Setting SMART goals


When you think of a goal that you are keen to achieve, how do you make sure it doesn’t just remain a pipe-dream? How do you check that it is realistic and achievable? Well, you need to think very carefully about exactly what it is you hope to achieve and how you phrase it – vague goals often have vague results! There is another technique to help you do this.

SMART is a popular mnemonic for shaping goals so that they are really achievable. You may have come across this term at work, as it is often used in business too. There are some slight variations on what the letters can stand for, but here they will stand for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Time limited

Now look at each of these in turn, to make sure you know exactly what they mean in this context.


You need to be very clear and precise about what you are setting out to do. Have a few attempts at expressing exactly what your goal is. Check that it can be interpreted in only one way.


How will you know if you have achieved your goal? You have to be able to measure it – in other words, assess whether or not you have achieved it.

So, try to make sure your goal is phrased in a way that allows you to monitor progress toward your goal. Sometimes this is straightforward; you can ‘measure’ achievement directly. For example, you can easily tell whether or not you have achieved a qualification – you have the certificate!

Sometimes though, it is not so straightforward. How can you measure, for example, developments in your communication skills? The best approach is to break them down into small stages, such as:

  1. maintain eye contact when speaking with people
  2. stop blushing when people notice me
  3. contribute to group conversations.


You are more likely to achieve your goal if you have people on your side. Most successful changes involve the support of others in some way.

If one of your goals is to study – even part-time – you may need to discuss this with family and friends to get them on your side. If you are working, you may need to persuade your manager that it is a good idea too.


Be realistic. Achieving new goals may well mean moving outside of your comfort zone. Don’t try to push yourself too far too quickly – be honest about your current qualities, knowledge and skills. You also need to think a little about how much support you have available to you and any problems you are likely to encounter along the way. 

Time limited

You need to set target dates for each of your steps and for your final long-term goal. As well as making it measurable, setting yourself a time frame for achieving your goal helps you concentrate. If you say, for example, ‘By the end of the year I will have …’ or ‘In three years’ time, I will be …’, it may prompt you to set things in motion.

Activity 1.2 Writing your own goals in a SMART way Allow 30 minutes for this activity

  • Remind yourself of all the SMART criteria.
  • Now have a go at writing your chosen goal in a SMART way. You may want to start with something like:

    ‘By [put a date here], I will have done/I will be able to …’

  • Check that you have covered all the SMART criteria – even leaving one out can limit your chances of success. If it helps to break the goal down further into smaller goals,  then do that. 

Last modified: Thursday, 28 September 2017, 5:53 PM