How to Set Personal & Professional SMART Goals (With Examples)

Whether it be in your personal life, your career, or in the classroom, goal setting can significantly impact your life. You can either sit on the sidelines and watch your life go by or you can be proactive and create the life you want. Most people set goals for themselves but very few people ever actually achieve those goals. Why is that? It’s easy to say you’ll chase your goals, but when it comes to execution, most people fall short. There’s a reason the quote “a goal without a plan is just a wish” is so famous. It’s because most people stay in the “wish” stage. They have all these grand ideas for their life, but most of them never happen.

Shouldn’t the process be simple? Set a goal, take action, and achieve results. Unfortunately, we all know from experience that this isn't the case. Setting the goal is the easy part, we all intend to do achieve but most of us are quick to give up. Where is the disconnect? It can be a variety of things from laziness, procrastination, or quite often not knowing what steps to take to achieve those goals. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to have a methodical plan in place. That’s where SMART goals come in.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART is simply an acronym that is used to help guide people through the goal setting process. The idea is that a goal is easier to achieve if there is a process to follow. There is no shortage of information available when it comes to goal setting. It has been widely studied and tested by academics all over the world. However, the most common technique used is SMART. This technique was first introduced by Consultant George T. Doran in November of 1981. It was then that this former Director of Corporate Planning for the Washington Water Power Company published a paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives”. The concept was that if there was a way to organize your efforts, you would have a higher likelihood of achieving success.

Specifically, the acronym stands for:

• Specific (simple, sensible, significant).

• 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).

With that explained, how can you apply it to your own goal setting?

How to use SMART Goals

Let’s break down each part of the process so that you can adapt it to your own life and goals.

1. Specific

Being specific is crucial in achieving any goal. It may sound simplistic but it’s very effective. The more specific you can be the better chances of success. The best way to get specific is to take your goal and break it down using the 5 W’s (Who, What, Where, Why and When).

2. Measurable

For any goal you set, you should be able to track progress. You want to be able to see if your making any headway towards your goals. The idea is that if you can see yourself getting closer and closer to your goal, it will act as motivation to keep you striving towards success. People who don’t see progress tend to get discouraged and give up on their goals. A great way to measure is to use amounts and dates. These will act as points of reference to evaluate how far you’ve come.

3. Achievable

Any goal you set for yourself should be realistic. That doesn’t mean they have to be easy, but you should be able to achieve what you set for yourself if you are willing to put in the time and the effort. In other words, you want to challenge yourself without setting unrealistic goals. It’s all about balance.

4. Relevant

Your goal should matter to you. It should be something that applies to your life as it is today. Not something that you think you should accomplish or that you think others would be impressed if you accomplished. Does the goal serve you today? Is it something that will be worth while or is it irrelevant to your life? Is it the right time? Ask yourself why you want to focus on this goal.

5. Time Bound

It’s important to set a time frame for your goal so that you have milestones to work towards. A time frame provides you with the necessary motivation to take action. It also identifies the goal as a priority in your life. A deadline will help you incorporate the necessary steps to achieving your goals within your daily routine.

Let’s look at a few examples of how we can incorporate SMART goals into the various aspects of our lives.


A great way to stick to SMART goal setting is to connect your approach with the to-do items you create, the habits you track and long term goals you strive for.

Examples of a Personal SMART Goal

You might decide that you’d like to run a half marathon. This is a goal that many people may have, but few will ever achieve it. The reason is that the goal is too vague and can seem overwhelming. Running a half marathon is not usually something you can achieve in a short period of time. By using the SMART technique, this goal can become a lot less daunting. Let’s break it down:


You decide that you want to run a half marathon in your community for charity since you recently lost a friend to cancer. The event is in 16 weeks, so you have to dedicate time to train and perhaps drum up donations for your cause.


We've established the time frame for the goal, So what steps would you have to take to achieve this within the set timeframe? You aren’t just going to sit on the couch week after week and miraculously be able to run a half marathon 16 weeks later. Instead you’re going to break down the 16 weeks into weekly milestones. In this case you’d follow a running plan based on research you did or based on advice from a running coach. Every week you’ll be able to track your progress against your targets. Set objectives for yourself where you can clearly observe your results.


Is the goal achievable? To determine this, you’ll have to ask yourself some questions. Have you ever ran before? Have you run shorter distances (5k, 10K, wtc). Do you have any limitations that would prevent you from achieving your goal (an injury or health concerns)? Do you have the time in your current schedule to stick to a running plan? It’s the answers to these questions that will help you decide if the goal is achievable.


