Smart goals are specific, measurable, actionable, reachable, and time-based.

Creating SMART Goals

I talk a lot about goals around here. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that my life is filled with goals. I have goals for the year, I have lifetime goals (my flux list), and I have monthly goals. Whenever I make a new goal, I try to make sure that I am creating SMART goals.

The secret sauce for SMART goals

While I do aim for goals that are lowercase smart, I also aim to make goals that made of a super secret sauce. S.M.A.R.T. goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Reachable
  • Time-based

Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for the SMART goal criteria. In fact people talk about the SMART criteria in lot of different fields, such as project management, business, employee evaluations, and user experience design (my field!).

So let’s break each of these characteristics down and see what I mean by SMART goals, so you can start making your own today.


Being specific is your first step to creating a goal that is SMART. By being specific, you are giving yourself a more defined goal. Having a more defined goal makes it more clear what you will need to do to achieve your goal. By being more specific, you are also giving yourself concrete boundaries, which will help guide what you will need to do to achieve your goal.

Not specific: Learn a language.

Specific: Learn German.

In this example, learning a language is a good goal. But there are countless languages out there that you could learn! By narrowing down to a specific language, you’re on your way to creating a SMART goal.


A good goal is measurable. When you can measure a goal, you can more easily track and confirm that you have achieved it. Whether your goal involves a particular number, quality or frequency, you’ll be able to gauge when you have and haven’t achieved it.

Not measurable: Learn German.

Measurable: Learn enough German to carry out a simple conversation.

“Learn German” could mean anything from being able to say Hi (Hallo!) to being able to speak with near fluency. By adding a clause about the level of German that you would like to achieve, you are making your goal measurable and thus easier to gauge when you have achieved that goal.


An actionable goal is one that has a clear next step or path to achieving the goal. If there are many paths to achieving a goal, making an actionable goal will help you pinpoint which to pursue.

Not actionable: Learn enough German to carry out a simple conversation.

Actionable: Take an introductory German course to learn enough German to carry out a simple conversation.

In the first example, you may not know where to start in learning how to speak German. By noting how you will learn German, you are making it very clear what your first action should be: sign up for an introductory German course!


While it’s important to have stretch goals, it’s also important to make sure that even if it’s a challenge to reach a particular goal, at the end of the day it is in fact reachable. You also need to consider outside factors when you are making your goals. You may be able to reach a goal under certain circumstances, but if those would require a major change to your lifestyle or circumstances, you may want to think about how reachable that goal will be.

Not reachable: Become as fluent as a native German language speaker.

Reachable: Achieve advanced to near fluency in the German language.

The first example is a trick! Unless you’re under the age of seven when you sign up for your introductory German course, you will never be able to achieve the fluency of a native German speaker. However, with a lot of practice and dedication (and, most likely, immersion), you could achieve near fluency. If you don’t have a lot of time or see yourself immersing yourself with native speakers, you may want to consider aiming for intermediate or advanced language skills. Again, the trick is to challenge yourself without automatically setting yourself up for failure and frustration.


Without identifying a time period by which or during which you wish to achieve your goal, it can become easy to procrastinate. “Oh, I’ll work on that tomorrow,” is easy to say when your goal is open-ended. Adding a time constraint helps ensure that you don’t keep pushing off your goal until tomorrow.

Not time-based: Achieve advanced to near fluency in the German language by speaking with native speakers.

Time-based: Achieve advanced to near fluency in the German language by speaking with native speakers by the end of my study abroad program.

By setting a time goal, such as the end of a study abroad program, you are giving yourself a set amount of time in which to achieve your goal. Without this kind of constraint (and motivation), it could take you years!

Creating SMART goals optimizes your chance for success

Smart goals optimize your chance for success and set you up for making a plan to achieve them. They help you identify the constraints you’re working within and can help guide you in making the best decisions as to how to achieve them.

As you can see, by using the SMART formula I was able to take a fairly vague goal and turn it into something that is specific, measurable, actionable, reachable and time-based. By editing my goal and making it a SMART goal, I have a clear path forward and know exactly what is needed to achieve my goal.

Of course, the trick to creating SMART goals is finding the balance between your greatest aspirations and reality. Once you’ve done that, you can create goals that are challenging, yet achievable.

 What SMART goals are you cooking up lately? Will the SMART system change your approach to goal-making?

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