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Are You SMART? How SMART Goals are the Key to Success

Every person has a different definition of what success looks like. Whatever that definition may be, to set yourself up for that success, you need a plan. To achieve that plan, it helps to have goals.

“Writing down vague, unattainable goals can derail motivation very quickly. To make sure your goals are motivating and effective, you should focus on writing SMART goals.” – Professor Douglas Fox, Hybrid Learning Programs Liaison at Unity College

Here is a closer look at the meaning and definition of SMART goals, and how you can use them to drive your personal and professional success.

What Are SMART Goals?

SMART is an acronym that outlines five things that should guide goal setting. If a goal is SMART it will be all of the following:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Taking a look at each one of these elements of a SMART goal will demonstrate more specifically how and why they are important.

Specific

Many goals cannot be reached because they are too vague. You need to outline specifically what you want to do and why. If your goal is geographic-specific, it should include the location. If it involves other people, it should include that, as well. A good way to ensure your goal is specific enough is by asking yourself the five W’s:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is this important to me?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where in the world do I have to be to achieve this?
  • Which resources are involved?

An example of a specific goal would be: “I want to reduce the carbon footprint for my department by decreasing paper transactions and increasing the number of environmentally-friendly lighting options in our part of the building.”

Measurable

How will you decide if you have reached your goal? It needs a clearly defined metric that you can use to check it off at some point. Goals you cannot measure feel unattainable and always out of reach, but measurable goals give you the ability to know, without a doubt, that you’ve attained them.

Adding a metric of some sort that measures quantity or time helps you create a measurable goal. For the eco-friendly example above, the person could add the desire to reduce their department’s carbon footprint by a certain percentage, such as 30%. 

Now the goal becomes: “I want to reduce the carbon footprint for my department by decreasing paper transactions by 30% and replacing all lighting with LED lighting options in our part of the building.”

Achievable

Make sure you set a goal that you are capable of achieving, but that will stretch your abilities and provide a challenge. If the goal is truly out of reach, it will not motivate you toward success.

When stating your goal, consider how you will accomplish it, and if it is reasonable. For instance, you might love to win a Nobel Peace Prize, but this is not realistic or achievable for most people. Instead, make your goal something that is realistically possible within a relatively short time frame.

For example, someone who has just started their career may not find that it’s reasonable to have a goal of becoming the CEO of the company within two years. There is a process that they must follow to rise to leadership. However, it may be feasible to become a leader within their specific branch of the business within a few years, depending on the structure of the company.

To write achievable goals, also make sure you have the time and resources necessary to complete the tasks in the goal. In our example, the person making the goal needs to have the authority and budget to make these changes. Or the ability to communicate with the person who does have the authority and budget to make the proposed changes. If these factors are possible, then the goal is achievable.

Relevant

Your goals should relate to your overall career goals and passions in life. Each SMART goal you set should feel worthwhile. It should also be at the right time within your career, and meet your needs, efforts, and skills.

Our example is relevant to your career if your company values eco-friendliness or is open to suggestions regarding the company’s mission, values, or practices.

Timely

Finally, set a date for yourself, if possible. This gives you a metric to measure and also helps you prioritize if you have more than one goal on the table at a time. Make sure your time frames are realistic and that they push you toward your final objective.

In our example, you could say: “I want to reduce the carbon footprint for my department by decreasing paper transactions by 30% and replacing all lighting with LED lighting options in our part of the building by the end of the quarter.”

By giving yourself a deadline, you will push yourself harder to achieve the goal. If your goal does not have a time frame then it will make it difficult to measure progress, which then can lead to a decrease in motivation.

How Can SMART Goals Help My Career?

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, particularly within your career. You go to work every day and accomplish the tasks on your desk, but never really push yourself to achieve more. SMART goals give you that added boost to push yourself further in your career.

In fact, these types of goals have scientific backing that shows they help people achieve more. With these clearly defined timed goals, you increase your motivation. No longer do you go to work to do your job and go home, but you go to work with a purpose and a goal in mind.

How, specifically, can SMART goals help your career? Consider using these goals to:

  • Increase your professional development—Set a goal of specific skills or classes you wish to complete or attain by the end of a specific time period.
  • Add leadership development—Everyone wants to be seen as a leader, so design a goal that shows how you will accomplish and measure this.
  • Embrace a career change—Do you want to change careers? Use SMART goals to accomplish this by outlining the steps along the way.
  • Achieve a promotion—SMART goals can outline the path to a promotion by breaking it down into steps and putting deadlines on those steps.

With SMART goals, you not only motivate yourself, but you give yourself a clear path toward attaining your goals. This increases the chances that you will successfully reach the goals you set for yourself, and it can make your career more successful and rewarding.

How to Write SMART Goals

Now that you understand the importance of SMART goals, it’s time to start writing some down. How can you do this? Take it step-by-step.

