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The Ultimate Guide to Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals For Real-World Results

If you’re alive and breathing, you probably have ambitions. Big or small, ambitions are what keep humans moving forward, improving, and growing. We achieve these ambitions through our goals. 

The goals we set for ourselves can be giant, like becoming president, or small, like losing five pounds. Either way, they all lead to the same endpoint: our ideal life and ideal identity. 

When setting goals for yourself, you need to be careful. Too big a task can be overwhelming and demotivating. That’s why I embrace the S.M.A.R.T. method for setting goals. Through this method, you can guarantee realistic and achievable objectives that will move you closer to your finish line. 

Below you’ll find a description of S.M.A.R.T. and an overview of how you can apply it to your life. While reading, consider your own wants and desires and what actions you can take to move closer to them. 

What is the S.M.A.R.T System? 

S.M.A.R.T stands for: “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.” All of these are characteristic which your goals should carry. You should view plans that don’t fit these criteria as distractions or wastes of time. 

Dating back to an issue of Management Review from 1981, S.M.A.R.T.  is an acronym to remember a specific goal-setting methodology, created by George T. Doran, a business expert and writer. 

In recent years, other business enthusiasts have updated the acronym to include the revision process. The addition of an “evaluation” and “review” tier has turned S.M.A.R.T. into S.M.A.R.T.E.R. People thought these additions were necessary with the growing popularity of feedback. As the Grammarly software puts it, “To err is human; to edit, divine.”

Once you understand all the letters in S.M.A.R.T. mean you can begin applying them to your own goals. Ask yourself if your goals are too big or have too wide of a scope. If so, it might make sense to move on from them or break them into smaller, more manageable tasks. 

How Do You Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals? 

If you want to set S.M.A.R.T. goals or get even S.M.A.R.T.E.R., you will have to go through the acronym’s letters one by one. Below I describe each step and give a real-life example to show how it can be applied to anyone. 

Specific

Goals need to be specific. If they’re too broad, you can easily ignore or miss the steps it takes to get there. 

Setting a base goal like “I want to learn to play the piano” might seem specific at first, but when you factor in the training, styles, keys, and music theory, you can become overwhelmed before you even begin. Instead, it might be better to set the goal of learning one song. 

Other synonyms that writers have used as the “S” in S.M.A.R.T. include simple, sensible, and significant. In many cases, the simpler your goals are, the more effective they can be. By setting specific goals that are simple and consecutive, you can achieve more complex objectives over time without missing any critical steps along the way.

If you’re unsure whether your goals are specific enough, try picturing them as a set of items on the list. Does it feel chronological? Can you see a start and endpoint? Are there things you can work on related to these goals tomorrow? Right now? If not, then they are probably not specific or straightforward enough. 

Real-World Example: 

If you want to grow traffic on your website, then you probably shouldn’t have the goal or task just be “Grow Traffic on my Website.” Instead, you should ask yourself, “what are the steps to build a more popular site?” 

If you don’t know how then maybe that could be your first goal: learn the steps to building a popular site. From there, you can develop and set goals for each step one by one. By the time you finish them, you’ll have built that popular site without even realizing it.  

Measurable

Human beings love tangible things. We need to touch and feel our success to know that it’s really there. 

Our goals are the same way. A plan without a measurable and easily identified result won’t give you the feeling of satisfaction you’re after. 

You can complete all your goals, but what have you accomplished if there’s nothing to measure your success? That’s why you should stay away from goals like “becoming the greatest marketing manager ever.” 

Unless you’re Michael Jordan or Tom Brady, there will probably never be a unanimous decision whether or not you’re the greatest. Even those guys are victims of debate some of the time. Instead, having the highest sales numbers in your company or region seems like something you could wrap your hands around. 

Other words used as the “M” are meaningful and motivating. What is more motivating than clearly measured success? Creating goals that show clear progress from point A to B will drive you forward and supply fuel for the next task on the list. 

To determine if a goal is measurable, just ask yourself, “how will I know when I’m finished with this?” And also, “How will I know if I did a good job?” Measurable goals will have clear answers to both of these questions. 

Real-World Example:  

Going back to our website traffic example, it makes sense to set an actual number for this goal. For instance, “I want 1000 daily users.” This way, marketing managers and sales teams can have a number in their heads to strive towards while understanding the necessary metrics to get there. 

Once you have this number in mind, you can deliver it to promotional agencies or your internal marketing team, and they will be able to design a specific budget and plan for you. Going to these people and saying, “get me more users,” will only result in a wide variety of actions that may or may not benefit your site. 

Achievable

Everyone wants to be an astronaut when they’re a kid. The adults around you probably encouraged you and told you it’s possible as well. No one has the heart to say to the child with two left feet and no hand-eye coordination to save his life that he can’t pilot a rocket one day. 

As adults, the goals we set for ourselves need to be more realistic. We can’t all just jump on the path to rocket training at the spry age of 28. Instead, we should set objectives for ourselves that have a clear-cut way in front of them. We should only envision things we know how to achieve. 

The “A” in S.M.A.R.T. has also been filled by agreed and attainable. Attainable is self-explanatory, but agreed makes sense here as well. Goals need to be something we’re decided on. We can’t allow ourselves to be tugged in two directions when the rest of our lives is at stake. 

You’ll know your goals are achievable by monitoring your current progress towards them. Ask yourself, “have I made any improvement in this field” “do I see the light at the end of the tunnel in the future?” Achievable goals should always have an obvious ending, and the path there needs to be one you know how to travel. 

Real-World Example: 

For your internet traffic, you’ll want to set a goal that your company can logically achieve. If you’re a tiny website just starting, it might not be the best idea to set the goal of 1,000,000 daily users in less than a month. 

