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How to set SMART goals for success

By Katie Quirk | 03 March 2021


We’ve probably all been guilty of it - setting out to complete a new project and halfway through, losing sight of our overall objectives before letting priorities fall by the wayside. 

In saying that, on the journey to success the biggest challenge is often finding ways to proactively monitor progress rather than focussing solely on the end result.

According to many corporate psychologists and career coaches, including the likes of world renowned motivational speaker Tony Robbins, setting SMART goals are beneficial in constructing an action plan to help keep you on the right trajectory toward success.

In this article, we will look at what the SMART components are, examples of how to integrate them into your business model and how they can help you achieve your ultimate, final goal.

Why are SMART goals important?

Research shows that, in addition to the 98% of entrepreneurs who never achieve their goals, 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% in their second year and 60% in their fifth year. Even in the tenth year of business, a whopping 70% of small companies close their doors.

Importantly, setting SMART goals can enable you to be more purposeful with your time and effort and also act as the ultimate driver for living with greater intent, which in turn helps to facilitate better chances of success.

S is for SPECIFIC

Personally, being specific in terms of planning for success is probably the most daunting part of SMART goal setting for me; I’m very much a big picture person and hashing out the nitty gritty details can always feel a little tedious and overwhelming.

However, it is such an important foundation for the remaining letters of the SMART acronym.

To be effective in goal setting, you need to be specific in your planning and strategy.

Asking yourself the right questions will also help you think in a manner that is constructive, appropriately focused and within the context of your objectives.

For example, broaching the following can really assist in honing in on what exactly you and/or your team need to do to achieve the final goal:
  • What needs to be accomplished; what’s the objective?
  • Who (what team) is responsible for completing or driving this task or project?
  • What steps will you or your team take to achieve it?

M is for MEASURABLE 

target in archery

Being able to apply a system that can help clarify and quantify your efforts is highly beneficial by allowing you to see how you are tracking in a tactile way, as well as providing reassurance that the plan you have in place is both measurable and functional.

Numbers don’t lie so finding a way to incorporate them into your “system for success” is valuable in monitoring progress.

For instance, a broad statement like “I want to add more clients to my portfolio” isn’t promoting the same accountability as saying, “I want to bring another five client accounts into the business within the next three months.” 

A is for ACHIEVABLE (or ATTAINABLE)

As exhilarating as it can feel to shoot for the stars or paint blue sky pictures, it’s important to be reasonable and manage your own expectations on your journey towards success.

From a young age, we are often encouraged to aim high, however, constantly instilling and nurturing that notion can sometimes be a gateway to disappointment, disillusionment and a feeling of resentment if lofty goals are simply not achievable.

There is nothing worse than inadvertently setting yourself up for failure because the criteria you’ve set for yourself (or your team) can’t be attained.

Instead, it’s about finding that just-right sweet spot; the target you feel comfortable and confident in hitting before calculating your next step forward.

R is for RELEVANT (or REALISTIC)

woman contemplating

We’ve all heard the saying “fortune favours the bold” and, while it is important to embrace tenacity and determination as vital elements in the success equation, it’s beneficial to be level-headed and clear sighted about it all.

Through the process of improving your current habits, establishing realistic, relevant and achievable goals that you are willing and able to work towards can help limit disappointments and discouragement.

As business guru, Jay Abraham once remarked, “you’ve got to know what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to do it and what your skill sets are.”

Goals need to be based on your current reality, rather than where you might see yourself in the future.

T is for TIME-BOUND (or TRACKABLE)

The final element of SMART goal setting is ensuring that you create a template for tracking your progress and/or setting a workable timeline to stick to.

By putting in place trackable benchmarks for achieving certain objectives by, it will help you stay the course and not feel overwhelmed by the bigger picture.

Being time-bound also creates accountability - if you haven’t achieved a goal by the deadline you set, it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on why the target couldn’t be reached (was it not reasonable or realistic? Did you not allow yourself enough time? Did more effort need to be applied?).

How to accomplish your goals

  1. Write down your goal - a study found that 42% of people who jot down their thoughts are more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t
  2. Set regular checkpoints - sitting down and seeing how you’re travelling is important for staying on track to success
  3. Celebrate your wins (big or small) - high fiving achievements and accomplishments is beneficial for maintaining motivation and boosting personal and team morale

DOs and DON’Ts of SMART goal setting

Do:
  • Be specific in your goal setting
  • Include your team members in company goals
  • Set stretch-goals that challenge team limitations
  • Select relevant goals that relate to your strategic planning
  • Set a timeframe to achieve your goals (regardless of what it is)
  • Be flexible and prepared to adjust goals when necessary
Don’t:
  • Allow vague goal setting habits
  • Make team or company-wide goals in silos (collaboration and inclusivity is important!)
  • Set unachievable goals that will lead to frustration
  • Chase attractive or irrelevant goals that may distract you or your team
  • Expect perfection
  • Lose sight of the bigger picture when setting project goals

Looking for more motivation to achieve your goals?

Be sure to subscribe and follow our SkillsTalk blog for more tips that focus on productivity, studying online and more. We post regular articles each week to keep you informed on the latest news, as well as advice to keep you motivated towards your goals.

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