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SMART Goals: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide

SMART Goals: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide

SMART Goals are a goal-setting methodology used for organizational targets or personal goals to add structure and clarity. They stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

After hours of tiring work every day, do you feel like you have not reached the goals you should have? You receive a fair hike at the end of the year, but the hours of effort should have given you better results by now. Despite doing well at your job, neither have you managed to make major progress towards your goals nor were you promoted.

Smart goals

You worry about living a similar life for the years to come. You worry you won’t achieve your ambitions. You worry about paying bills every month.

You wish you could make faster progress, don’t you? Your dreams are aimed at the stars but the results do not seem hand in hand.

Welcome to SMART Goals which can change the way you achieve your dreams. By adding 5 different elements to your goals, you can make your targets easy to accomplish. Each alphabet in SMART stands for a word that helps you achieve your goals and objectives. Hence, the SMART in capital letters.

Before we discuss SMART Goals, if your vision seems clouded with fog, you must answer the three questions to help you identify the dream goal sets a spark in your belly.

What are the 5 SMART Goals?

what are smart goals

So what is the full form of SMART goals? Various people use different words to describe each alphabet of the acronym. However, here is the most common definition of SMART Goals.

S – Specific: Your goals must carry enough clarity and detail. If your goals lack clarity, you will lose direction.

M – Measurable: Can you quantify your goal in terms of numbers? Without a measure, you cannot evaluate your progress.

A – Achievable: Have you set goals which you can meet? By setting unrealistic goals, you dampen your motivation to make progress towards your goals.

R – Relevant: The goals you set must resonate with you. They must go hand in hand with what you deeply care about.

T – Time-bound: Have you set a timeline to achieve your goals? If not, you have left your goals to hope like driving to a destination with your eyes closed.

SMART Goals make your goal clear and help you make progress. When you have a big target to achieve, you must aim to make your goal SMART.

set SMART Goals

Let us start with your dream goal and build some more bone and muscle over it. Pull out a paper to begin. You can even write it down on your phone if you like.

Answer the question now: What is your dream goal?

Make sure you think of an answer even if you lack details or clarity. I am sure you have something in your mind. Hold that thought. We will check if the goal matches the SMART requirement. If not, let us make your goal SMART.

Let us go through each alphabet in detail.

S – Specific


Is your goal like one among these?

“I want to be super-rich”
“I want to be a famous celebrity”
“I want to start my business and make it insanely successful”

When it comes to dreaming big, these personal goals are right on the spot and bang on the buck. However, all such goals have a common problem. They lack the detail and are not specific enough.

When you say “super-rich”, how can you quantify it in numbers? Are a million dollars super-rich in your books, or do you intend to hit a billion like the elite or do you wish to amass a trillion dollars?

When you say “famous,” how well known do you wish you get? Known in a city or state? Do you want your wings spread across the country? Or do you intend to be a global figure?

When you say insanely successful in business, do you want to build a multi-billion dollar empire or sell the business for a few million? Or is your definition of success completely different where your product becomes a household name irrespective of the money?

Having a goal that is not clear is like a dog trying to catch its own tail. You feel like you are making progress and putting effort, but the result will remain a chase.

Hold your goal against the 5 magic words to gain more clarity around your goals. These words are also called 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why.

Your goals do not need to have answers to all these 5 questions. But find answers for at least some of them.

  • What is my purpose in life?
  • Why does it matter to me?
  • Who will the goal transform me into?
  • Where can I achieve it?
  • Which are the possible ways to achieve it?

These 5 questions are examples. You can use your own questions starting with the 5 W words to ask yourself more questions.

My goal is “I want to be a writer so that I can influence people all over the world with my ideas causing a positive change. I want to help 1 million people break the shackles of a regular 9-5 job and help them pursue their dreams.”

If you target a technical field such as the machine learning industry, your goal has to contain more details like “I want to be a machine learning expert so that I can change the future of mankind by building a product which completely changes the way corporates operate”

Your goal will vary but ensure it carries enough detail.

