How to be successful by setting SMART goals

We all want to be more successful and we talk about setting goals, targets or objectives for ourselves to work towards but they need to be properly focused to be successful. In this post I’m going to look at the SMART model first introduced by Doran, Miller and Cunningham in 1981. This is a simple model that we can use to help us create goals that we’re more likely to stick with; are more likely to be successful. Many people will already know the acronym SMART, but for those unfamiliar with it, SMART stands for:


By working through an objective, taking each element in turn, we will be more focused and increase our likelihood of success. For the benefit of this post, I’m going to work with an example to help contextualise what we’re trying to do when using SMART objectives.


The more specific and targeted your goal can be the better. This means you are more likely to be succesful with your goal as you’ll have a clear idea of what you’re working towards. For example, I want to drink more water – but as a goal this is quite vague. We can make it more specific by saying I will drink 8 glasses of water. We could go into more detail, to say how I will drink more water – eg carry a water bottle when I travel; have water on the table/desk when I’m working etc. The more detailed you can be when creating your goal the more likely you will be to stick with it. It has also been suggested that writing down your goals rather than simply expressing them in your head will also increase the likelihood of success.


When creating goals, its important that we are able to clearly see when we have been successful. Returning to the example, drinking more water is not really quantifiable, we can’t measure our success. However, by saying I will drink 8 glasses of water, I can count them out and at the end of the day I can check and confirm have I drunk my 8 glasses? Have I achieved my goal – yes or no? So measurable is important as it allows us to see success. For many, being able to tick off the glasses of water and see progress and success can be motivating.

Its important with this element that you are clear about what success will look like for you, but also be clear about what is and isn’t success. Another example I use regularly in teaching is if you write an objective for the course, is your success criteria completing the course or passing the qualification and achieving the certificate. Completion does not necessarily mean that you will have passed all the classes, but for some people, to have persevered and reached the end of the course (albeit not passing) could be an achievement for them, but most people mean successful completion of the course, not simply reaching the end.


I’m putting these two together as they overlap and work together so closely and unless you’re writing an essay about SMART goals, you simply need to know how to use them to help you create goals that are going to work effectively.

For our goals to be achievable and realistic we should be thinking do I have the skills, resources etc to complete the task and is it feasible to achieve what we’re trying to do? Is drinking 8 glasses of water a day something we can do? Do we have access to clean, drinking water? Do we have a cup/glass to drink from? Are we physically capable of holding and drinking from the cup? Also, is it realistic to drink all the glasses of water within the timescale – yes, to do it in a day, but could we drink that much water in one hour? I can and do regularly drink this amount of water; but what about you? While, you may be able to drink all the water, if you normally drink lots of fizzy drinks or coffee etc, how realistic would it be for you to replace most if not all of those drinks with water? It might be unrealistic for you. Eight glasses might be achievable, but not realistic. We know 8 glasses of water is provided as a good universal target to work towards, but maybe your goals need to be stepping stones to get to that target – maybe only managing 4 glasses initially and building up to the full 8 over time.

Its important, therefore that our goals are achievable and realistic.


This has been touched on already, throughout the discussion above. When looking at the other aspects, we have also considered timelines – drinking 8 glasses of water within 24 hours. When setting our target goal, its important to ensure that its specific, realistic and achievable, and that we attach a timeframe to that; a timescale within which we complete our task. We are more likely to be successful if we know we have to complete something before a certain date – a deadline. The elements do overlap, as you should make sure that the timescale you are attaching to your goal is achievable and realistic.


I hope that the outline I have provided of SMART objectives will be useful to you. Goals we set in our daily lives and in the workplace give us focus. Making those goals SMART will help with the achievement of tasks and objectives and should make your jobs easier.

Its not part of the formal SMART structure, but to improve or further enhance your likely success, it will also be beneficial to monitor and review your progress, reflecting on what’s working, not working and how you might adapt what you’re doing to achieve your plans.

I’d love to hear of your experiences working with SMART goals and how they’re helping you to develop your own organisation skills.

Good luck with your SMART Goals.

To help keep you motivated, sign up for my blog notifications while I head to the kitchen for a glass of water.


  1. Ah, Brenda! One of my all-time favorite teaching tools! I think the acronym is easy for students (well, anyone) to remember and it doesn’t matter what the situation is or the goal…the SMART approach works! Thanks for the reminder. 😉

  2. Smart goals are the bomb. My scumbag brain doesn’t do well with vagueness, so it gets easily overwhelmed. But tiny specific goals? Now that it can handle. Almost like playing a game. Thanks for keeping this topic alive!

    • Thanks Stuart. I have another couple of related posts in the pipeline, but thought this was a good place to start

  3. We never really adopted SMART. Saw it on a few training courses but when you don’t use something often it doesn’t sink in. It wasn’t inherent often enough in our profession. Great explanatory read here though. All the best Brenda.

    • Thanks Gray. I tend to embed it when I’m teaching CPD. it’s good to have clear, specific objectives (smart goals)

      • True. I can’t remember our format questions re:CPD. It was a Powys Health Board format. Question based. Our submissions were then reflected a year down the line. ‘What are your aims this year?’ ‘How do you see yourself achieving them?’ That sort of basic. Cheers Brenda.

  4. I feel like SMART goals are great to have in your personal life – when YOU choose to set them. They hold you accountable and give you some sort of guardrails that help lead you forward. However, when asked to come up with SMART goals at work, I groan. There’s so much of the dog an pony show in there that it defeats the purpose.

  5. I think even at work we should have control of our objectives, setting them ourselves, but I know it might not always be possible. I have a great manager who gives us space to determine our own goals… they are agreed, but we can determine the specifics

Leave a Reply