You should research your competitors and their evolution/growth. See how long it took them to get where they are and what resources they had at their disposal. Use this information to set an achievable goal for your website, whether you want to match their success or Trump it. 

Relevant

Focus is a vital element of any quest. Whether you’re hunting dragons or pursuing a rap career, distractions and irrelevant obligations will only take you off course and delay your results. 

Your goals should be related to common objectives and ambitions, and anything unrelated needs to take a backseat. 

For some people keeping all your goals relevant can seem impossible. We live in a sea of distractions and responsibilities, and doing everything related to one thing can be unmanageable. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t prioritize and use your free time correctly.

The other words that can be applied to the “R” are reasonable, realistic, resourced, and results-based. Some people work a 9-5 job that has no relation to their goals. It doesn’t mean that they can’t have reasonable plans on the side that are realistic for their situation and well-researched. 

When setting relevant goals, you should always ask yourself, “how does this relate to my final objective.” If you have too many paths, you can spread yourself very thin, becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. 

Identifying a few key objectives and only focusing on goals related to them is the best way to reach success. 

Real-World Example: 

Suppose your website traffic goals are going well, and now you want to branch out into product expansion. Be careful! If you haven’t fully completed the traffic tasks yet, then new products can only distract you. It’s better to have more traffic with the same products than moderate traffic with new ones. 

An essential aspect of keeping your goals relevant is to make sure they are organized or completed before moving on to new ones. If you haven’t generated your target traffic yet, it makes sense to keep your focus there until you’re satisfied. 

Time-Bound

Time may be a human construct, but it’s a pretty darn valuable one. As working professionals, our time is one of our most cherished possessions. Free time and office hours need to be manipulated and bent to meet both our expectations and responsibilities. 

The reason our goals need to be time-bound is that people set goals with no real endpoint. Telling yourself you want to become financially independent from your parents is a lot different from saying, “I want to be financially independent by the time I’m 25.” 

If you ask most 25-year-olds about goals they set for themselves, they’ll tell you they plan to get to it eventually. Unfortunately, “eventually” usually translates to procrastination which leads to failure. 

By setting an exact timeframe for our objectives, we can picture the steps cleared and be motivated to reach them sooner. The other words for “T” all have to do with time: time-based, timely, time-sensitive. 

This emphasis on time is huge in the goal-setting community and can mean the difference between a real path to success and just something you write on your bucket list. 

It’s easy to tell if your goals are time-bound. Like the “achievable” category, ask yourself what progress you’ve already made towards the goal. Determine how much time you’ve already spent on it and how much more it will take you to succeed. 

Long periods shouldn’t scare you here. They don’t indicate a wrong goal. The only wrong goal is a goal with no time limit at all. 

Real-World Example: 

Once you decide how much traffic you want your website to generate, you need to set a time limit for developing that traffic. If you think it’s achievable in a month, then put that limit. Even if it’s not met, then you’ll know something about your process that needs to change or be improved. 

It can take a lot of trial and error to set accurate time scales and deadlines. Often, only the most experienced companies can determine how long a complex process like traffic generation will take, so be patient. 

If you wait it out, you’ll be regularly setting objectives and achieving them ahead of time. 

Evaluation and Review

No human gets things right on the first go-around. We are mistake-prone imperfect individuals, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. However, not going back and correcting and learning from those mistakes can and deserves to receive some blame. 

This section was added as sort of a reminder to review the previous sections. After you’ve set your goals and you have a clear plan for your company, run them through the S.M.A.R.T. checklist, and you’ll discover if they’re legit and beneficial. 

For the review section, it’s always smart to ask for help. Contact a specialist in your field or colleagues and see what they think of your goals. We are as collaborative as we are individuals, and support from your peers is priceless.

After reviewing the list, ask yourself if your goals couldn’t be better if they’re transparent enough and don’t have more viable alternatives. Look at your competitors and peers to see what they’re doing and what worked for them. 

Your goals should have similar steps, but even more remarkable results, so ask yourself if you’re on a path to reach that. 

Real-World Example: 

Once you’re happy with your internet trafficking goal, we recommend taking it to a marketing specialist. He or she will tell you if your objectives are realistic and achievable. They may even give you some insight into the industry as well as useful tips to help you get ahead.  

There are many websites and companies for online marketing that you can go to, or you can ask an expert with years of experience in promotional strategies. The choice is up to you, but it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion.

If you don’t want to go to a specialist, asking a friend or colleague is always successful. They will be honest with you if they feel your goals are unrealistic and encourage you when they think you have what it takes. 

Wrap-Up 

For most of us, our goals and our success will be synonymous. The purpose of this article is not to throw water on the fire of all the dreamers out there. We want to show people that there is a straightforward way to reach the things you want, and it’s not through keeping your head in the clouds. 

The primary theme of the S.M.A.R.T. method is self-consciousness. We need to be aware of our limitations and strengths to set goals that are realistic and achievable for us. 

The main problem isn’t people chasing unachievable things — it’s not realizing how much work is necessary to accomplish challenging tasks. If someone wants to be an astronaut, no one should tell them to stop dreaming, but they probably should recommend lifting a few weights. 

Everyone wants to be great, but it’s rare to find people who have the nerve and perseverance to get there. By setting smart goals, we can learn about paths and networks to our dreams that aren’t as fantastical. Once we have a list of high-quality goals, the only standing between us and success will be hard work. 

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Work With Joshua

After doing this for 10 years, I’ve learned that online success doesn’t come cheaply, easy or fast. It’s merely consistent work, day in and day out and the rewards are certainly worth the grind.

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