SMART Goals Acronyms - Explanation and How-To Guide
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Productivity

SMART Goals Acronyms - Explanation and How-To Guide

Table of Contents

The goal-setting acronym SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

How to write SMART goals

Here's a checklist to help you craft SMART goals, organized by section.

Reminder: you can copy this checklist or Import with Todoist!

Specific Goals

When setting a goal, be specific and clearly identify the goal. Use adjectives to become more descriptive. There should be no room for misinterpretation.

To get specific about your goal, ask yourself questions like:

  • What exactly do I want?
  • What needs to be done?
  • Who else should be involved?
  • Where will this happen?
  • When am I going to do this?
  • How will I know if my goal was achieved?
  • What's the end result I'm looking for?

Measurable Goals

If you can't measure it, you can't manage it.  When setting a goal, think about how you will measure your progress, the unit of measure, or key performance indicators you will use. For example, "lose 10 pounds" is measurable, but "get in shape" is not.

To make sure your goal is measurable, ask yourself questions like:

  • How will I know if I've achieved this goal?
  • What are the units of measurement I'll use for my goal?
  • What metrics will I use to evaluate my results?
  • How will I measure my progress, and when?
  • If I mentioned this goal to a friend, would they be willing to help with accountability?

Attainable Goals

Set realistic expectations about what it will take to accomplish the goal. The right balance of being a stretch goal but not too ambitious is key. Be honest about what you can achieve, but at the same time, allow some room for a challenge.

To ensure your goal is attainable, ask questions like:

  • Is this really an achievable goal?
  • Do have the resources to commit to this goal?
  • Will my work actually affect the outcome of the goal?
  • Is this within my control?
  • Do I have the time?
  • Would my friends say I could complete this goal?
  • What advice would I give someone else who wants to set a similar goal?
  • What would I say to myself if I fail?
  • What should I expect along the way?
  • How hard am I willing to try to complete this goal?
  • What obstacles can I expect to encounter, and how can I overcome them?

Relevant Goals

Make sure your goal is relevant to your larger life goals, your work, skill set, lifestyle, or values.  Try to find opportunities to impact multiple areas of your life. Or if this is work-related, it should relate to your company mission or strategic goals.

To make sure your goal is relevant, ask yourself questions like:

  • Does this goal align with my values?
  • Will completing this goal make me happy?
  • Will this goal help me in other areas of my life?
  • Why does my goal matter?
  • Does this goal start a new skill or build on an existing one?

Timely Goals

A SMART goal should have a start and end date, or an explicit time frame. This may also provide a sense of urgency.

To help ensure a timely goal, ask yourself questions like:

  • When can I realistically expect to finish this work?
  • Is this an end date or a date range?
  • When will I start?
  • Will I take any breaks in between?
  • What if I need to pause and restart?

What's an example of a SMART goal?

Here's a quick example of the SMART acronym in use.

Weak Goal Example: I’m going to get in shape.

SMART Goal Example

  • Specific: I will exercise three times per week, for at least 45 minutes, until the end of the year.
  • Measurable: I will time my workouts and use a habit tracker to monitor progress.
  • Attainable: I've started exercising once a week and have now done this for several weeks.
  • Relevant: I want to feel healthy and have more energy.
  • Time-bound: I want to keep this routine until the end of the year.

Summary Goal: I want to feel more healthy, and I've been exercising for weeks now, so I will start exercising for three times per week, for at least 45 minutes, until the end of the year.  I will time my workouts and use a habit tracker to monitor progress.

Why should you use SMART goals?

Goals are part of every aspect of life and business. They provide a sense of direction and motivate us to achieve something. However, without a clear plan and objective we can end up wasting our time and energy.

By setting goals, you are giving yourself a target to aim for; it provides a sense of purpose and clarity. But how do you set those goals?  There are many ways to go about it, but a popular method within the last 50 years is called SMART Goal Setting.

SMART is a catchy and memorable acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

George T. Doran came up with SMART goals in an issue of Management Review in 1981. Since then it's helped companies set clear objectives for their projects and ultimately lead greater success among organizations that practice it.

Are there other variations of SMART goals?

You may find other variants of the acronym SMART using “achievable” or "attainable" instead of “assig­nable” and ”realistic" instead of "relevant."

For example, the original acronym started by George T. Doran was:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Source: Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives". Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.

More variations of the SMART goal acronym

Specific Strategic      
Measurable Motivating      
Achievable Assignable Agreed-upon Actionable Ambitious
Relevant Realistic Resourced Reasonable Results-based
Timely Track-able Time-based Time-sensitive Testable

What are SMARTER goals?

SMARTER goals use the first 5 acronyms (SMART), plus two more: evaluate and re-adjust.

This means that while you're implementing your work, carefully evaluate your progress. Are you having trouble in one aspect, where you could change your strategy and try something different?

Which leads us to the next topic where you re-adjust and pivot to something that works better for you.

A simple example: if you coach football, you might want to change the approach of your team to take advantage of a weaknesses spotted in your opponent.

Or, basically any change you can make to increase the probability of achieving your goal.

How to write SMARTER goals

Follow the framework above, including these two extra methods.

Evaluate-able Goals

When you evaluate your goal and your progress towards it, you increase your chances of achieving it.

To determine how you'll evaluate your goals, ask yourself questions like:

  • Am I on track to reaching this goal?
  • What's working well so far?
  • What's not working well?
  • Are there any opportunities here?
  • What other observations can I make?

Re-adjustable Goals

Now that you've evaluated your progress and identified any opportunities, now is the time to take action and pivot your approach (if necessary).

To re-adjust your goals, ask questions like:

  • What can I start doing to help achieve this goal?
  • What can I stop doing?
  • Should I change my approach?
  • How else might I increase my chances of completing this goal?

Why should you use SMARTER goals?

SMARTER goals build upon the SMART framework by adding feedback and iteration to your work cycle. Instead of simply shooting for a goal, with a SMARTER goal you would monitor your progress and readjust your strategy if necessary. Of course, this involves a little more work, but it's a way to increase the chances that you'll accomplish your goal.

What do the opponents of SMART goals say?

Looking across the spectrum of management and productivity enthusiasts, there's a general support for SMART goals and maybe even more-so for the myriad of alternatives. However there is a sizable opposition, here's what they have to say.

It’s critical that employees have to learn new skills and stretch themselves to achieve their goals. Not only does this make them more invested in, and committed to, their goals, but it ensures that they’re not just copying-and-pasting last year’s goals into this year’s form.
You’ll never make a ‘dent in the universe’ if every goal has to be ‘achievable’ and ‘realistic.’

Source: forbes.com

Companies that rigidly adhere to traditional approaches to goal setting may be driving their business in the wrong direction. More than ever, goals must be set in relation to the competitive environment.

Source: sloanreview.mid.edu

It’s easy to say Why SMART Objectives don’t work… when we have been using a variant that often confuses people and is “tighter” in implementation than was initially proposed. So if we want to be SMART, we need to drop the “modern twists” and go back to the original.

Source: rapidbi.com

The problem with SMART goals is that they just haven't kept up with the faster, more-agile environment that most businesses find themselves in today.Source: inc.com

What are some other methods of goal setting?

Here are a few other mnemonic acronyms that are used in goal setting.

CLEAR

  • Collaborative
  • Limited
  • Emotional
  • Appreciable
  • Refinable

PURE

  • Positively stated
  • Understood
  • Relevant
  • Ethical

CPQQRT

  • Context
  • Purpose
  • Quantity
  • Quality
  • Resources
  • Timing

ABC

  • Achievable
  • Believable
  • Committed