First, start with your initial goal. This goal will not be SMART. Common types of goals are to increase, decrease, create, improve, save or develop something. Perhaps your goal is to start your own consultancy firm using the skills that you gained working for your company. Write this down.

Next, break down the SMART parts. Here’s how this might look:

  • Specific—I will open my own consultancy business.
  • Measurable—My new business will cover at least 50% of my current salary.
  • Achievable—By setting the goal of 50% at first, I am able to achieve this goal and open my own consultancy business in a relatively short time frame.
  • Relevant—I need 50% of my current salary to live in my desired apartment in my city and have the things I need for day-to-day life. This will give me the flexibility to step away from my current position or take on part-time work while I grow my business.
  • Measurable—I am setting a goal to achieve this by the end of the fiscal year.

After outlining all five steps, you are ready to write the goal, something like this: “I will sign enough contracts with businesses I find inspiring that I can replace 50% of my current salary with consultancy work and open my own consultancy business by the end of this fiscal year. This will give me the freedom to live in my chosen apartment and step away from my current career, taking on part-time work until my business grows sufficiently.”

Following Through on SMART Goals

Once you have written down your SMART goals, it’s time to put them into practice. They should outline steps you can take to achieve them, but you are the only person who can put the plan to work. Use the goals as steppingstones to help you achieve your ideal position in your career or personal life.

After you have put your goals into practice, don’t forget to set regular check-ins and celebrate the wins, no matter how small. These two strategies will help you stay on track and maintain motivation. These strategies will help reassure that you are continuously making progress and hitting milestones. With that regular boost of confidence and affirmation, it will be easier to keep working toward that end goal.

SMART Goal Examples

SMART goals are easiest to understand by looking at examples of well-written goals. Here are some common goals you might have in your career or business, and how they can be transformed to be SMART:

1. Grow an Email Subscriber List

If you own your own business, you need email subscribers for it to be successful. Growing that list is a good goal, but it’s not SMART. It has no metric, deadline, and relevancy. Here is how you could write that differently: “I want to add 1,000 subscribers to my smart goal through increased blog traffic within six months.”

This goal is measurable, has a deadline, is relevant to your business’s growth, and is achievable through increased blog traffic.

2. Get a Promotion

If you are eyeing a promotion, outline a SMART goal to help you get there: “I will complete training and add more marketing skills to my resume so I can become the manager of my department by September 1.”

This goal is SMART if it is achievable, and that is only determined based on whether or not that management position will be opening in the next year. If it will, and you can achieve your training in time, then it is a good goal.

3. Increase Visibility

In order to get noticed in your career, you need to be more visible. If you tend to hide in the crowd, this will be difficult. A goal to increase visibility may read like this: “I will speak up at meetings and appointments so I can share my ideas at 25% of these meetings by the end of the month.”

While this might seem like a simple goal compared to the goal of a promotion or management position, it is an achievable and measurable goal that can increase your success within your business.

4. Reduce Environmental Impact

Perhaps your goal is to help your company reduce its impact on the environment. To write this as a SMART goal, it must be personal to you and relevant to your work within the company. You could write this: “I will eliminate 50% of my paper waste by going ‘paperless’ for half of my tasks and accounts within the next three months.”

This is a goal that is relatable to your career and achievable if you have the paperless option available, making it SMART.

5. Start a New Career

Perhaps you are just entering the workforce. In this instance, you can set a SMART goal for yourself to launch your career. You may give yourself a goal like this: “I will land a job as an elementary teacher within three months of graduating with my education degree by applying to my district as soon as I have completed my degree and applying to other nearby districts.”

6. Personal Life Goals

While many SMART goals are focused on your career, you can write a SMART goal for your personal life. For example, if you want to start exercising more, you can set a SMART goal like this: “I will complete the Couch to 5K training program and run my community’s charity 5K on October 15.”

This goal is SMART because it has an attainable, relatable plan, a deadline, and a specific goal you will accomplish.

Another example of a personal life goal may be: “I will get up at 6 am five days a week for the next month in order to complete personal meditation time before going to work.”

Again, this is measurable, attainable, and relatable, making it SMART.

Get Started Planning SMART Today 

SMART goals are going to push you towards greater success if you take the time to write them down and follow the steps necessary to achieve them. They are valuable tools to help keep you focused on both personal and professional goals.

Yet, they only work if you start them.

Take some time today to decide what your overarching goals are. Then, break them down into measurable steps, and create SMART goals to achieve those steps. Soon, you will have a path from where you are today to where you want to be in the next five or ten years, all broken down by individual SMART goals.

As you plan your SMART goals for your career, consider whether more education will help you achieve them. Unity College, America’s Environmental College, offers a hybrid learning program that enables students to take control of their education by picking a combination of online and in-person classes. This flexible program enables students to pursue education on their terms and pick a combination that best fits their needs and goals. Hybrid learning programs give students the freedom to design their college experience, providing more control over their ability to reach their goals. If you are interested in learning more about the hybrid learning degree programs offered at Unity College, contact us today.