The Ultimate Guide to Setting SMART Goals

What do you really want from life?

We’re all filled with dreams and aspirations. Most long for fulfilling relationships. Some desire financial independence. Others want fame and success. And some strive for perfect health.

Wherever your ambitions may lie, goal setting can get you there. On the other hand, the wrong goal can leave you feeling frustrated and unmotivated. When you set a goal that’s too lofty, it’s easy to give up when your dreams don’t turn into reality.

We all have important milestones we’d like to reach. The trick is to create a plan and commit to it. Writing SMART goals can help you do this.

It’s easy to set a series of SMART goals. Simply write down a desired outcome on a piece of paper and create a deadline for achieving it.

The hard part is taking action. As you know, the Internet is full of books that talk about setting goals. The problem? Most don’t talk about the daily actions (or habits) required to achieve them.

So on this page, you will discover our best blog posts about setting SMART goals and how to implement this strategy throughout your life.

First, let’s start with a simple definition.

What are SMART Goals?

The key to effective goal-setting practice is to define exactly what you’re seeking to do. It is not enough to say, “I want to be rich.” This vague statement doesn’t say anything about how and when the outcome will be achieved. In fact, it doesn’t even clarify what you mean by the term “rich” and what, according to you, is “poor.”

You can’t create an action plan if you don’t have a clear description of your desired outcome. The solution? Write down a goal with specific objectives. And that’s where SMART goal setting comes in.

George Doran first used the SMART acronym in the November 1981 issue of the Management Review.

It stands for:  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Here’s how it works:

S: Specific

Specific goals answer your six “W” questions: who, what, where, when, which and why.

When you can identify each element, you’ll know which tools (and actions) are required to reach a goal.

  • Who: Who is involved?
  • What: What do you want to accomplish?
  • Where: Where will you complete the goal?
  • When: When do you want to do it?
  • Which: Which requirements and constraints might get in your way?
  • Why: Why are you doing it?

Specificity is important because when you reach these milestones (date, location and objective), you’ll know for certain you have achieved your goal.

M: Measurable

Measurable goals are defined with precise times, amounts, or other units—essentially anything that measures progress toward a goal.

Creating measurable goals makes it easy to determine if you have progressed from point A to point B. Measureable goals also help you figure out when you're headed in the right direction and when you're not. Generally, a measurable goal statement answers questions starting with “how,” such as “how much,” “how many” and “how fast.”

A: Attainable

Attainable goals stretch the limits of what you think is possible. While they’re not impossible to complete, they’re often challenging and full of obstacles. The key to creating an attainable goal is to look at your current life and set an objective that seems slightly beyond your reach. That way, even if you fail, you still accomplish something of significance.

R: Relevant

Relevant goals focus on what you truly desire. They are the exact opposite of inconsistent or scattered goals. They are in harmony with everything that is important in your life, from success in your career to happiness with the people you love.

T: Time-bound

Time-bound goals have specific deadlines. You are expected to achieve your desired outcome before a target date. Time-bound goals are challenging and grounding. You can set your target date for today, or you can set it for a few months, a few weeks or a few years from now. The key to creating a time-bound goal is to set a deadline you’ll meet by working backward and developing habits (more on this later).

SMART goals are clear and well-defined. There is no doubt about the result you want to achieve. At its deadline, you’ll know if you have or haven’t achieved a particular goal.

[Sidenote: To learn the differences between Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and SMART Goals, read this post.]

Now, the wording of a goal is especially important. Focus on the right thing and you can do amazing things. When you focus on the wrong things, you might lose your motivation to achieve a goal.  That’s why you should focus on process goals instead of outcome goals, which is covered in this blog post.

Examples of SMART Goals Throughout Your Life

You’ll find that when you set goals for every area of your life, each goal supports the others and transforms you into a well-rounded person. So it would be a mistake to focus on just one dimension (like finance or business) and neglect the other areas.

Our advice is to set goals for all seven areas of your life:

  1. Career Goals
  2. Finance Goals
  3. Health Goals
  4. Leisure Goals
  5. Personal Growth Goals
  6. Relationship Goals
  7. Spirituality Goals

Now, if you want to see specific examples, then check out our blog post on the 35 SMART goals you can set throughout your life.

How to Set a SMART Goal

It’s not hard to set a SMART goal.  In fact, here is a simple four-step process you can use to get started.

Step 1: Try to set goals for some (or all) of the seven areas that we just mentioned, which will help you achieve that perfect work-life balance.   Again, be sure to check out the above post if you want to see 35 specific examples of the different types of goals you can set.

Step 2: Pick up to five goals for the next 90 days (or quarter.)  To learn more, watch this video which talks about the importance of quarterly goals and the five steps for setting them:

Step 3: Turn your goals into the SMART format and write them down.  To help you get started, we have a variety of worksheets and tools you can use for your goal setting efforts:

  1. A printable SMART goal worksheet.  (Click or tap this link to download our worksheet to your preferred device.)
  2. SMART goal worksheets.  If you prefer something else, here are four alternative worksheets you can use.
  3. Free SMART goals templates. If neither of the above options suit your needs, we recently published a blog post that profiles 11 SMART goal templates created by other websites.
  4. Goal setting planners. If you’re a highly motivated person who likes to keep a history of your goals, then we recommend purchasing one of the nine goal planners listed here.
  5. Goal setting apps.  If you prefer a digital option, here are nine goal setting apps and trackers. One thing: Some of these apps don’t use the SMART format, so you might have to do a little digging to find one that matches your personal preference.

Step #4: Turn your goals into habits. Now, one of the major flaws with setting goals is it’s hard to figure out the daily process of how to achieve them. The unpleasant truth is that while setting goals can be fun, the doing part often requires a daily slog of repeating the same action over and over.

That’s why the final step of the process is to learn how to turn your SMART goals into habits. So watch this video to discover the five-step process that will help you take action on your goals:

That’s all you have to do to create SMART goals throughout your life!

Now, if you want to see more examples, then the next section will showcase a variety of blog posts that cover how SMART goals can be used in a variety of careers and personal situations.

Specific Types of SMART Goals Examples

Here is a list of our best blog post about the different ways SMART goals can be used:

smart goals | how to write smart goals | setting your smart goals guide
The Ultimate Guide to Setting SMART Goals