The concise guide to writing SMART goals

Nicole Moughrabi

Setting SMART goals is a valuable way to achieve progress and structure your professional development. If you’re not making progress towards your goals, looking for a way to be more productive, feeling lost or unsure of what constitutes success, or working with a team on a complex project, formatting your objectives in SMART goal format will help you plan for success. In this article, you’ll find the steps to help you create and execute your SMART goals, including an example of how to turn a ‘dumb’ goal into a SMART goal.

What are SMART goals?

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S – Specific

When setting a goal, narrow in on what exactly it is you want to accomplish. A specific goal answers questions like:

  • What do I want to accomplish? 
  • Why is this goal important? What is the reason for needing to complete it?
  • Who is involved? This is especially important for goals involving other people.
  • Where is it located? 
  • Which resources or limits are involved? Are there any obstacles involving available materials?

The more specific a goal is, the more likely you are to complete it.

M – Measurable

Figuring out a metric for your goal makes the goal more tangible by providing a way to measure progress. The best way to do so is to set milestones to achieve throughout your goal journey. 

A – Achievable

A goal needs to be realistic and attainable to be successful. It should provide an opportunity for growth and improvement on your skills but still remain within the realm of what is possible for you and/or your team. 

R – Relevant

Considering the relevance of a goal allows for a moment to step back and look at the bigger picture and the reality of why you may be moving towards this goal or if this is a goal worth expending energy towards in the present time.

A relevant goal can answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Is this the right time?
  • Does this align with other goals currently being worked on?
  • Am I the right person to reach this goal? I.e. should we re-delegate roles?
  • Is it possible in my current situation?

T – Time-bound

Providing a target date for your goal is imperative. Additionally, if your goal is long-term and will take a few months to complete, it’s useful to define what should be achieved half-way through the process or at specific check-points. Providing time constraints also creates a sense of urgency and a framework for completing the goal.

How to turn a goal into a SMART goal

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Using the SMART goals formula, we can create new and improved goals that are more actionable and specific. Let’s walk through a simple example below:

Goal 1: I want to work in finance

OK, great. Now let’s make it SMART!

  • Specific: I want to pass the FINRA SIE exam to become qualified for a career in finance. This will help me get a job in the field. Once I pass, I will apply for jobs in finance.
  • Measurable: I need to score a passing mark on the FINRA SIE (72%).
  • Achievable: I can sign up for an exam preparation course that will prepare me for the FINRA SIE.
  • Relevant: I want to work in the finance industry, and passing the FINRA SIE will greatly increase my chances of getting a job in the field.
  • Time-bound: I will sign up to take the FINRA SIE in 2 months to allow myself time to study.

Once you go through and write your goals according to each SMART characteristic, you can then combine and consolidate all the work you’ve done into one SMART goal:

SMART goal: I want to pass the FINRA SIE (72%+) in 2 months using an online prep course.

Notice how the SMART goal is much more specific and actionable, with a clear metric for success, timeline, and goal. Nice work!

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