How to write SMART goals (and why they matter)

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia MartinsJuly 19th, 20227 min read
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Summary

Vague or general goals often don’t get done, even if they’re great ideas. Turn vague goals into actionable ones by making them SMART. SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. This article will show you why you need each SMART component, and how to apply them to your own goals.

Every team that’s accomplished something phenomenal first had to set goals to get there. Teams that set goals can do great things like cure diseases, build more efficient and sustainable appliances, or make our oceans safer for whales and dolphins. When we set goals, we can visualize where we want to go and put our best foot forward to get there.

But hitting an ambitious goal isn’t just about reaching for the stars—you also need a path to get there. That’s where SMART goals come in. SMART is an acronym that can help you define and set great goals. With SMART, you can make sure every goal—from project goals all the way to larger company objectives—has everything you need to achieve it. Here’s how.

What is a SMART goal?

SMART is an acronym to help you create defined, falsifiable, and attainable goals. SMART stands for:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

[Inline illustration] SMART goals (Infographic)

The SMART acronym is a shortcut to setting great goals because it includes all of the ingredients you need for success. Here’s how to break down and approach each piece:

Specific

Keep in mind that you’re setting your SMART goal to attain a specific objective—not a broad one. You don’t just want any initiative to succeed, you want your specific project to succeed. To make sure you can achieve them, make sure your goals are specific to what you’re working on.

For example, instead of creating a goal to raise more money, you might create a goal to raise $20,000 by the end of the year. This is much more specific, and gives you a roadmap to work off of. In this case, you can break down how much you need to raise each day to hit your goal, and then create an action plan that enables you to hit that number every day.

Measurable

The “M” in SMART stands for measurable, which helps you evaluate the success or failure of your project. Your goals should have some sort of objective way to measure them—whether that’s a deadline, a number, a percent change, or some other measurable element.

One way to do this is with benchmarks. Benchmarks show you what’s “normal” for specific, recurring scenarios in your company, so you know what to expect. Using standardized benchmarks, you can set more relevant goals that are easier to measure. For example, let’s say you have a benchmark showing that you have three new marketing campaigns each year to help you hit key performance indicators. You can then use that benchmark to set measurable goals to track progress for both the launches and their related KPIs.

Achievable

You don’t want your goals to be easy to achieve—but you also want to make sure you’re setting goals that you could, conceivably, hit. Achievable says that your goals shouldn't be totally outside the realm of possibility. Ask yourself this question: Is the goal within your project scope? If not, it’s not Achievable.

For example, let’s say you want to learn to speak Spanish in order to be competitive in your field. If you’ve never spoken a word of Spanish before, you can’t expect to be fluent by next month. That simply isn’t an achievable goal. However, you could set a goal to learn from your foreign language app for 20 minutes every day. By establishing a consistent practice, you can set a more achievable goal.

What about stretch goals—are those achievable?

Stretch goals are goals that are purposefully challenging. For example, if you usually get 30,000 monthly visitors to your website, a stretch goal would be to get 50,000 monthly visitors. That’s a big increase! But this stretch goal is still within the realm of possibility. Make sure you make your stretch goals ambitious, not impossible—like aiming to go from 30,000 monthly visitors to 300,000 monthly visitors, for example.

Realistic

The “A” and “R” of SMART are closely related. In addition to setting Achievable goals, you also want to set Realistic ones. For example, maybe a goal is achievable, but getting there would require every team member to work overtime for six weeks straight. Even though it might be an achievable goal, it’s not a realistic one. Make sure yours is both by creating a clear resource management plan.

Using our achievable goal example of learning to speak Spanish, the goal of setting 20 minutes aside each day to practice Spanish is both realistic and achievable. On the other hand, a goal to practice speaking Spanish for two hours every day is probably not realistic for most working adults, even though it’s technically achievable.

Time-bound

Your SMART goal should have an end date. Without a time limit, your project could drag on, have unclear success metrics, and suffer from scope creep. Deadlines provide a sense of urgency, so that short-term tasks don’t drag into long-term goals unnecessarily. If you haven’t already, make sure you outline a clear project timeline.

