SMART Goals Are Even Better When You Ask These Four Questions

Laptop with charts and graphs displayed and an hourglass beside

SMART goals are one of the most popular methods for both personal and professional goal-setting. However, 82% of individuals who set New Year’s goals don’t achieve them, and as many as 90% of businesses fail to reach their strategic goals. These figures suggest there is room for improvement in this trusted acronym and an opportunity to make them not only SMART but more like to be accomplished.

The SMART Method to Goal Setting

The SMART method was published in 1981 by George T. Doran in a paper called, “There’s a SMART Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” There have since been some variations on the acronym’s meaning, but the overarching concept remains the same.

S – Specific

When setting a goal, big or small, you need to be specific about what you want to achieve. If you don’t have a clear idea of what success looks like, it will be difficult to measure progress and know when you have reached your goal. 

Some blogs and articles recommend that you consider who will work on this goal at this stage. One of the alternative definitions of a SMART goal lists the A as assignable, specifying who will do it.  Regardless of which version you choose to reference, there must be someone who owns the goal and will take responsibility for driving it to completion.

M – Measurable

How will you measure progress towards your goal? A SMART goal will have a means by which to evaluate how much has been achieved and how much remains to be done. This is especially valuable in knowledge-based work, where you could spend untold amounts of time refining and perfecting your work beyond what was needed.

A – Achievable

Is the goal achievable with the skills and resources available to you? If not, do you have access to the help you need to bridge that gap? Goals should always stretch beyond the comfort zone, whether of an individual or a team, but they still need to be achievable. Otherwise, the goal will be a source of unnecessary stress, procrastination will set in, and the risk of failure is high.

R – Relevant and Realistic

The R in SMART can mean relevant or realistic, depending on who you ask. Both of these are worth checking when you are setting a goal. Is the goal relevant to the overall business objectives? For personal goals, how does it relate to and support your lifestyle overall?

T – Timeframe

A target date for your goal to be achieved provides context for whether it is achievable and realistic. It also means that you are measuring progress towards a deadline which creates healthy urgency. If your SMART goal is more than 12 months long, consider breaking it down into 2 or 3 incremental goals to stay motivated.

Four Questions to Improve Your SMART Goals

There is no doubt that this is a good template for both personal and professional goals. However, we live and work in a world where the speed of progress is rapid, and change is constant. As a result, the number of goals you might be trying to achieve can be overwhelming. There is also a risk that the achievement of one goal may come at the expense of another, especially if you are looking at your work and personal life together. 

Ask yourself these questions when setting goals to help avoid this trap.

  • Is it simple?

Can you easily explain the goal to friends or family? If not, the goal may be made up of multiple sub-goals that create unneccessary complexity. Keep your SMART goals simple so you – and others – can easily understand what it is you are trying to accomplish.

  • Is it linked to a long-term vision?

Do you have a long-term vision that you are working towards? Long-term is subjective; if your SMART goal is set for 12 weeks, then long-term could mean two years. This vision is the connector for all of your goals. If they are not moving forward together in support of your longer-term plans, then there is a risk of conflict.

  • Is this an opportunity for growth?

A goal is an opportunity to do something new and great. You want to approach a goal with a positive mindset and healthy optimism. This is only possible if the goal is challenging you to develop further in some way in an environment that has the support you need to make it happen. 

  • Why this goal?

The success of a goal lies not in achieving it but in what it allows you to do next.  Why is this goal important to your life or work? Imagine what it will be like when you achieve this goal. What will come next?

Using the SMART method along with these questions will help you set goals that are aligned with your success, that will motivate you and that you will be satisfied with when you achieve them. Next, use a weekly planner to ensure that you turn your goals into reality.

A Better Workday - Online Course

Think differently about how you organise your workday to be more productive without overtime or the risk of burnout.

About Niamh

Niamh is committed to making the information and tools to improve productivity available to every professional who is striving to improve how they work and live.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Categories & Tags

More content you may like