M – Measurable


You must have heard the saying “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” In the world of growth, it holds a lot of truth.

Without measurement, you are as clueless as playing dart in the dark. You do not even know if your darts hit your target.

If you have no numbers, you cannot evaluate how far you have come so far. Without knowing the speed of your progress and how much more effort you need to put in, you will end up with a ton of effort and no results.

Measure your goal by placing it against a How. Ask yourself:

How many? How much? How big? How famous? How successful?

For example, “I want to help 1 million people break the shackles of a regular 9-5 job and help them pursue their dreams.” I have also other similar goals around the number of users on my website, my subscribers and so on.

Similarly, you need to define some numbers too. When you say super-rich, put a number in millions or billions or trillions. When you say a successful venture, put a number around it in market capital, profits, users, sign-ups and so on.

If you intend to amass a wealth of 100 million, you now know where you stand and how much more you need to get there. When you add a number, the goal turns into a destination with multiple milestones. You can now set a target for the year, for the next 2 years, the next 5 years and so on.

A – Achievable


The biggest possible mistake to commit is to set a goal so huge and humongous that achieving it requires help from Lord Zeus. Dreaming big helps you chase bigger goals but chasing unrealistic goals take you nowhere. In fact, some people set unattainable goals, give up early and never try again.

For example, if you set a goal “I want a billionaire in the next 2 years,” you set yourself up for failure. Achieving a billionaire is a bold goal and many successful people have reached the goal. However, if you want to do the same in 2 years, you need to face ground reality.

Certain goals need time. Some need the right location. Some need some physical features. You cannot be an NBA star if you are 5 foot 5 inches and are 30 years old already. Sure, you can still achieve a billionaire status but not an NBA star status.

Do not get me wrong. I am not asking you to think small. You must set goals that scare the shit out of you. At the same time, unless they are achievable, you cause more damage to your motivation than good. Your goals must cause you to stretch your limits and expand your horizon not tear your soul apart.

In the gym, the right workout involves tiring your muscles. If you lift the same weights with ease every day, your muscles remain the same. If you lift too heavy, you will hear a bone crack.

The sweet spot is when your goals challenge your abilities to keep you growing but not seem difficult to a level where you give up.

For example, “I aim to reach website traffic of 100,000 users a day in 3 years.” I know I have set a tough goal but I intend to put in sweat every day for the next 3 years to achieve it. If I aim to reach a million users this month, I am fooling myself and killing my motivation when I fail.

If you dream to start your own venture, ask yourself how can you make your goal difficult but achievable.

R – Relevant


If you chase a goal without knowing why you will almost certainly give up halfway or before. You cannot look at the Instagram profile of a person with 10 million followers with travel pictures and chase a goal of 100 million subscribers posting pictures of travel. If you are an avid traveler, sure go for it. However, if your skill lies in writing sophisticated code, you will never have enough motivation to travel.

Your goal must resonate with you and your core values. Unless you have a strong why you will run out of gas necessary to see you through. Failure to reach any goal has nothing to do with you. As human beings, we have been wired as goal-driven animals.

Every time you achieve a milestone of a goal that makes you happy, you receive a shot of dopamine. The dopamine provides you the much-needed motivation to keep going. If you chase a goal which means nothing to you, each milestone will mean nothing to you either. You will not give a rat’s ass about it.

A person passionate about writing code every day will find no solace in seeing his Instagram followers grow from a few hundred to a thousand. However, the same programmer will brim with energy when the mobile app he coded receives 1000 downloads.

You have to answer a few questions to check if a goal is relevant enough for you:

  • Will achieving the goal make you happy?
  • Am I willing to put in hard work, time and energy to achieve the goal?
  • Am I the right person to chase this goal?
  • Is achieving this goal worth my time?

Every goal you set to achieve will face many hurdles. You will many a time feel like walking on burning coal. Is your love for the goal strong enough to keep you walking through the difficulties or will you curl your tail between your legs and run away like a scared puppy?

