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Last Updated on January 9, 2023 by Daniella
Do you know the difference between a dream and a goal?
When I first learned about goal setting, I set something super vague – like I want to improve at writing. That’s not exactly a goal; it’s more of a dream. And there’s nothing wrong with having dreams, but if you want to accomplish them, you’ll have to drive down and get more specific.
That’s where SMART goals fit in. A SMART goal is a goal that helps you realistically put together a game plan for your next steps and elevate any goals that you might have.
Whether you want to get a remote job, start a side hustle, pivot your career, make more money, or whatever it is, you’re going to need a plan to get there. That’s where SMART goals come in. They help you literally create that plan you need to reach your goals.
I put together this quick and dirty guide to help you improve your goal setting using the SMART goal method.
What is a SMART goal?
SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.
It’s a guidepost for your goal-setting adventures. I like to set it up with sticky notes across my desk to think about each section.
You can keep your SMART goals in a notebook like my college track coach made us do, a notes app, or anything you want to. Regardless, you should write down your SMART goals and keep them in mind.
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Set SPECIFIC goals
Wanting to be a better equestrian is a good dream – but it’s not exactly a goal. You want your goals to be specific. Specific goals are things like I want to be able to post with no stirrups. You can work toward it with a set goal in mind.
This is arguably the most critical aspect of SMART goal setting because it dictates the rest of the steps. You’ll be able to see if you’ve met your goal when you’ve met the specific thing you want to achieve. If I can’t post without stirrups, I haven’t met my goal yet.
Set MEASURABLE goals
Next, you’ll want to set measurable goals. A measurable goal is a goal that has some timed aspect to it. Instead of getting better at running, you’ll want to run an 8-minute mile. When you’ve hit the metric, you’ll know that you’ve hit your SMART goal.
Sometimes this could be time bound differently. Going back to my horseback riding example, I could say that I want to practice posting without stirrups for 30 minutes a day until I can ride consistently without stirrups for 30 minutes.
Both of these work. You just want to be able to measure progress.
Set ACHIEVABLE goals
I find this step to be the hardest because I have a perfectionist mentality, and it can be hard for me to step back from my goal-setting and say, “wow, that’s not really realistic for me.” But that’s huge for setting yourself up for success.
Think of achievable goals as goals you can reasonably reach with effort. I’m only 120 pounds. I’m not really going to be able to bench press 265 pounds, as cool as that would be. Instead, I need to start with something smaller, like benching the bar.
Pay special attention to this goal if you’re trying to set a goal for your business. Being too lofty with your business goals can set you up for failure and discouragement.
Set RELEVANT goals
I always thought this step felt redundant. Obviously, you want to set goals that make sense to you, but it can be important if you’re trying to achieve multiple things at a time. Choose to pursue things that make sense to you at the time.
If you’re trying to build a business with multiple prongs, as Daniella has at I Like to Dabble, you won’t want to set SMART goals for everything all at once. Frankly, that sounds exhausting. Instead, focus on one thing at a time.
At my personal brand, I’m choosing to focus on freelancing right now and will focus on my blog later. That’s me setting a relevant goal because I’m prioritizing what makes sense to me at the time.
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Set TIMELY goals
The best goals you can accomplish in a set amount of time. That way you don’t spend what feels like the rest of your life focusing on a single thing. I like to set up my goals in terms of 90 days. This probably comes from my background of horseback riding, because you can start a horse in 90 days. But that three-month measurement has served me well.
It might not be the most responsible time frame for some things. Think about the progress you want to make on your goal and what timeline works best for you. Then work off of that.
Let’s Put It All Together
Okay so we’ve seen all the aspects of SMART goal setting, but what does a SMART goal look like when it’s put all together? I’ll use my freelancing as an example.
SPECIFIC: I want to support my lifestyle by freelancing, so I need to make $2,500 a month freelancing.
MEASURABLE: I need to have 10 articles at $250 a month to make this possible.
ACHIEVABLE: This is achievable because I have the writing skills I need and the network to support this goal.
RELEVANT: I want to be an entrepreneur, so this is relevant to my life.
TIMELY: I want to find my 10 clients in 3 months’ time.
Altogether, that’s a SMART goal.
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Moriah Chace writes about low-income money and queer culture. Her work has been featured by The Motley Fool and other large media outlets. She has words in Women’s Personal Finance, The Deal Taker, and Live Betr. As a part-time barista and full-time coffee addict, she spends her spare time over-caffeinated fixing up her 1978 Winnebago Itasca and plans to travel around the USA with her dog and two cats after she breathes life into the old soul of an RV.