Deadlines are crucial to implementing goals, since they pretty much force you to take action. If you want to have more focus time at work, you can decide to set a goal to only check your email for 30 minutes every day. But without a deadline, it’s easy to brush it off. Imagine instead if you set a goal to only check your email for 30 minutes every day for one week—now, it starts to feel more attainable.

What are the benefits of SMART goals?

Making sure your important goals have all of the SMART components might be more time-consuming than setting regular goals, but the value you get from SMART goals outweigh the additional time spent on the goal-setting process. Goals shouldn’t be something you set and forget—they’re a key part of your project planning process. By setting SMART goals, you and your team will have:

  1. Clear communication and alignment. When your project team knows exactly what they’re working towards, they’re more motivated and aligned as a team. Team members who know how their individual work contributes to broader company goals are 2X as motivated as their counterparts. Setting and sharing SMART goals can help you boost your entire team’s motivation.

  2. Clarity towards project success. Have you ever gotten to the end of a project and not really known if you hit your project goals or not? SMART goals help you set clear goals, so you can avoid vague or confusing goal language.

  3. Clear roadmap and finish line. With SMART goals, you know exactly what you want to achieve and when you expect to achieve it. You’ve verified that these goals are realistic and achievable. And you know you’ll be able to measure them to see if you hit them or not.

  4. Trackable metrics. When you finish your project, SMART goals help you evaluate its success. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t achieve it. In fact, at Asana, we aim to hit about 70% of our goals. That way, we know we’re setting challenging—but possible—goals. Whether you hit your goal or not, SMART goals can help you evaluate your goal, and you can learn from that.

5 examples of SMART goals

Ready to get started? Before you write your own SMART goals, here are five examples of SMART goals and how each goal meets the SMART criteria.

1.  Business goal

  • Example: Produce at least three different types of large-scale marketing assets (e.g. ebook, webinar, videos, sales one- or two-pagers) per month for Q1.

  • Why it’s SMART: This business goal is specific (large-scale marketing assets), measurable (three different types), achievable and realistic (this depends on how many project team members there are, but we can assume there are enough to cover the three assets per month), and time-bound (per month for Q1).

2. Team goal

  • Example: The product team will partner on five cross-functional projects focused on usability testing, customer surveys, customer marketing, or research and development during the first half of FY22.

  • Why it’s SMART: This goal is specific (projects focused on usability testing, customer surveys, customer marketing, or research and development), measurable (five cross-functional projects), achievable (five projects in six months), realistic (the project spans the entire product team), and time-bound (during the first half of FY22).

3. Professional goal

  • Example: During 2021, I will develop my management skills through mentorship, with at least two mentees from either our company Employee Resource Groups or my alumni network.

  • Why it’s SMART: This goal is specific (management skills through mentorship), measurable (at least two mentees), achievable and realistic (this person has given themselves two different avenues through which to find mentees), and time-bound (during 2021).

4. Personal goal

  • Example: I will train to run the March San Diego half marathon in less than two hours.

  • Why it’s SMART: This goal is specific (San Diego half marathon), measurable (in less than two hours), achievable (two hours is an ambitious but doable pace for most runners with proper training), realistic (this person has established they will train in preparation for the half marathon), and time-bound (March).

5. Nonprofit goal

  • Example: We will provide 100 hours of free tutoring for middle school students in math and history during the month of February.

  • Why it’s SMART: This goal is specific (tutoring for middle school students in math and history), measurable (100 hours), achievable and realistic (depending on the amount of volunteers the nonprofit has), and time-bound (during the month of February).

Read: How to build a strategic plan for your nonprofit (with template)

Try Asana for nonprofits

6 steps to make your goal SMART

When you’re ready to set your own SMART goal, start by writing your project goal as a sentence or two. Then, apply each of the five SMART attributes to your goal and make sure you cover all of your bases. Use this template to practice smart goal setting:

1. Initial goal: Write down whatever your initial goal is. Don’t worry about it not being completely SMART—we’ll get to that later in the template.