T – Time Bound

Time bound

Give yourself a deadline to stop planning and to start taking action.

Andy Gilbert

If you set a goal without any deadlines, you will be like the sailor in the ocean without a compass. You will never reach your destination. In the unlikely case you do, you will take far longer than you would like without a reliable time-based estimate.

As human beings, we love to procrastinate. We leave the empty coke tin on the table, pile up the trash until it overflows and only start dressing up when the clock strikes 9. Every single person in this world is a procrastinator in some shape or form.

Successful people differ in one aspect. They do not procrastinate their long term goals. Sure, they may buy groceries late or clean their table only when all the racks fill up. But they ensure some progress on their goal happens on a daily basis.

For long term goals, you face no consequences by failing to achieve them. For example, let us say you have a full-time job which fetches a good income and your dream goal is to start a continental restaurant.

Even if you keep postponing the restaurant business, you still lead a decent life. Unless you set some timelines on yourself to reach your goal, the chances of you achieving your goal are scant.

Tim Urban explains the mind of a procrastinator in a lovely storyline on his TED Talk – Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.

We all have a savior within us called:


Panic monster

We keep procrastinating as much as we can. To know why we procrastinate, read the detailed article on why we procrastinate and how to avoid it. Only when there is a consequence of not taking action anymore, do we finally react. If we face no consequences, we would not do many of those tasks we do today.

Some of the consequences could be getting late to office, scoring badly in exams or losing your job for not meeting the deadlines. The panic of a consequence kicks the Panic Monster into action. At that point, you get your ass moving and the task going.

Unfortunately, for long term goals, you will never reach face any negative consequences. You might face disappointment and regret but you will never reach a point of breakdown for not reaching your goals.

So, the Panic Monster will never kick in!

If you want the panic monster to show up and wake you up, you need to impose deadlines on yourself.


Ask yourself:

  • By when can I achieve my goal?
  • What can I do in the next 2 years to achieve it?
  • What milestones can I reach by the end of the year?
  • How much progress can I make by the next quarter?
  • What can I complete by this month?
  • What can I target for next week?
  • How many tasks related to my long term goals can I complete today?

Do you see the picture? When you get into the mode of timelines, you turn into the President of the United States commanding action.

If you do not set any timelines, I can guarantee you that you will make no progress today. Tomorrow will turn out just like another today. You will plan to start working on your goal “tomorrow”.

Days will turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years but the “tomorrow” will never arrive. In no time your lifetime would pass by without significant progress towards your goals.

When you set a deadline, you face pressure. You will feel ashamed to face guilt on a daily basis for not achieving the milestone.

Deadlines work like a magician with a wand. One little action and you end up with a pleasant surprise. A well-timed deadline will be the Abracadabra for you.

Examples of SMART Goals

You can apply SMART Goals to any aspect of your life. You can use them as an employee, a business owner, a manager or for your own personal development.

I have provided some examples of SMART Goals on different categories. These can serve as guidelines for setting smart goals. But again, there is no exact protocol of setting each goal.

Smart Goals examples for work:

  • Spend 1 hour a day, 5 days a week for the next two months learning advanced programming. The learning time will be spent on completing online courses.
  • Complete 2 innovative projects at work, thereby reducing the manual effort man-hours by Oct 2019.
  • Finish a certification, automate the report and earn a promotion by Apr 2020.

Smart Goals examples in management for a manager or leader:

  • Increase the response time of the team by 27% by the end of October 2019
  • Improve my management skills by reading leadership books for 30 minutes a day, scheduling 1-1’s with my direct report once in two weeks and conveying the vision every month over an all-hands meeting.
  • Bring the team members together for 1 hour a day every week for an innovation hour. Shortlist key innovations every two weeks and reward the best project every quarter.

