SMART goals are goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. They’re like a text roadmap that makes it easy to pinpoint what you want and exactly when and how you plan to get it.
If creating SMART goals sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry. SMART goals don’t have to be long or complicated, and they don’t take a lot of time to write. In fact, you can follow the steps below to create your own SMART goals. Create a document that answers the questions below, or write your answers down in a journal or on a sheet of paper. Complete the process for each SMART goal you set.
Step 1: Write a specific goal statement
The first step in creating a SMART goal is to write a clear and specific statement of what you want. This statement doesn’t have to be long—a sentence or two will do. Just make sure your statement leaves no doubt about what you want and when you want it.
Think about what you want to accomplish, and use action-oriented verbs such as graduate, complete, pay off, earn, own, and specialize, that clearly define what you want.
SMART check: Ensure you can answer these questions affirmatively before you move on to the next step:
- Does someone else need to do something or provide something before you can accomplish this goal?
- Is this goal statement as detailed as you can make it?
Step 2: Define how you'll measure your progress
Having a clear end result in mind is an excellent first step, but you need milestones—specific, measurable steps that will occur during the process—to stay on track.
Write down a few measurable steps by finishing these statements:
- To achieve my goal, I will . . .
- I will do this by . . .
SMART check: Ensure you can answer this question affirmatively before you move on to the next step:
Do your milestones mark a clear path from where you are today to where you want to be?
Step 3: Time for a reality check. Is your goal attainable?
You may have to change certain aspects of your life to achieve your goal. For instance, graduating with a 3.98 GPA may mean squeezing in extra hours of study or taking out another loan to pay for a tutor. Owning a practice eight years from today may mean curtailing other expenditures so you’ll have enough saved up for a down payment on your new business. In any case, you need to decide if the goal you've established has a reasonable chance of occurring—and if you’re willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve success.
- Are you willing to change your behavior or your outlook on life to achieve your goal?
- Have you attempted other goals in the past that required a significant change in behavior and/or attitude? If so, did you achieve these goals?
- Do you have a support system—parents, friends, mentors, etc.—who will encourage you to achieve your goal?
- If you try to achieve your goal and fail, do you plan to try again?
- Are you willing to compromise on other things you may want in order to achieve this goal?
Step 4: Is your goal relevant?
If you’re a student or a recent graduate, you’ve probably been in school for most of your life. Academic requirements filled your days, and other people set most of your goals. Now it’s time to decide if you created this goal for you—or for someone else.
- Have you discussed your goal with other people?
- Have you changed your goal based on others’ input?
- Did you have this goal before you discussed your plans for the future with other people?
- Does this goal reflect your personal values?
- Is this goal consistent with your personal mission statement?
- Do you need to accomplish this goal to make your personal vision statement a reality?
Step 5: Is your goal time-bound?
This is the easiest step of all. Does your goal statement have an end date? If not, add it now by completing this statement:
I will achieve my goal by: