SMART goal setting process: How to Achieve your goals faster this year

SMART goal setting process should not only be limited to business organizations. It should be applied to our daily personal lives.

So, whether you are an entrepreneur, an employee, a housewife, or a gardener, you ought to know that setting goals give your life a DEFINITE point of focus.

Without goals, we are like ships riding the tide of the ocean without a navigational system.

Without goals, life can get all over the place. Precious Time slips out of your fingers, and before you know it, you find yourself online reading an article just like this one.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that if you set goals, you limit time-wasters and procrastination. In other words, you become more productive. And as a result of this, you get to your destinations quicker

But it is not very effective to set your goals anyhow.

Your goals have to be SMART.

SMART goal setting process and a pen with bulb


Because when you use the SMART system of goal setting, the likelihood of achieving those goals is very high.

We take a look at what the SMART goal setting system is in this post. We also look at how to apply the process to become more productive in all aspect of your life.

But first,…

Where did SMART goals come from?

As far back as the Greeks, such as Aristotle and Plato, where their philosophies have suggested that “purpose can incite action”, the human race had discovered the importance of setting goals.

But there had been a knowledge gap on how organizations and individuals should set goals effectively.

In the late 19th century, the American Philosopher Hubbard observed that the reason why a lot of people failed to achieve their goals is that they didn’t focus their energy on the goal they set.

Though he made this observation, there were no clear ways to go about this.

Later, in 1981, George T. Doran published the groundbreaking paper titled “there’s a SMART way to write Management Goals and Objectives”.

And since then, the SMART model of goal setting has been widely accepted and used.

So, what do S.M.A.R.T. Goals mean?

SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time-Based.

Don’t be worried about the depth of vocabulary of what the acronym stands for. The various meanings of each letter are closely linked.

Now, let’s look at what they mean and how they work in detail with examples;

S — (Specific)

A goal being specific will readily give you a 90% chance of achieving those goals if done properly.

Making a goal specific can mean different things to different people.

But in general, a goal being specific is when a goal is well defined.

Well defined might be in terms of stating the exact quantity.

Some common examples of vague goals vs quantity specific goals

  • I want to earn more money monthly vs I want to earn $10,000 more monthly
  • I want to lose weight vs I want to lose 10 pounds
  • All my debt should be paid off vs I want to be paying off 10% of my total debt monthly
  • I want to be doing exercise every day vs I want to be doing 50 push-ups daily

A specific well-defined goal can also be in terms of painting a clearer picture of your goals.

Some common examples of vague goals vs picture specific goals

  • I want to travel next month vs I want to travel to Spain next month
  • I want to buy a new car vs I want to buy a brand new black Mercedes Benz C180 2017 model
  • I want to be promoted at my job vs I want to be promoted to the head of accounting at my place of work

What you’ll notice when you get into the habit of making your goals specific is that you are creating a system where you know exactly what you want to achieve. You are becoming more focused and you are creating a sense of clarity.

Case Study

If I want to set or write down a goal of buying a new car in the SMART way, I would write something specific as;

  • I want to buy a brand new black Mercedes Benz C180 2017 model


M — (Measurable)

This acronym stands for the process where you make sure that you can easily measure the progress or the completion of a particular goal.

If your goal doesn’t have a way of measuring its completion or progress, then it’s not yet a SMART goal.

The best way to make sure that your goals are measurable is to make them as specific as possible.

Your quantity specific goals or picture specific goals usually come equipped with measurements.

What I mean by this is that from any of the examples given above, the specificity of the goals makes them measurable.

A fellow that wishes to buy a brand new black Mercedes Benz C180 knows that when he gets that specific car, his goal is completed.

Another example is when you want to earn $10,000 more, monthly; If you earn $5,000 more in the subsequent month, you’ll know that your goal is half-completed. The day you earn $10,000 more in a month will be the day you mark that goal as completed.

If you wanted to lose 10 pounds, and you do your weigh-in after a week, and you are only 1 pound lighter, that will tell you that you are already 10% closer to completing your goal.

Case Study continued

There won’t be any changes to the goal we are setting since it’s already measurable;

  • I want to buy a brand new black Mercedes Benz C180 2017 model.

A — (Actionable)

This Acronym in the SMART model has a lot of different meanings, depending on the person setting the goal.

Although it can mean different things, the only meaning that I use to define this acronym is Actionable.

That is, when I’m setting goals using the SMART model, the only question I ask myself when I get to this point is which action I will start taking to achieve this goal.

This is the stage where you try to make your goals as actionable as possible.

So, it is important to ask two questions when you get to this stage in your goal setting process;

  • What is the plan I can put in place to achieve this goal?
  • What are the things I have to start doing NOW to achieve this goal?

Take some time to contemplate on the plan of action. Better yet, turn those plans into systems.

Because a goal without actionable plans and systems is just wishful thinking.

It has been known that quality planning for your goals and taking action, based on those plans helps to save quality time. Having a plan doubles the chances of your success according to this survey.

Also, it has been shown by this study that more total time spent planning and quality planning increases performance and thereby increases the chance of achieving your goals.

This step in the SMART model will give you a glimpse of how much effort you will have to apply in order to achieve the goals you are setting.

Note that at this stage, it is not compulsory that you have the whole picture of how you are going to achieve that goal. The most important thing, for now, is to have a starting point at least.

JFK’s goal

For instance, on May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy announced his goal of putting man on the moon, NASA didn’t have the whole picture of how they were going to do it. The only thing they knew for sure was that it would be difficult to achieve.

The only plan they started with was increasing NASA’s budget by 89 percent. And that proved to be a solid plan to start the whole thing on.

Case Study Continued

At this stage, I would think of how I can go about buying my Mercedes Benz.

Firstly, I will know exactly how much they sell the car.

After that, I would determine if I needed to earn more money or take out a car loan. This is where I will try to infuse my actionable plan into the whole thing. I would continue writing my goal as;

  • I want to buy a brand new black Mercedes Benz C180 2017 model. The cost of the car is $xxx. I will have to take out a car loan with xxx bank and at the same time increase my monthly earnings by $1000. I can leverage my xxx skills by sourcing for freelance work on upwork. I will also have to learn how to use upwork.

But mind you, before you can take action on any goal, you have to be motivated.

And as you probably know, motivation is the most popular goal killer out there.

So, if you are setting your goals and you are wondering how motivated you will be in achieving that goal, well, pay attention because that’s what the next step of the SMART model of goal setting deals with.


R — (Relevant)

Is your goal relevant ENOUGH?

Note that I said relevant “ENOUGH”. I didn’t ask you if your goal is relevant. On some certain level, every goal you set will be relevant. But you should ask if the goal is relevant enough. So, I’ll ask the question again;

Is your goal relevant ENOUGH?

The answer is either yes or no.

If no, delete that goal from your list of goals. Because chances are that you won’t follow through, or act on that goal.

If yes, then ask yourself why it is relevant enough. Because chances are that those reasons will motivate you to complete that goal.

Emotional Relevance

To figure all this out, ask yourself what’s at stake. What have you got to lose if you fail to achieve this particular goal? What do you stand to gain if you achieve it?

Think about your immediate and extended family members for a second. What do they stand to gain? Think about the world around you for a second. What does that world stand to gain?

A study conducted on students has shown that we are far more likely to monitor our tasks and goals and stick with it if we find it important.

And by the way, nobody can answer this question for you. You are the only one that will know how relevant a certain goal is to your life.

The more relevant that goal is, the more motivated you’ll be to achieve that goal.

Most people use the word Realistic to represent the R in the SMART model. But I don’t like that word. I feel like it is somehow limiting.

Limiting in the sense that if great men of the past had always been putting “reality checks” on their goals, we wouldn’t live in the marvelous world we live in today.

Forget about using smartphones and the internet; there won’t be electricity.

If Edison and JFK had been realistic

Imagine it for a second if Edison had said; inventing the electric light bulb is not realistic. So instead, I will go forth and invent a candle that uses gas.

When we wanted to put man on the moon, the goal of NASA at that particular time was not realistic because it had never been done before.

Now, imagine President JFK coming in front of the Congress and saying “I thought about putting man on the moon last night, but no, I’ll make a trip to China because going to the moon is not realistic right now”.

It is important that you grasp this concept of not putting “reality checks” on your goals all the time. So important that Edwin Locke did research and found that if your goals are specific and really challenging, you will achieve them 90% of the time.

Some goals won’t prompt you to use your imagination. And without imagination, the motivational hormones in you won’t be secreted.

And not only will these types of goals kill your imagination, Locke and Latham showed that you have a lower chance of achieving those types of goals.

Being realistic doesn’t mean being easy

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all your goals should be big and unrealistic. You might have no need to set unrealistic goals throughout your life. What you want to avoid is using the “reality check” factor to set easy goals.

I want you to know that on a quantum and subatomic level, humans are capable of achieving anything as long as that “anything” is really relevant to us.

And at the same time, goals that are challenging in relation to our current reality will really engage our emotions and thereby motivate us.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win” — John F. Kennedy

So, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter how big or small your goal is. It doesn’t matter how realistic or far-fetched your goal is. All that matters is how relevant that goal is to YOU and what are the reasons that make that goal relevant to you.

Case study continued

This is the stage where I state why buying the brand new black Mercedes Benz C140 is important to me. I will also consider what I have to gain/lose at this stage of my goal setting.

One little tweak I will apply here is that I’ll write this as my second sentence. I will put it before my actionable plan.

  • I want to buy a brand new black Mercedes Benz C180 2017 model. It is important that I achieve this goal because it will bring ease to my family. My wife will be able to use it for grocery shopping rather than taking the bus. I will also enjoy the comfort that the car will provide for me while I’m commuting to work. The cost of the car is $xxx. I will have to take out a car loan with xxx bank and at the same time increase my monthly earnings by $1000. I can leverage my xxx skills by sourcing for freelance work on upwork. I will also have to learn how to use upwork.

T — (Time-bound)

In the SMART system of goal setting, this is where you set the time you would like to achieve the goal by. These are often referred to as deadlines.

Deadlines for goals are very important because it creates a sense of urgency in you. That sense of urgency will eventually lead to the secretion of some hormones that will trigger the genius parts of your brain.

Ideally, the bigger the goal, the longer it will take to achieve it. But there is no way to accurately deduce how long it will take to complete a goal.

Some goals are so big that they transcend a lifetime. Some goals can take generations to complete.

Ideal Deadlines should be not too short and not too long

When it comes to putting “time-stamps” on your goals, you have to be very careful. You don’t want to allocate too long a time on a goal to avoid being lazy and procrastinating.

Also, you don’t want to allocate a time that’s too short, not to put unnecessary pressure on yourself.

Your job is to find the middle ground between those two points of time.

The best way you can get an idea of how much time you’ll need is to do a thorough self-evaluation. Look at your plans and your abilities and give a time that will cater to both.

Also, if you are lucky and you were able to find someone that has previously achieved what you’re about to do, make an estimate of roughly how long it took them.

Ultimately, when you want to assign a deadline to goals, take a look at the resources available and make a fair allocation.

In order not to get stuck up on time allocation and deadlines, you can set your time-limits on something called milestones.

How do you do this?

You can go back to the step where you designed the plan of achieving the goals. Break the plan up into smaller chunks or segments. Each segment will serve as a milestone. So, instead of setting the time on the whole goal, set the time you want to complete each milestone.

This is referred to as “now deadlines” according to Amy Morin of Forbes.

A note of warning about deadlines

Please, never ever be a deadline pusher. Don’t start extending originally set deadlines. If you start doing this, it will become a habit.

But I highly doubt you will be a victim of this if your goals were Relevant enough in the first place.

Case Study continued

If I were to think about the ideal time I want to complete my goal of buying a brand new black Mercedes Benz c180 2017 model, I would look at my present finances, my projected additional finance, the time it will take to learn a new skill (if that’s the case), and I’ll use those to set “milestone deadlines” or “now deadlines”.

So, I will write my goal as;

  • I want to buy a brand new black Mercedes Benz C180 2017 model. It is important that I achieve this goal because it will bring a much-needed convenience to my family’s life. My wife will be able to use it for grocery shopping rather than taking the bus. I will also enjoy the comfort that the car will provide for me while I’m commuting to work. The cost of the car is $xxx. I will have to take out a car loan with xxx bank and at the same time increase my monthly earnings by $1000. I can leverage my xxx skills by sourcing for freelance work on upwork. I will also have to learn how to use upwork. I must have secured the loan by the end of January. I must have learned how to use Upwork by the middle of February. I must have put up my ad and my CV at Upwork by the end of February. I must start paying back 5% of the loan by the end of April.

The SMARTER system of goal setting

Most posts will tell you to set SMART goals and just stop at that. So, most posts will end right here. After all, we are done setting a goal that’s SMART.

But, don’t stop at that, better yet, make your goals SMARTER.

E — Evaluate

This additional step is quite crucial. This is the step where you do the evaluation of your goals.

Evaluate your progress; evaluate your plans for achieving the goals. Evaluation can be done on a daily or weekly basis.

When you evaluate your goals, you find out what is working and what’s not. You find out where you have to apply more effort and where you have to improve your skills.

R — Readjust

Do you know it’s completely normal to have a need to readjust/pivot along the way when you are working on your goals?

Did you know that youtube started out as a video-based dating service initially? And after all, Twitter started as a network where you can search for and subscribe to podcasts.

Pinterest was originally called Tote. It was a service which allowed people to browse for their favorite retailers. These retailers will now send the users updates when their products were available.

I could go on and on about historical readjustments.

Sometimes in life, unexpected events happen. So, in order to protect your goals, sometimes you need to readjust.

When you have done a critical evaluation of your goals, and you are still hitting brick walls, maybe it’s time to readjust your approach or readjust the goal itself.

Go back to the relevance and the plan you’ve built around the goal. If there are some things that need readjusting, do it. If you need to change the goal altogether, then do it.

Pop quiz: SMART goal setting process

It’s time to put all that you’ve been learning so far into practice. Just reading and reading without taking action on what you’ve learned is meaningless and

To know and not to do is not to know — Stephen Covey

Before you start setting your personal SMART goals, I want you to take some time and do this short exercise.

Follow the step I’ve outlined and used in the case study to write down SMART goals from the following goals;

  • I want to earn more money monthly
  • I want to lose weight

You can share the answers you got in this pop quiz with us in the comment section.

Hope you are now convinced, and at the same time, competent on making your next goals SMARTER

If you made it to this point in the post, I have no doubt that you have the willingness and ability to turn your goals into smart goals. The smart goals should eventually become smarter goals.

This will help you to achieve any goal you have.

Make sure you read those goals every day. Make sure you emotionalize those goals and make sure you keep acting on them.