Smart Goals examples for business:

  • Increase sales by 12% by marketing and social media by the end of the financial year.
  • Improve customer satisfaction rating to 95% and increase the completion rate by 5% by the end of the year 2019.
  • Achieve an average customer base increase of 2% month on month until the end of the financial year

Smart Goals examples for an employee working towards setting up a venture:

  • Speak to 3 business owners in the same business domain by July 2019
  • Research and gather 100 important keywords for my blog by August 2019 and optimize the blog on-page by September 2019.
  • Speak to 3 interior design companies, provide sample ideas and shortlist the best quote by October 2019.

Smart Goals for personal growth:

The examples of SMART Goals provided are only for reference. Feel free to draw inspiration from the above-provided examples of SMART Goals to set your own goal.

  • Hit the gym 1 hour a day for 4 days a week for the next 6 months and lose 12 pounds.
  • Learn to play 2 barre chords on the guitar in the next 2 weeks and use them to play songs that were previously played with a workaround chord.
  • Read 20 pages of a book every day and complete reading 6 books in the next 3 months.

Smart Goals for students

  • Work on the end of semester project for 8 hours a week and rate the progress as per the milestones
  • Read books X for 30 minutes a day and complete 6 books by the end of the semester to hone my skills on the topic Y

Smart Goals template in excel

Here is an easy to use template to create SMART goals for yourself. The Google sheet is set on a view-only mode but you can download the file by clicking of File -> Download

Advantages of SMART Goals:

success smart goals advantages

As simple as the definitions is, the importance of smart goals is paramount.

1. Makes a big goal seem achievable:

If your goal is to become a millionaire, the outcome could seem overwhelming. But you can turn it into a SMART goal like – Make a million dollars in 15 years. Now you can calculate that a saving of 36,000 $ a year will get you there at an 8% rate of return. What once seemed impossible now seems difficult but achievable. With the target clear you can think of a way to achieve success.

2. Motivates you to put in effort:

Without a deadline and clear details, we tend to spin like a sock in a washing machine. With the destination clearly defined along with a possible date to get there, you feel your inner self calling you to strive towards it.

3. Helps you prioritize:

Your regular routine tries hard to push your long term goals aside. By knowing what your ultimate goal is, you will prioritize the right task to work on at the moment.

4. You take baby steps every day:

SMART goals change the mission of scaling Everest in 2 years to completing a simple trek this month. By breaking down larger goals into smaller chunks you begin making gradual process week by week. Monstrous goals that require years can be tackled by breaking them into smaller goals for the week.

5. You know where you stand:

Now that you have broken down your 5-year goal into a simpler goal this month, you know how good or bad your progress is. When you achieve your monthly milestones, you get the adrenaline rush knowing you are on track. If you miss the goal, you can spend time thinking about how to get things back on track.

Disadvantages of SMART Goals and how to overcome them

1. Inhibits creativity:

Some people believe SMART Goals make the journey to the long term goals harder because they inhibit creative ideas. Since SMART Goals are time-bound and clear beforehand, you might end up working in autopilot mode without thinking of new ideas.

To overcome this problem, make sure you spend some time thinking every day. Review the direction and your current progress. Ask yourself if you can proceed or change course.

2. Lack of flexibility:

Since the path of the SMART goals and the numbers are as clear a neatly wiped champagne glass, people feel changing course becomes difficult. A small change might require a major change in all other related goals.

To overcome this problem, do not make your goals rigid. At any point, you must work on achieving your goals, but at the same time, you must ask yourself if it is the right thing to do.

I keep a vision board as shown below.

Vision board

The chart paper is broken into 3 months, 6 months and post current year goals. For each section, I attach a sticky note with the target to achieve. I have used different colors to segregate the type of goals such as monetary, user base related.

At any point, if I feel a goal does not belong in the section, I pluck the post-it and toss it into the dustbin. The vision board of post-its keeps my SMART Goals flexible.

3. Goal Setting addiction:

Achieving your goals causes a dopamine rush in your body. You feel the strong urge and desire in your spine to chase one goal after another. In some cases, people isolate themselves from social circles, ignore other aspects of life in the pursuit of goals. Goal setting can be an addiction.

