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SMART Goals: Examples, tips and more to help you get started

Here's what you need to know about the SMART goal system.
Here's how this system can help you achieve attainable goals.
Here's how this system can help you achieve attainable goals.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

We all want to set smart goals at work and in our personal lives, but there's an actual SMART goal system that's focused on setting achievable goals, and it's worth checking out.

TMRW did some digging and spoke to a few career experts to find out what the SMART goal system is and how it can help you set attainable goals for yourself.

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What is a SMART goal and where did the term come from?

The term SMART goal is an acronym that stands for "Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound." Essentially, the system boils down a goal to its most critical elements to help make sure that what you're setting out to do is worth your time.

The term first came about in 1981 when George T. Doran, the president of a consultancy called the Management Assistance Program, wrote about it in an issue of the Management Review publication. In his piece, Doran provided some tips for managers who might find it challenging to articulate their objectives/goals.

The author initially used the following words to describe his acronym:

  • 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 shared.

The SMART system has evolved a bit over time, but its main goal has remained the same: be a tool to help professionals set worthwhile objectives for themselves.

What are the benefits of SMART goals?

All too often, we hastily jot down goals and present them to our manager at work just to get it over with. But following the SMART goal system can force you (in a good way) to reflect on what's important and what goals you're ready to work toward at any given time. It can also keep you accountable if you apply it to your personal life.

"Each component of the SMART goal strategy works together to develop a goal that is clear and trackable. SMART goals help clarify performance goals employees are expected to achieve by taking away any ambiguity, vagueness or poorly worded goals," Society for Human Resources Mamangement advisor John Dooney told TMRW.

The SMART system can serve as a good framework for goal setting and can help you keep your eyes on the prize, so to speak.

"It takes resilience to achieve any goal. The SMART system, by providing a structure for goal setting, makes it easier to stay focused on the goal and sidestep distractions along the way,"Andrew Shatte, chief knowledge officer and co-founder of meQuilibrium, a digital resilience platform, said.

How do you set SMART goals?

When you're setting a SMART goal, you might find it challenging to check off all the criteria, but Doran made it clear in his original Management Review post that the SMART system isn't meant to slow you down.

"It should also be understood that the suggested acronym doesn’t mean that every objective written will have all five criteria. However, the closer we get to the SMART CRITERIA as a guideline, the smarter our objectives will be," he wrote.

Dooney suggests using smart goals that align with your company's objectives as a good starting point if you're using the system for work. He also offered a piece of advice for when your SMART goals are taking longer to complete than you originally anticipated.

"You may want to break up the larger goal into smaller milestones that lead to the completion date of an overall goal. Certainly, you may have a colleague or even a supervisor help keep track of your goals. Many times, supervisors are aware of project planning software that provides 'alerts' when projects are due, which they can recommend to their employee," Dooney said.