How is running a half marathon relevant to your life? The best thing you can do before you set a goal is the true purpose behind it. You recently lost a friend to cancer and running a half marathon is a way you can help raise money to help find a cure so that more lives can be saved. This is the purpose that will drive you to turning this dream into a reality.

Time Sensitive

This goal is ideal because it has a built in time frame. The event you set your sights on is 16 weeks away. If you don’t stick to the training plan, then you won’t be ready to run on race day.

Examples of Professional SMART Goals

The SMART goals method can be an effective way of helping you achieve your career goals. Let’s use the following example to demonstrate how. In this example, the career goal is to become known as an expert in your field.


Over the next 12 months you will establish yourself as a leading expert in sales and marketing on a global scale so that you can bring in more clients and increase your earnings.


By breaking down the goal into smaller milestones you can track the progress more easily. In this example it might look something like this.

  • Attend a minimum of 2 networking events per month

  • Publish articles and content on LinkedIn and other Social Media platforms to demonstrate your expertise

  • Ask past clients for testimonials

  • Start booking speaking engagements so you can share your message in front of audiences

  • Read 1 book per week related to your field to keep current on industry trends

You’ll be able to track progress with every new contact or connection you make in person or online.


Is the goal you set for yourself achievable? Is 12 months long enough? Look to see what other experts in your field are doing? How long did it take them to achieve expert status? Do you need to adjust your time to 24 months? Sometimes you have to test to be certain. If after 1 or 2 months of taking action you see little to no results, you may need to adjust.


How does this goal fit in to your life? Maybe the ultimate go is to retire early so you can travel the world and enjoy life. In order to do that, you need to increase your earnings so you can start saving as soon as possible.

Time Sensitive

If you feel that a 1 year period is sufficient to achieve the goal, you need to start saving right away so you can take advantage of compound interest. The longer you can stash that money away, the more it grows. 

One of the greatest strengths of SMART goal setting is the clarity that comes with it. If you follow each step carefully, the whole goal setting process becomes far more methodical as opposed to attempting it in an unorganized way.

Examples of SMART Goals for the Classroom

As an educator, it’s a great idea to incorporate the SMART goals method into your classroom. This will help students learn to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own outcomes. So in this example your goal may be to teach your students how to apply the smart goal method for themselves.


Over the current school year, you will teach your student how to set SMART goals so that they can take ownership of their learning, set their own goals, and create a plan for themselves so they can experience what it feels like to achieve something that they set out to do.


There are different ways you could measure this goal, but let’s keep it simple. In this case, you could tell students that there will be an upcoming science test. Ask each student to set a goal for what mark they want to receive on the test. Have them map out their goal using the SMART technique. Once you’ve given the test measure the results against the goal the student set. You’ll be able to use data to determine who accomplished their goals and who didn’t.


Do you think you’ll be able to teach your students this method? Is it something that will help them? Will they be receptive? Can you do it within the designated time frame? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then your goal should be achievable.  


Does this goal fit in within your teaching mandate? What will you gain from helping your students? You will have the satisfaction of knowing your helping build strong and self reliant individuals who are on the path to success.

Time sensitive

With each new class, you are given the school year to teach them the SMART goals method. So the goal is time sensitive as you only get that specific class for the school season.

The Pros and Cons of SMART Goals

As with anything in life, there are pros and cons to using the SMART goals method.  Here are some to help you decide if this method is right for you.



The main drawback to the SMART goal technique is that it’s not easy to implement. People don’t usually want to put the work in and they find the overall process to be tedious. Or sometimes, they just don’t know how to answer the necessary questions. As a result, they would rather just say “I want to run a half marathon” and be done with it.

The issue then is that when we say things, we often don’t follow through. However, If we take the extra bit of effort upfront, then the potential rewards are limitless. Just imagine the possibilities for your life if you started to achieve the goals you set for yourself.

SMART goals will only work for you if you’re willing to put in the work. Those who do will be rewarded with success.

How’s Goal Setting App Aligns with SMART compliments every aspect of SMART by making the goal setting process simpler and entirely customizable. The platform was created to champion the idea of simplifying the path to success while holding users more accountable by establishing clear deadlines. If you set a goal with, you’ll notice that it functions in a way so that users can achieve at their own pace and create as many steps that they feel is necessary to reaching their ultimate goal.