The problem here lies more in the mindset of the person than the SMART Goal itself. Balancing life falls on the shoulders of the person. Pinning the problem of goal addiction to SMART goals does not do justice to the effective results it provides.

4. Disappointment on failure:

While you are chasing your goal like a tiger chasing its prey, failing to achieve one milestone can cause anger, stress, and demotivation. Despite the milestone not contributing much to the final outcome, missing the milestone can cause you to curse yourself.

To overcome this, understand that SMART goals are just a mechanism to help you achieve your goal with a plan. When a certain part of the plan goes astray, you have to calm your head and steer course to get back on track. Breaking your head over a milestone missed will only lead to a some more missed milestones.

5. Prevents dreaming larger than life:

If everyone set only realistic and achievable goals for themselves, we would not have many of the inventions we have today.

It takes unrealistic thinking to believe you can create something like electricity when the world ran with fire and lamps. It takes a person deemed crazy by normal standards to believe words spoken in one part of the world can be captured and replayed thousands of miles away in real time.

Some people believe that SMART Goals prevent such visionary thinking.

Overcoming this problem is simple. Let your dreams be vivid and wild, but let your plan to get there be realistic. Dream as massive as you like and break it down into smaller chunks. Chasing a goal of being a billionaire might scare scares you. So will the money you have to make this year to get there. But you can think of more ideas. You can take bigger risks and reap larger rewards.

Any inability to think big is caused by the limit in a persons mind and not due to SMART Goals.

How to keep reviewing your SMART Goals:

review your SMART Goals

Just because your goals are clear and have a timeline does not mean that you have to never review them again. In fact, you must review them often to make sure you do not go a wild goose chase which helps nobody.

Ask yourself some questions regularly to make sure you chase the right goal. Every goal will require different questions but here are some samples:

  • Will the goal make me happy when I achieve it?
  • Will I carry the same passion for the goal 10 years later as I do now?
  • Am I willing to put in the effort for over 5 years to reach this goal?
  • Am I hurting or suffocating my loved ones in the pursuit of these goals?
  • Is the pursuit of my goals causing me to burn out?

Make your own questions. Ask your inner soul and wait for an answer. Sometimes the answer may not make you happy but could be the need of the hour.

Setting SMART Goals – How to start?

Step 1: The first step towards setting SMART goals begins with knowing what goal to target. Some people have complete clarity like a visionary while some find it as hazy as a misty morning. Answer these 3 questions to help identify your dream goal.

Step 2: With the goal clear, go through each of the sections above. Ask yourself the questions mentioned in each section to determine if your goal falls under the SMART category.

Each section requires many questions mentioned above. You can also use the simplified 5 questions below to make your goal SMARTer.

  1. Can I add more detail to my goal without keeping it vague?
  2. How can I measure the outcome and progress of my goal?
  3. Is the goal realistic to achieve?
  4. Does the goal resonate with my values and will it bring me happiness in the long run?
  5. Have I set a timeline to achieve the goal?

Step 3: Review your SMART goal every once in a while to check if any changes are necessary. Do not simply be rigid about achieving the goals. Always keep asking yourself if you are doing the right thing and chasing the right goal. Do not stop yourself from thinking bigger than before or correcting an incorrectly set goal.

Step 4: Enjoy your success when you meet your goal. Do not forget to pat yourself on the back and celebrate when you achieve a major milestone. Reward yourself in little ways to motivate yourself further.


Going through life without a goal is like sailing on a ship commanded by a blind pirate. Knowing your goal and having a plan will sail you halfway through your goal already. For any long term goal, your plan will almost always change and your course takes a different turn. But the importance of chasing a goal with a plan cannot be understated.

SMART Goals make your dream goal easier to achieve. Can you recall your dream goal which you have postponed for a long time now? Make it a SMART goal. Chase it today.

I’d love to hear what you think about SMART Goals. Do you believe you postpone your goals due to a lack of deadlines? Do you think adding more clarity around your goals would help you make progress? Leave your thoughts in the comment area.

smart goals for meeting long term goals

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