Goals are an essential part towards creating a meaningful and intrinsically-rewarding life. Goals motivate us to work hard and to be our best and happiest selves. Every day we make goals, from having a goal to make an omelette for breakfast, to having a goal to attend a club’s social event you want to be at, and working hard to achieve even larger and longer goals of a dream career or particular living condition. For these large goals especially, forming them to be a SMART(ER) goal can create clarity in your end-objective and the process to get there, recenter you towards achieving your goal, and determine how to effectively allocate your resources to achieve the goal.
What are SMART(ER) Goals?
A SMART(ER) goal is a particular type of goal built from the SMART framework with the addition of two new aspects, Evaluated and Reviewed, that create a SMART(ER) goal. A SMART(ER) goal consists of 7 aspects (people have different ideas of what each letter should mean; the most-accepted term is shown first):
- Specific (significant, sensible, simple)
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
- Achievable (agreed, attainable)
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)
- Time-bound (time based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive)
Specify your goal so it is clear and distinct. The goal is specific to a particular wish or desired-accomplishment. There are five questions you should ask yourself in specifying your goal:
- What do I want to achieve?
- Why is this goal important?
- Who is involved?
- Where is it located?
- Which resources or restraints are involved?
Example: Imagine you are a fundraising director for a local nonprofit, and you would like to create a fundraising goal. A specific goal for this could be, “I want my team and I to receive funds from donors in the Madison area to further our organization’s philanthropic initiatives.”
An important component of creating effective goals is its measurability. The measurability of a goal defines how the goal will be tracked and when the goal will be achieved. Being able to measure a goal and periodically assess its progress can keep you motivated and focused, help you meet your deadlines, and feel the enthusiasm of getting closer to accomplishing your goal. A measurable goal answers these questions:
- How much/many?
- How will I know when it is accomplished?
Example: As the fundraising director, you may make your goal measurable by setting a monetary objective (let’s say $27,000). Once you reach this threshold or above, you will know you have achieved the goal.
In addition to your goal being specific and measurable, it needs to be realistic and attainable to be successful. The goal challenges you but still remains possible. When you set an achievable goal, you may be able to identify previously unnoticed opportunities or resources that can bring you closer to it. An achievable goal will usually answer these questions:
- How can I accomplish this goal?
- How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints (such as financial factors)?
Example: In working towards receiving $27,000 in donations, you need to evaluate if the amount is achievable by the target date (see “Time-bound”). In addition, you must devise ways to actually achieve the goal; in this case, you may decide to fundraise door-to-door, call previous donors, host several fundraising events, and make Instagram promotions. With these ideas, determine if there are constraints that prevent you from fulfilling the idea; such as in-person restrictions that will make fundraising events difficult to host.
This aspect, relevance, is about ensuring that your goal matters to you, and aligns with your other relevant goals. We all need support and assistance in accomplishing our goals, but it is important to maintain control over them. This is so that your plans motivate everyone to move forward, but also so that you are still responsible for achieving your own goal. A relevant goal answers “yes” to these questions:
- Does this seem worthwhile?
- Is this the right time?
- Does this match our other efforts/needs?
- Am I the right person to attain this goal?
- Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?
Example: You may want to raise money for your organization, but is it the right time to do so? Does the economic environment make it so people can donate money, or do they need to save because it is unstable? Does the organization need the money for an upcoming project early next year, or will the money sit unused for a period of time? Am I mentally and physically prepared to lead this initiative?
Hinted upon in “Achievable”, a goal needs to have a target date that you can focus on and work towards. The time-bound aspect enforces the concept of prioritization so that everyday tasks do not take priority over your longer-term goals. With the deadline, you know what you must accomplish and can plan milestones throughout the period to complete the goal over time and on-time. A time-bound goal will usually answer these questions:
- When will the goal be accomplished?
- What can I do six months from now?
- What can I do six weeks from now?
- What can I do today?
Example: Currently, October is just about to begin. You decide to make the target date to accomplish this goal December 31st. So, you have three months to acquire $27,000 in donations until the said target date. You set milestone goals based on what you believe you can accomplish each month and decide to work towards receiving $9,000 each of the three months.
Evaluating your progress of the goal throughout the process towards achieving it and afterwards. Evaluation can lead to informative conclusions that you can then use to influence and improve how you accomplish goals in the future. An evaluated goal will answer these questions:
- Did we achieve our goal?
- What worked well?
- What did not work well?
- What were some setbacks to progress?
- What were some boosts to progress?
Example: Assume in our example it is now January. You have achieved your goal and raised $32,000! When evaluating how you accomplished this goal with your team, you determine that calling previous donors and door-to-door fundraising worked best and that hosting fundraisers were more difficult and yielded less turnout because of the pandemic. A boost to your progress was when two previous donors donated a large sum of money.
The reviewed aspect works with the evaluated aspect as the outcomes from your evaluation and the current goal will then be reviewed to create a new goal. A reviewed goal should answer these questions:
- What is our next goal?
- What changes will we make to our process for future goals?
- How can we prevent the setbacks from occurring again?
Example: As the fundraising director, you will use this experience and accomplished goal to influence what your next goal will be. Maybe you will decide from your evaluations you will not host fundraisers for the next goal and just do what worked before. Regardless, you will review this goal and make a better SMART(ER) goal from it.
Although our example was of a fundraising director, you can apply the SMART(ER) goal model to any goal you create, whether it be a personal goal, a work goal, or anything else. The SMART component consists of aspects to make your goal specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Optionally, but also important, are the evaluated and reviewed aspects that make your current goal, and future ones smarter than before.
If you have any questions about making SMART(ER) goals, receive support from one of our Study Skills Specialists. Learn more at guts.wisc.edu/study/ss.
Also, our World Language Learners Program Coordinator, Sam Miller, created a helpful worksheet called the GUTS Goal Setting Worksheet which you may find useful in developing your SMART(ER) goals:
Written by Cole Navin
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*This is an opinion post. While the topics described here are mostly based on research, please keep in mind not to assume all of the information described above is factual.
Receive support in creating SMART(ER) goals from one of our Study Skills Specialists. Sign-up for a 1:1 appointment at guts.wisc.edu/study/ss.