogue in the next six months isn’t exactly realistic. If you work in sales, then doubling revenue in the next month is probably not achievable.
Your SMART goal should push you, but it should also be something you could reasonably achieve in the time-frame you’ve set.
Not an achievable goal: I want to publish a feature in Vogue next month.
Achievable goal: I want to introduce myself to at least three editors at major magazines like Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, Vanity Fair, etc.
Not an achievable goal: I want to double revenue this month.
Achievable goal: I want to double revenue by the end of 2020.
How relevant is your goal to the overall business plan? How does this goal fit into the larger vision you have of your career?
For example, if your goal is to one day write for Vogue, then publishing a human interest story in a local newspaper isn’t quite as relevant as, say, publishing a story on Refinery29 or Man Repeller.
If you work in sales and your long-term goal is to get that manager title, then your sales goal should be a stepping stone to the sales figures of managers in your organization.
Set a date. Your goal being time-bound is closely related to its being measurable and achievable.
Not a time-bound goal: I want to publish an article in a fashion magazine.
Time-bound goal: I want to published a story in a fashion magazine in the next six months.
Not a time-bound goal: I want to double my monthly revenue.
Time-bound goal: I want to double my monthly revenue by the end of the year.
Read more: 3 Common Work Goals & How to Crush Them
Let’s put it all together
SMART goal #1: I want to publish at least two articles in fashion-related magazines or online publications in the next six months.
SMART goal #2: I want to double by monthly revenue (to $75,000) by December 31, 2020.
Your SMART goals can be a few levels deep
The SMART goals listed above are pretty flat, but they don’t have to be. Let’s break them out with action steps (which should also be SMART). You might think of these steps as milestones.
Overall SMART goal: I want to publish a story in Vogue by 2021.
Milestone #1: Pitch at least one story per month to publications like Net-a-Porter, Man Repeller, Refinery29, The Cut, Bustle, Elle, Granary, Buffalo Zine, Human Being, etc.
Milestone #2: Write at least one story per week, whether or not it’s published anywhere.
Milestone #3: Introduce myself to at least three editors at major magazines like Vogue, Elle, Bazaar, Vanity Fair, etc.
And so on and so forth...
Overall SMART goal: I want to have a “manager” title in the next two years.
Milestone #1: Meet with my supervisor next month to discuss revenue numbers managers must meet and express my desire to move up to manager position.
Milestone #2: Attend at least four networking events in the next six weeks.
Milestone #3: Take 10 meetings with potential new clients each month.
And so on and so forth...
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