3 Steps to Writing Smart Goals

Have you heard that if you want to have success meeting your goals that they need to be SMART goals?  Wonder what on earth that means and how to do it? 

Three Steps to Smart Goals

What are SMART Goals?

The acronym SMART  commonly stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound.  It originally stood for different things as it was designed for management of others in a large corporation (see on Wikipedia) , but it has been adapted to help individuals meet their own business goals and personal goals. It strains a bit in its clarity and conciseness because it’s trying to be an acronym, but by discussing the points you can learn alot about how to set good goals.

So what does SMART really mean?


Goals need to be specific.   You can’t just say you want to climb a mountain.  You need to say which mountain.  Vague, abstract goals can be frustrating because you can’t ever truly know you have achieved them.  

Abstract goals can be helpful in providing vision and motivation when you connect them to your concrete goals see Abstract vs. Concrete Goals. 

Specifics make it possible to make a plan to achieve your goal.


Measurable is really just part of being specific about your goal.  This is where you make sure that your specific goal has some sort of measurable way to define progress and completion.  In the case of a mountain climb, it just means that you made it to the top of the mountain.  In the case of ‘I want to be financially secure’ it might mean “$1000 in my emergency fund”.


This is a big one.  We often create big goals for ourselves that really are more like dreams.  There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, but if you create a goal to do something that can’t be done you are only setting yourself up for disaster.  There’s nothing wrong with dreaming.  And there’s nothing wrong with working towards dreams.  But make your actual goals something that you can achieve in the short term.  

A good way to simplify a dream down to an achievable goal is to ask why. I want to be a billionaire by the end of the year is likely not achievable.  That’s a dream.  It’s a nice dream.  But what is it rooted in?  Why do you want to be a billionaire?  Because you want a better house?  Because you want a new car?  Figure out a goal that builds towards your dream.  And then make that an achievable goal.  I want to be a billionaire – I want to drive a Maserati to work – I want to drive a new car to work – I want to save $40,000 for a new car.  Actually driving a new car to work feels a lot better than dreaming about the Maserati!  

Make sure your goal is something that you have power over.  ‘Make someone fall in love with me’ isn’t a good goal as you can’t control other people’s feelings.  Even ‘go on two dates a month’ may not be actually achievable because you have to get other people to say yes!  But ‘ask 2 people a week to go out’ is entirely within your control – as long as you actually see 2 people a week!


This is a big one that lots of people get wrong.  You need to set goals that lead to achieving what matters most to you.  That shouldn’t seem so hard right?  But how often do you get caught up in what everyone else is doing?

For example, you want to be healthier.  Do you immediately assume that means that you need to lose 10 pounds?  Everyone is always bombarded with weight loss advice.  Lots of people you know are likely already on a diet.  Is losing weight really the thing that is going to make you healthier?  Have you thought about what it means to you to be healthier?  Perhaps it means to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath. Perhaps it means to have clearer skin.  Perhaps it means to feel better about what you eat.  Make sure your goal is relevant to what YOU want to change in your life.

Time Bound

This  has two parts:

1) Give yourself a deadline. 

If you don’t give yourself a deadline you will be tempted to procrastinate and never get around to achieving your goal.  Having goals drag on year after year is demoralizing, right?  If you have a really big goal, break it down into separate chunks that have more motivating deadlines.  You need those intermediate goals to help you see and celebrate your progress.   

2) Make sure you have time in your schedule to work on it.

Is this actually a good time to start working on your goal?  Do you have any other goals you are trying to achieve as well?  Are you stuffing your schedule with too many things that are important to you?  I wouldn’t decide to write a novel on maternity leave, you’ve got a baby to start on it’s life and a body to heal!  Your goals should respect all that you have going on in your life.

How to write a pretty simple goal in just 3 steps

Despite the help that the SMART acronym provides, I think there is a better way to approach setting goals.  No fancy acronym, just 3 steps to writing smart goals.

Make it Relevant

You need to know what your dreams and vision are for your life.  What are those abstract goals you have floating around in your head?  Sit down and envision what your perfect day or perfect week would look like.  What are you doing, who is there?  How is your life right now different from what your perfect day is?  

Write down one concrete thing that would move your current life towards that perfect life.  This will align your concrete goal with your abstract goal.  If you don’t know whether your goal is concrete or abstract, read this.

Most importantly, make sure you are not using other people’s goals for your life. Make sure you know exactly why you want to achieve the goal you are setting.  You might want to try playing The Why Game.

Make it Reasonable

Are you expecting too much of yourself?

I know the world is screaming at you to ‘go for it’ and ‘be all that you can be’.  Be kind to yourself.  The purpose of setting goals is to do things that you want to do.  To do the things that will make you happy or help you create the life you want. Don’t be afraid to set big goals, but also don’t set giant goals that will take forever to achieve.  It is far better to set a small subgoal on the path to a giant goal and achieve it. You can then move forward a little further on the path with your next subgoal. 

Do you have just one goal?

It is far better to actually meet one goal than to set three and meet none.  

Respect the season of your life and know your priorities.  Women often feel that they must ‘have it all’.  We strive to be the all-in career woman, the all-in mom,  while training for a marathon and starting a business.  Take a piece of paper and write down the next 20-30 years of your life.  Imagine what you want to be doing in those years.   Can some of your dreams wait?  Are some more important to get done right now?

If you really want to make progress on several areas of your life at once, truly accept that overall progress will be slower.  Set those goals small so you can achieve them.  Are you willing to accept the fact that you won’t do any of them as well as if you only had one focus? Really really try to pick just one! 

Do you have reasonable expectations of your time and energy?

Write down all the things that you do in a day right now.  Spend the time to map out how your day really goes.  

What kind of time do you actually have to devote to something new?  

What are you willing to remove from your life to make the space for this new goal?  If this is something that will make your life better, it’s worth removing something from your life that doesn’t.

Make it Simply Specific

Write that goal down as simply as you can while still including all the specifics.  How would you explain what you want to do to a child? Your grandmother? The cashier who is checking out your groceries?  Is there anything missing that is necessary to know that you’ve reached your goal?

Goals don’t happen without a plan.  You can’t make a plan without knowing exactly what it is that you want to achieve.  Make sure your goal is super specific and has a simple, clear way to know that you’ve achieved it.  

You will need that simple statement of your goal to take the next step towards making your goal happen.  

Make a Plan to Make It Happen!

Now that you’ve written out your goal, check out my post But I Just Don’t Know Where to Start!  for the next step towards achieving your goal!

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