  • Example: I want to improve our company brand on social media.

2. Make it Specific: Does your goal define exactly what you want to do? If not, re-work the language to make it specific to your particular project.

  • Example, continued: Improve our company brand on Instagram with company-specific hashtags.

3. Make it Measurable: Have you established how you’ll measure your goal once your project is complete? If not, add a way to measure success or failure at the end of your project.

  • Example, continued: Develop company-specific hashtags to generate 1,000 new Instagram followers.

4. Make it Achievable: Is your goal something you can achieve, given your project scope? Make sure this specific goal falls within your project capabilities.

  • Example, continued: Develop and use company-specific hashtags, in conjunction with popular hashtags in our industry, to generate 1,000 new Instagram followers.

5. Make it Realistic: Can your project team reasonably hit your goal? Even if it’s a stretch goal, make sure this is something you can accomplish with your resources.

  • Example, continued: Post once daily on Instagram, and ensure every post has a mixture of company-specific hashtags and popular hashtags in our industry in order to generate 1,000 new Instagram followers.

6. Make it Time-bound: By when will you achieve your goal? Make sure you clarify your target date or time frame in your SMART goal.

  • Example, continued: Post every workday on Instagram for the first half of FY22. Ensure every post has a mixture of company-specific hashtags and popular hashtags in our industry in order to generate 1,000 new Instagram followers by June 30th.

Create a short-term goals template

What to do after creating your SMART goals

Do you track your goals in emails, meetings, or spreadsheets? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Asana Goals Report, 53% of businesses track their goals via email, 36% track them in spreadsheets, and 31% track them in in-person meetings.

The challenge with tracking your goals is finding a way to connect your goals with your team’s daily work. You’ve taken all of this time to create a SMART goal—keeping it front of mind can help you make sure you achieve it. At Asana, we believe goals should be closely connected to the work they’re, well, connected to. Here’s how you can do that:

1. Share your SMART goals with project stakeholders and team members

At the start of the project, make sure you surface your SMART goals to everyone involved in the work. Your SMART goals should guide your whole team as you work on project deliverables, so you know exactly whether or not you hit your project objectives.

The best way to do that is with a work management tool like Asana. That way, your team has a central source of truth with all information in the same place—from your daily work all the way to your project’s goals. Instead of hiding your goals in docs, decks, and other hard-to-find places, connect them to your daily work so everyone is motivated, focused, and on the same page.

2. Check in on progress regularly

In addition to sharing your SMART goals with your team at the beginning of your project, make sure you periodically measure the progress you’ve made towards your goal. You don’t want to work on the project and then find, at the very end of the work, that you’ve missed your goals. You’ve worked hard to set specific, measurable goals for a reason—you can use them as your north star, and course correct during your project if necessary.

The best way to regularly check in on your SMART goals is to send weekly project status updates. Status updates are a great way for you to highlight the important work your team did, any upcoming milestones, and whether or not you’re on track.

3. Evaluate your success

SMART goals bring clarity to your goal-setting process—so you can gauge exactly whether or not you hit your project goals. If you did, it’s time to celebrate! And even if you didn’t, having such clear goals—and checking in on your goals regularly—can help you best identify what went wrong and where you can do better next time.

Remember, not hitting your goals doesn’t mean your project was a total failure. You may have purposefully set a stretch goal to challenge yourself or your team. Even if you didn’t set a stretch goal, it’s more important to calmly evaluate why you missed your target rather than pretend it didn’t happen. That way, you can learn from your mistakes and bring those learnings with you the next time you set SMART goals.

Set smarter goals

SMART goals can help your team succeed by bringing clarity into the goal-setting and project management process. When your team has clarity and is moving in the same direction, they’re more likely to be motivated and to know what work to prioritize.

Visualizing and tracking your goals both makes them easier to measure and achieve. In Asana, you can set, track, and report on your SMART goals all in one space. With the ability to connect with everyone on your team and share with stakeholders, you can coordinate everything you need to achieve your most ambitious goals.

Set and achieve goals with Asana

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